WINNING All-Ireland titles comes easily to some parts of the country, and Kilkenny were at it once again in glorious conditions at Tullamore yesterday.
This time it was the turn of the Kilkenny Golf Club to capture the national limelight – and their first national pennant by beating Banbridge in the final of the Bulmers Barton Shield by a one-hole margin.
A team captained by three-time South of Ireland champion Paraic O’Rourke upset the odds in a thrilling contest that wasn’t decided until Richie Walsh holed the winning putt on the final green. Earlier this year, Kilkenny also won the Suzuki Irish Ladies Senior Cup.
Banbridge played outstanding golf on Wednesday in beating Galway but they were never allowed to take a grip on yesterday’s proceedings and got off to a very slow start. The Kilkenny duo of Paul O’Hara and Craig Martin turned three up in the first match against Rory Leonard and Ciaran McAleavy and the overall margin swelled to five when Eddie Power and Richie Walsh led by two holes after nine against Connor Doran and Alastair McCully.
However, Banbridge stormed back into the hunt on the way home with Doran and McCully winning three in a row from the 10th while Leonard and McAleavy also ate into the O’Hara-Martin combination’s lead, to such an extent that the sides were level with three holes to play. The crucial breakthrough for Kilkenny came at the 17th where Doran raced a 25-foot putt six feet past the hole and McCully missed the return.
That put Power and Walsh one ahead and as they came down the final fairway, the word came back that the first match had ended all square. After a fairway splitting drive by Power, Walsh was left with a shot of 215 yards to the flag and struck his three iron beautifully to leave the ball about 25 feet from the hole.
Banbridge did remarkably well to eke out a par four having been in trouble off the tee and again with the second shot. Power – fearful of leaving his partner with too much to do – admitted to being a little tentative with his putt and left it about a yard short but Walsh was equal to the demands and holed out to set off a further bout of Kilkenny celebrations.
“This was outstanding foursomes golf by both sides,” enthused Paraic O’Rourke. “We had a very strong panel of eight players and that meant we were able to make changes here and there when it suited. It means an awful lot to the club and I’m very proud of the team and delighted for our captain, Pat Coonan.”
Eddie Power had figured on successful Tramore teams in the Barton Shield in 1992 (when he also picked up a senior cup medal) and 1994 while his wife, Eileen Rose, the star of the ladies’ win, again acted as his caddie. Craig Martin at 19 was the youngest member of the Kilkenny side and a product of a youth policy that has seen him represent Ireland at U15, U18 and U21 levels and play for Leinster as both a junior and senior.
The afternoon also provided a great battle for the Irish Junior Cup, Belfast club Malone claiming the trophy with a 3½-1½ win over Oughterard. It was their first victory since 1923, achieved with a mix of youth and experience. Dan McCrea, who won his semi-final and final out in the country, is only 17 but his caddie, Rodney Gilbert, is all of 79 years of age!
Furthermore, three other members of the side, Gilbert’s son Jan, Barry Brennan and Andy Montgomery, are all in their 50s. And it was Montgomery who struck the winning blow for Malone as he hit a drive and three wood to the edge of the final green and chipped and putted for his par to clinch the third point.
The Pierce Purcell Shield final today will be contested by Corrstown and Letterkenny, who got the better of Douglas and Loughrea in two tight semi-finals. Corrstown held a slight edge over Douglas from the outset and their place in the decider was assured when Gerry Finnerty and Fran Lawlor beat Tony Barry and Paul Herlihy on the 17th. Letterkenny had it a little easier on their way to the final, winning three matches on the 16th.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved