Yet when their supporters travel from Co. Tipperary to the Kildare course on Thursday morning for their Pierce Purcell Shield All-Ireland semi-final against Connacht champions Portumna, the Munster pennant holders will also be on a fact-finding mission as future hosts of the Cups and Shields after yesterday being named as the host course for 2018.
The Golfing Union of Ireland’s showpiece interclub event has been staged at its Carton House headquarters since 2014 but with the resort’s Montgomerie and O’Meara courses hosting next year’s World Amatuer Team Championships, the AIG Cups and Shields finals are being taken back on the roads of Ireland with Thurles the chosen venue for 2018 as the event reverts to provincial rotation.
Club president John Corbett spoke of the pride of being named hosts next September, when Thurles member John Moloughney will be installed as GUI President.
“It’s a fantastic honour to host the All Irelands. Not only we will be travelling up on Thursday morning for our semi-final in the Purcell, we’ll be on a fact-finding mission to get some ideas on the whole operation,” Corbett told the Irish Examiner.
“We’ll be finding out as much as we can and the GUI will be down to meet us at the club and discuss next year’s event. They have plenty of experience in this and will be very helpful.
“We’re delighted to be asked and we’ve a committee formed already to get our preparations started.”
GUI Championships Manager Mark Wehrly said of the governing body’s decision to resume venue rotation had followed a review which involved feedback from affiliated clubs: “We’ve been very lucky over the last four years to have had the AIG Cups and Shields at Carton House. The club members and staff have been very accommodating, facilitating the teams superbly and providing those in attendance with an excellent experience both on and off the golf course.
“While the AIG Cups and Shields are moving away from Carton House, we continue to work with the club on the World Amateur Team Championships which take place next summer over both the O’Meara and Montgomerie courses.
“Our member clubs, however, favour the rotation of the finals and while we have enjoyed the four years at Carton House we now look forward to bringing the biggest event of its kind in Europe back to the provinces.
“The finalists next year are assured of a very warm welcome at Thurles and the golf course will provide everyone with a fitting test of golf on what is a fine venue to stage the finals.”
Thurles are hoping a return to the national golfing spotlight as Cups and Shields hosts will attract golfers from across Ireland to play their parkland course at Turtulla, redesigned in 2007 by Mel Flanagan, and winning a national pennant this week under the stewardship of team managers Joe Kerrigan and Jimmy Ryan will do no harm either.
Thurles won the Purcell in 1997 at Dundalk and again just two years ago at Carton House, while they also have pedigree in both the Irish Mixed Foursomes, winning the national pennant in 1997 and 2001, and the Jimmy Bruen Shield (1996 and 2001). Yet they will face stiff competition, not only from Portumna but fellow provincial kingpins Royal Curragh and Moyola Park .
Thurles earned their ticket to Carton with a Munster final win over event hosts Killarney having seen off Mahon in the semis, Adrian O’Keeffe and Martin Fahy securing a 3-1 win in the final rubber for a second pennant in three years.
The blue riband event will be the AIG Senior Cup, the scratch singles matchplay competition which will see Carton House bid to win on home soil but in a final four alongside three former national champions. Ulster champions Royal Portrush are perennial contenders with Munster’s Limerick GC bidding for a first Senior Cup since 2002, while Galway savoured success in 2006 and 2009. Friday’s semis will see Portrush play Galway and Carton face Limerick.
The 2017 finals kick off tomorrow morning with the scratch foursomes Barton Shield as Warrenpoint defend their national pennant against last year’s Senior Cup runners-up Castle while Munster champions Tralee meet Galway, chasing a Senior Cup-Barton Shield double last achieved by Shandon Park in 2000.
Tomorrow’s AIG Junior Cup semis also feature Connacht-Munster and Ulster-Leinster showdowns with Loughrea and Ballybunion meeting in the former and Malone and Grange in the latter.
Warrenpoint are chasing success on numerous fronts with team contesting the Jimmy Bruen Shield semis in addition to their bid for successive Barton Shield wins and a double would be no surprise given their last Bruen victory in 1987 was part of a four-pennant haul at that year’s Cups and Shields. Bruen rivals Mountrath, Castlebar and Ballykisteen, meanwhile are seeking a first success in the competition and the Tipperary club have plenty of momentum after their weekend success at the GUI Four-Ball Championship, the club’s first national title in its 22-year history, secured with a win over Royal Curragh in Kildare at Millicent Golf Club.
Friday’s semi-finals will see Ballykisteen take on Castlebar while Mountrath go up against Warrenpoint.