Yet if Cork are to claim their first national title since the 1998 Senior Cup, they are going to have to do it the hard way, without star man Gary O’Flaherty.
As is traditional, the Barton Shield kicks off the Golfing Union of Ireland’s AIG Cups and Shields finals week tomorrow, with semi-finals between last year’s beaten finalists Galway and hosts Carton House, representing Leinster, and then Munster pennant winners Cork against Ulster kingpins Warrenpoint.
For the third year in a row, the O’Meara Course at Carton House will play hosts to this annual gathering of the best club golfers in Ireland with Saturday’s blue riband AIG Senior Cup final the climax of what is always a fascinating week’s competition with the Junior Cup, Pierce Purcell and Jimmy Bruen Shields up for grabs.
It is the Barton Shield, though, which first takes centre stage, the foursomes team event for scratch golfers which will see those provincial champions competing to succeed 2015 champions Royal Dublin.
Cork travelled north to Kildare yesterday without Irish Mid-Amateur champion O’Flaherty, whose work commitments have sent him to the UK this week.
They will also be missing Senior Cup regular Ian O’Flynn, away on honeymoon.
But team manager John Carroll is in positive mood and is hoping the 25th anniversary of their Junior Cup glory at Malone in 1991 is an omen.
Carroll was in the squad for the low handicappers’ singles competition, which also included O’Flaherty and current team members Mark Ford and Brian Kelleher and he told the Irish Examiner that the contingent headed to Carton House in confident mood.
“They’re in very high spirits,” Carroll said.
“We’ve had a couple of setbacks with Gary O’Flaherty, the best player in Cork for the last few years, unable to get out of work and Ian O’Flynn unavailable but the panel have all played during the earlier rounds and they’re all good.
“Mark Ford and Brian Kelleher played together in the Munster final (when Cork beat Tramore) and Paul Tobin will probably come in and play with John Hickey while brothers Eoghan and Kieran Murphy (Erin’s Own hurlers) are also on the panel.”
Carroll conceded that Warrenpoint, spearheaded by Irish international Colm Campbell Jr, would be favourites but said the nature of the competition meant there was no such thing as a foregone conclusion.
“It’s the Barton Shield, foursomes, second-shot, anything can happen.”
If Cork did prevail and take the Barton Shield back to Little Island, Carroll said “it would mean absolutely everything”.
“There were four of us involved in that Junior Cup win up in Belfast in 1991 and it would be magic to win this one 25 years later. We haven’t won any sort of title since 1998 which is a very, very long time. “
Carroll’s team will meet a Warrenpoint club on a mission after losing three national finals in recent years, Senior Cup losses in 2011 and 2012 and a Barton Shield decider to another Munster outfit in Muskerry.
Campbell Jr, who will partner Stephen Coulter with Jamie Fletcher and Paul Reavey the other pair, said there was plenty of incentive for the Ulstermen.
The amateur star tuned up by making the cut in last week’s Volopa Irish Challenge on the European Challenge Tour at Mount Wolseleyand said: “You’re playing Barton Shield and it’s going to be a good standard. Obviously, it’s going to be a different standard coming from here (Volopa Irish Challenge) but you’ve still got to respect the guys you’re going to be playing.
“For us to win we’re going to have to play at our very best. There’s four good teams there and they’re there on merit.
“The last three All-Ireland finals we’ve played, we’ve lost. My dad is the captain so there’s a bit of extra motivation as well. I play with Stephen Coulter. I’ve only played the last three games and we’ve been 19-under for three games with one bogey. Should be a good week.”
AIG Barton Shield semi-final, Galway v Carton House
AIG Barton Shield semi-final, Warrenpoint v Cork
AIG Junior Cup semi-final, Tralee v Castle
AIG Junior Cup semi-final, Athenry v Lurgan
AIG Pierce Purcell Shield semi-final, Castlebar v Castlecomer
AIG Pierce Purcell Shield semi-final, Nenagh v Nuremore
AIG Junior Cup final
AIG Barton Shield final
AIG Senior Cup semi-final, Monkstown v Co Sligo
AIG Senior Cup semi-final, Castle v Shandon Park
AIG Pierce Purcell Shield final
AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield semi-final: Fortwilliam v Athenry
AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield semi-final: Muskerry v Cill Dara
AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield final
AIG Senior Cup final