The AIG Senior Cup returned to Rosses Point on Saturday night as Co Sligo reclaimed Irish club golf’s blue riband title with a dramatic final victory over Leinster’s Castle at Carton House.
The contest was a fitting end to a great week’s golf at the Golfing Union of Ireland’s AIG Cups and Shields national finals, behind held at the Kildare venue for the third year in succession and Co Sligo’s Senior Cup victory ensured a green pennant went to each of the four provinces.
Warrenpoint had taken the Barton Shield back to Ulster, Nenagh won the Pierce Purcell Shield for Munster, while Castle had set up the chance of an historic double when they started the week with a first national Junior Cup success.
Cill Dara had begun Saturday’s play by handing Leinster a second title of 2016 with their Jimmy Bruen Shield success over Athenry, which left it up to Co. Sligo to make amends for Connacht.
They had won the Senior Cup in 2013 but were denied back-to-back glory in the scratch singles event when Tramore edged them in the 2014 decider. They were not to go empty-handed this time around, however, Ruairi O’Connor securing the title at the 19th hole of a tense contest with Robert Moran to seal a 3-2 victory.
This was Sligo’s third final in four years thanks to a 3.5 to 1.5 semi-final win over Munster kingpins Monkstown on Friday, yet they faced some more formidable opposition in Castle Golf Club.
The Dubliners had seen off Shandon Park in their semi and they had pegged a strong start from Sligo on Saturday morning.
David Brady drove home his big advantage in the first match to claim Sligo’s first point with a 4&3 win over Peter McKeever, but Ireland Close champion Alex Gleeson held on to beat Sligo’s Declan Reidy by two holes.
The ebb and flow conitnued as Sligo debutant TJ Ford, 19, claimed a 3&2 win over Jim Mulready, only for the fifth match to go Castle’s way, Dan Holland keeping his club in the fight with a 2&1 defeat of Mark Morrissey, leaving their Senior Cup fate in the hands of O’Connor and Moran.
The Castle man kept the double alive when he went 1up at the 16th and held his advantage going to the last, only for O’Connor to rise to the occasion calling his three-iron second shot into the wind from 220 yards to 12 feet from the hole “the best shot of my life”.
That piled the pressure back onto Moran, whose approach missed the green. Castle failed to save par and O’Connor two-putted to send the contest to the 19th, to the bemusement of the greens-fee golfers who had just started a leisurely afternoon round and found themselves engulfed by the large crowd of supporters from both clubs crossing from the 18th to the opening par-five hole.
Both O’Connor and Moran missed the green and were bunkered short and left. Moran played out first, his ball rolling to 15 feet from the hole before O’Connor sent his low bunker shot to around eight feet. When Moran’s putt came up short, O’Connor had the chance to avenge his club’s 19th hole to defeat to Tramore on the same green two years previously.
“I knew straight away he had it,” Brady said, having watched the putt from behind his team-mate. “A roll of the ball, that’s all it takes.” O’Connor added: “I’d take any putt to win. My caddie, Alan [Gaynor] has been fantastic, he gave me a great read, spot on and I trusted it. It was never anywhere else. Just left edge, dead weight.”
Having helped claim a fifth Senior Cup in the club’s history, O’Connor dedicated the victory to former team captain Mark Rooney. “This means a lot to us,” said O’Connor, 23. “Our team captain from the last couple of years is going through a tough time [with illness] so it means a lot to bring this trophy back to him.”
There was also drama in the Jimmy Bruen Shield final when former champion Flat jockey Christy Roche secured an All-Ireland title for Cill Dara by making the winning putt against Athenry.
A winner of both the Irish and Epsom Derbys, Roche, 66, sank a six-footer at the 19th hole to clinch foursomes victory with partner Pat Hopkins over Athenry’s Ciaran Coughlan and Seamus Burke.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved