IT does not matter what the code - winning a National title is never easy. To be able to hang a green pennant on a clubhouse wall reflects high achievement and intense commitment.
Comparatively speaking, those involved in the AIG Senior Cup next week at Carton House will sense the will-to-win, nervous excitement and acute pressure situations similar to the highest echelons of the game.
Rightly or wrongly, there is a cloud hanging over the Leinster qualifiers, Maynooth University (NUIM), which is capable of fielding an unbeatable team of sponsored, GUI elite panelists that are full-time golfers on scholarships. Some say Maynooth is not a proper club that playing against them isn’t a ‘level playing field.’ If all of their squad is available a team of Walker Cupper Gary Hurley, Robin Dawson, Sean Flanagan, Alan Lowry and East and South of Ireland champion, Stuart Grehan is clearly ‘as good as’ an Irish team.
The frustration has increased for the teams defeated in Leinster that NUIM is (understandably) sending their best players to compete in the European University Games in Switzerland next week and will field a second string at Carton House. NUIM may have the pick of the crop as far emerging, youthful talent from every corner of the country is concerned but fielding a reserve quintet of equal ability will be beyond them.
The rules state there is no requirement for any golf club to have either a course or a clubhouse - just somewhere to play. Players can play for whomever they like and many have switched club allegiances down the years too. There’s also a precedent. The first time the senior cup was played in 1900, Dublin University won and they did so again in 1910 and 1911.
If Padraig Harrington’s Golf Scholarship Fund at Maynooth continues and grows, some say NUIM may win the senior cup every year. I’m not so sure. There are always very strong teams in the latter stages of the senior cup. The cohesiveness and will to win you can get within a ‘real’ club team is a lethal weapon capable of outthinking and outfighting any youthful talent.
As Munster champions Limerick GC has represented the province in the All-Ireland Finals of the Irish Senior Cup on sixteen occasions since 1967. That only four Irish titles have been brought home illustrates how difficult it is to win outright. Michael O’Kelly has played in five of those All-Ireland campaigns beginning in 1996 and he is the only member of the current squad who has figured on a winning side - 2002 at Galway.
1967 signaled the beginning of a golden period for Limerick. Having suffered painful final defeats in 1967, 1970 and 1973, it wasn’t until 1976 that the cup was at last won in Tramore. The winning team that defeated The Island Golf Club was Jackie Harrington, Vincent Nevin, Ivan Morris, Pat Walsh and Billy Rice. The same quintet repeated the feat in 1980 at Lahinch (defeating Sutton) and in 1982 Juan Fitzgerald and James Carew replaced Harrington and Morris at Rosses Point, Shandon Park was the opposition.
Twenty years elapsed before the 2002 outfit, fielding several personnel who had suffered defeats in 1996 and 1997, played outstanding golf with all five players unbeaten. Teenager, Cian McNamara won the top match. Ger Vaughan, playing the best golf of his long career defeated future Walker Cupper, Jonny Caldwell, 7/5. A steady as a rock, sub-par performance by Michael Kemmy saw him home for the decisive third point against T. Spence by 4/3 while Tim Rice and Michael O’Kelly were both ahead when called in.
The 2015 Limerick lineup has a similar, intriguing mixture of youth and experience. Former Irish Close champion and much-decorated international, Pat Murray, has won almost all that there is to win in Irish amateur golf except for a coveted senior cup medal. Michael O’Kelly has now reached the veteran class but is playing as solidly as ever and it was he who won the vital, winning point in the Munster final against Monkstown.
As a former professional (for 5-years) who played in Padraig Harrington’s Open at Carnoustie in 2007, Justin Keogh has oodles of experience. Since his reinstatement to amateur status in 2014, Keogh has become a qualified accountant as well getting married and welcoming a son into the world while at the same time gradually sharpening up his neglected game. We had a glimpse of Keogh’s competitive steel against Castletroy in the area final when he defeated Eamonn Haugh on the 21st hole to guide Limerick through.
21-years old, Darragh Fitzgerald, is calmness personified while the fifth man has yet to be decided by wily team captain Frank O’Mahony due to Mark MacGrath’s departure to the University of New Mexico on scholarship. Don’t be surprised if he selects the in-form, 17-years old, Ciaran Vaughan, for his first senior game. Quite a step up but the pedigree is sound.
Limerick play the Ulster champions, Knock, led by recent South of Ireland finalist, Colin Fairweather, in the semi-final on Friday next, Sept 18th at 8.45am. Fairweather is backed up by a strong quintet of James McVicker, Simon Miskelly, Michael Sinclair, James Patterson and James Rodgers. Athlone (Tom O’Connor, Niall Carroll, Colm Fitzgerald, Kevin Sheehy, Conor Rice) play Maynooth in the other semi. The final takes place on Saturday at 10.30am.