THE finals of the Bulmers Irish Cups and Shields got off to a successful start in ideal conditions at Tullamore yesterday when Banbridge and Kilkenny produced golf of the highest calibre to qualify for today’s final of the Bulmers Barton Shield.
And also in final action today are Oughterard from Galway and Malone from Belfast after their Irish Junior Cup semi-final wins over Castle and Co Tipperary.
Banbridge defeated Galway in the first Barton semi-final by two holes and Kilkenny followed up with a three holes defeat of Youghal.
They were unusual kinds of contests in that the winners in each opened up a massive lead in one match only for the second partnership to struggle badly to keep in touch.
Rory Leonard and Ciaran McAleavey played some amazing golf for Banbridge as they won by seven holes against Galway’s Joe Lyons and Dave Scully.
They were eight under par for the 18 holes, starting off with birdies at the second and third before really rubbing in their superiority with an eagle at the fourth, where McAleavy (who has just completed his studies at Toledo University) knocked a three wood to 10 feet and Leonard did the rest.
The Galway duo also had their good moments and shot birdies of their own at the sixth and eighth.
But nothing deterred Leonard, the 33-year-old former Irish Youths and Ulster Interpro, and McAleavy as they stormed through the closing holes, winning each of the last four, three in birdies, to finish seven ahead.
This in turn was bad luck on Galway’s Eddie McCormack and Damien Glynn who were 5 up after 17 against Connor Doran and Alastair McCully when called in.
A Regional Development Officer with Junior Golf Ireland, Leonard has really taken to the Tullamore course which he stated was “the best conditioned I have ever seen. It is absolutely faultless”.
It was a viewpoint shared by the vast majority of the other players who have been playing and practicing here throughout the week.
In spite of yesterday’s brilliance, Banbridge still have a lot of work to do if they are to claim their second Barton Shield in seven years as Kilkenny are certain to provide worthy opposition in a match due off the first tee at 12 noon.
Eddie Power, Irish Close champion in 1987, 1993 and 1998 and a member of successful Tramore Barton Shield teams in 1992 and ‘94, is their key man and it won’t harm Kilkenny’s prospects that his caddie happens to be his wife, Eileen Rose, who herself played the key role in the club’s first ever victory in the Suzuki Irish Ladies Senior Cup earlier in the year. And as if to demonstrate that it’s all in the genes, their youngest boy Mark, aged nine, recently captured the Wee Wonders title in the HSBC championship at St Andrews for youngsters between five and 12.
Power, now 44, and his partner Richie Walsh romped to an eight holes win over Youghal’s Tommy Kennefick and Stephen Prendergast but it was a totally different matter in the top match as Willie Jones and Darren O’Sullivan combined superbly to stand 5 up on Paul O’Hara and Graham Nugent playing the 18th when they were called in.
Jones and O’Sullivan actually lost the first hole but did little wrong after that and turned two to the good. They continued to battle all the way, well aware that their team-mates were struggling in the other match and even got up and down from sand at the 17th for a notable winning par.
As it transpired, though, it still wasn’t enough to prolong the proceedings any further.
Oughterard created quite an upset in the Irish Junior Cup semi-final when beating Dublin outfit Castle 3-2 and they now meet Malone, conquerors of Co Tipperary, in today’s decider starting at 11am.
It was apparent from a relatively early stage that the Oughterard-Castle contest would be settled by the outcome of the meeting of the rival number ones, Frank Ford for the Connacht champions and Fergal Walsh for the Dubliners. It seemed to be slipping away from Oughterard when Ford fell one behind with three to play but he played the 16th, Tullamore’s signature hole, and par three 17th superbly to regain an advantage he protected at the 18th although not without a few jittery moments.
Co Tipperary lost the top two matches against Malone but remained in the hunt for much of the afternoon. Cormac Crowe narrowed the gap with an 18th green defeat of Ben Brennan before the Dundrum side finally conceded defeat when Andy Montgomery went down at the 16th against Michael Moloney.
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