Ballybunion drew on their mix of youth and experience to capture the AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield for the first time since 1979 and guarantee that an All-Ireland title headed back to the Kingdom before a ball was kicked in anger at Croke Park.
His All-Ireland tickets safely tucked away in his back pocket, team captain Pat O’Sullivan made several personnel changes in the line-up for Saturday’s final with Castlebar and walked away a winner as the Kerry club triumphed by 3½ to 1½ over the O’Meara Course at Carton House.
With a 20-strong squad ranging in age from 15 to 60, it was Adrian Walsh and Brian Slattery who delivered the winning point with a 4 and 3 win over Michael Kilcourse and Shane Rice in the anchor match.
“They were one down after three but they fought back,” smiled O’Sullivan. “They don’t like to be riled and once you tickle a nest of wasps you know what’s going to happen. And it happened.”
New pairing James Lavery and Paul Enright lost 5 and 4 in the top match but Ronan Cross and Finbarr Carrig beat John McHugh and Gary Corbett 4 and 2 to level the score before Mark Dilger was handed a new partner in 16-year-old Iarla O’Mahony and they emerged with a 5 and 4 win.
Another new pairing in Padraig Quill and John Eggleston were four down at one stage but they battled back against Ryan O’Malley and Mark Jennings and looked likely to square their match on 16, Walsh hit a fine third to 10 feet at the par-five 15th and Slattery lagged the birdie putt dead to secure the crucial third point and the title for Ballybunion.
“Ronan Cross is only 15 but he plays like a 25-year-old with the wisdom of a man of 65,” O’Sullivan said of his troops.
“And the bottom match of Adrian Walsh and Brian Slattery could play Ryder Cup.”
The captain paid tribute to all his squad and those who played key roles in tight matches in West Munster as well as the area and Munster finals. But he also did his homework, taking on local caddies who knew the greens well.
“It was a really strong team performance and a club effort,” O’Sullivan said.
“We made friends here which is what it is all about. And they represented the club with great dignity and integrity as did Castlebar today and Fortwilliam in the semi-finals.”
As Ballybunion celebrated, Maynooth University were forced to dig deeper than anticipated to clinch the college’s first AIG Senior Cup title with a 3-2 win over Ulster champions Knock.
And it was former Leinster Boys interprovincial player Jake Whelan who went from forgotten man to “Ice Man” as he bravely holed a nine-foot par putt on the final green to give the college the first of what could be many wins in the blue riband championship.
The students looked to be heading for a comfortable win when Ronan Mullarney beat Michael Sinclair 3 and 2 at No 1 and anchor man Jack Walsh, who’d holed a five-iron on the fly from 178 yards at the eighth and chipped in at the 12th, saw off Simon Miskelly 4 and 3.
Knock had just one win on the board, a 6 and 5 procession for South of Ireland runner-up and international Colin Fairweather, who was six under par as he stunned Donegal man Kyle McCarron.
But when Knock’s James Patterson holed an unlikely 45 footer down the 18th green to beat Stephen Kinch by one hole and tie the scores at 2-2, Whelan’s match became the decider.
The 20-year-old was two up at the turn but as he made his first start in the competition, he admitted that nerves began to kick in as he headed down the stretch against the experienced Mark McMurray.
He wobbled a few times, losing the 15th after carving his tee shot into the hazard and then found himself being forced to hole a 12-footer for par at the 16th to remain one up after watching his opponent lip out for birdie there.
He looked likely to take a lead to the 18th or even close out the match on the par-five 17th, when McMurray bunkered his lay-up and then left himself close to 60 feet for birdie.
But Whelan inexplicably duffed his 100-yard third and took six to lose the hole and send the game, and the AIG Senior Cup, to the 18th.
“I hit the worst wedge shot I have ever hit and ended up losing the 17th out of nowhere,” said a relieved and delighted Whelan at the finish, where he hit a great drive and then a good greenside bunker shot to nine feet before holing the par putt after McMurray had driven behind the chestnut tree on the left and taken five.
“But I forgot about it as soon as I could and made sure I committed to the drive on 18. It feels great to get a match, and win.” Walker Cup hero Gary Hurley turned up straight from a successful appearance at the first stage of Q-School in Scotland to support his old college team mates.
“Well done, ‘Ice Man’,” Hurley said, giving Whelan his new nickname.
That Mullarney was the only first choice player remaining from the side that won the Leinster title, most of the rest, including internationals Stuart Grehan and Robin Dawson, were in action in the European Universities Championship in Switzerland, has generated debate over the wisdom of allowing a scholarship based golf programme to compete in inter-club competition.
“The rules are what they are, we just put a team together and compete as best we can,” said stand-in manager Donal Scott, who is one of four coaches the university uses for its golf programme alongside Johnny Foster, Kenny Fahy and Noel Fox.
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