Gary O’Flaherty is hoping to crown a successful individual season by helping Cork Golf Club to an All-Ireland title.
O’Flaherty, 41, a former Irish youths international who was part of the Little Island club’s 1998 Senior Cup-winning team, has a chance of bringing the AIG Barton Shield back to the Cork clubhouse after he and playing partner John Hickey along with Mark Ford and Brian Kelleher landed the Munster title on home turf on Saturday.
Cork progressed to next month’s AIG Cups and Shields national finals at Carton House when they overcame Limerick in Saturday morning’s provincial semi-finals and then defeated Tramore in the pennant decider.
It puts the club in sight of a fifth Barton Shield title having won the scratch foursomes event in 1937, 38, 66, 73 and 90 and a victory would top off a stellar year for O’Flaherty who won the Irish Mid Amateur Championship and the Castletroy Senior Scratch Cup earlier this season.
O’Flaherty has also come close on numerous occasions, not least when he lost a play-off at his home course at the Munster Strokeplay Championship, missing out to Kinsale’s Cathal Butler at the second sudden-death hole.
“I’ve had a good year, had a couple of wins, five or six seconds as well so it’s been a decent year but getting to the Irish finals and picking up a green pennant would cap it off,” O’Flaherty said.
Like team-mates Ford and Kelleher, O’Flaherty and Hickey won both their matches on Saturday to register a perfect day of results for Cork and return the club to the national finals for a first crack at the Barton Shield since losing a semi-final at Royal Tara in Meath three seasons ago.
“Absolutely delighted,” O’Flaherty said of their newly-earned Munster title. “It was tough playing at home because everyone expects so much from you but the lads played great and everyone actually played better in the afternoon as well, which was brilliant.”
For Cork’s golfers there was also a measure of redemption after a disappointing Senior Cup campaign when they went out early to East Cork at the end of June.
“It’s a huge boost. The lads all knew the importance of it from a club point of view. We made such a mess of the Senior Cup, played poorly in that and felt we let people down. That made us more determined to get here for the Barton Shield.
“Once we got here we felt with a bit of luck and local knowledge and the way the course was playing that it was to our advantage. I think once we got through the semi-final, which was kind of a sticky one against Limerick in the morning (that we were in a good place), especially with Tramore missing Robin Dawson.
For manager John Carroll Saturday’s success was a long time coming in his third season at the helm.
“We’ve underperformed the last two years so to come through this weekend is hugely satisfying,” Carroll said. “It was tight at times but I think we played some very consistent solid golf throughout and we’re delighted to win the Munster final.
“We beat Douglas in the (area) final on the last hole, which was nerve-jangling stuff and against Limerick we were three down after seven before we turned it around but in the afternoon we were three up in both matches after five holes so it was relatively stress free, we were always six or seven up.”
So now onto the finals in Carton House in mid-September, with O’Flaherty happy just to have got Munster and the pressures of a home provincial title put to bed.
“We’ve now got two games, hopefully, a semi-final and a final and it’s anybody’s then, whichever team plays well on the day. Experience-wise, you’re going to have a lot of internationals on other teams up there. I think Carton House have qualified out of Leinster as well, so they’ll be the home side, so the pressure’s off a little bit.
"There was definitely more pressure here in Munster and having the finals in our own place. So we’ll go there and enjoy it and see what happens.”
Meanwhile the Ireland team for the European Men’s Seniors’ Championship was announced yesterday.
IRELAND TEAM: Jim Carvill, Tom Cleary, Maurice Kelly, Garth McGimpsey, Adrian Morrow, Arthur Pierse.
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