As is tradition, the Barton Shield kicked off the AIG Cups and Shields Finals on Wednesday morning at the start of the biggest week of the year in the club calendar. And Galway were first to secure their place in the final, where they play former champions Warrenpoint from Co Down.
It was also a good day for Dublin club Castle, as they beat Tralee to reach the final of the AIG Junior Cup. Castle battle it out with Ulster champions Lurgan, who defeated Athenry for the title.
Most of the attention centre on the Barton Shield on the opening day and, with host club Carton House chasing a place in the final, the galleries were packed with home supporters. Carton’s dreams of winning a green pennant on home turf were shattered at the 18th when Galway scrambled a one-hole victory.
Ronan Mullarney and Liam Power led from the front for Galway and enjoyed a three-hole lead playing the last. In the match behind, Galway were struggling and they made a sloppy bogey at the 17th to fall four behind.
At that stage, Carton were ahead overall but their title ambitions were crushed at the final green. Mullarney and Power won the last to finish four up and that meant a win for Joe Lyons and Cathal Nolan at 18 would see Galway into the final.
“We’ll have to up our performance from today, we didn’t perform at all,” said Lyons, who played in last year’s final defeat to The Royal Dubln. “It’s nice to get through playing badly but that won’t cut the mustard tomorrow.”
Lyons has been here before and knows the scale of the challenge Galway face in the final. “They’re (Warrenpoint) a good team, I’d say they’ll be strong favourites. Anything can happen in a final. We’ll do our best. We’re there, we have a shout. We have an unlikely shout. We’d be thrilled if we were to pull it off,” said Lyons.
While Lyons is the elder statesmen on this Galway team, Ronan Mullarney has established himself as the club’s number one over the last 12 months. Last month he won the Mullingar Scratch Cup and tasted success with Maynooth University in last year’s Senior Cup. “Ronan’s had a great year, he’s our number one guy. He never lets us down,” said Lyons.
If Mullarney is the man for Galway then Irish Amateur Champion Colm Campbell is the leading light for Warrenpoint. Playing alongside Stephen Coulter, Campbell helped secure a two-hole win in the back match as Warrenpoint advanced to the final at the expense of Cork.
The Munster champions came to Carton without Gary O’Flaherty. The Irish Over-30s Champion was unavailable due to work commitments, leaving Cork without their best player.
Warrenpoint are regulars at the AIG Cups and Shields Finals. Beaten by Muskerry in the 2014 final, team captain Colm Campbell Senior is hoping for a different outcome this time around.
“Hopefully we can do it,” said Campbell, who won a Senior Cup with Warrenpoint in 2008. “You only have a few years at this, that’s what I always say to the boys.” Keen to make the most of this opportunity, Campbell is pleased to be back in a final.
“At this stage, no match is going to be easy but the way we went through (the semi-final) will stand to us in the final. We didn’t play our best but it was near enough the mark. If we play like that tomorrow, we’ll still be hard to beat,” said Campbell.
Tralee’s hopes of success in the AIG Junior Cup Final were dashed by Castle as Paul Whelan denied Verners Tess at the 19th. All square after 18, Whelan and Tess headed back to the first and Whelan emerged victorious to clinch the winning point for the Dubliners.
Lurgan clinched their place in the final with a 4-1 win against Athenry. The Ulster champions were convincing winners.
Nenagh will fly the flag for Munster in the AIG Pierce Purcell Shield today. Having dethroned holders Thurles in the Munster final, Nenagh will fancy their chances of another All-Ireland success. Winners on three previous occasions, Nenagh face Ulster champions Nuremore in the semi-finals.
On the other side of the draw, Connacht champions Castlebar face Castlecomer for an All-Ireland final place.