AIG Cups and Shields finals tee off at Carton House

The 16th green on the O'Meara Course at Carton House.

It’s arguably the greatest club competition on the planet - a chance for the sweet swinging elite, the improving middle classes and the struggling weekend hackers to don the club sweater and put their necks on the line for one of those precious green pennants in the AIG Cups and Shields Finals over the O’Meara Course at Carton House.

Starting in March each year, the more than 430 golf clubs affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland begin their preparations to try and win one or more of the five events – the Senior Cup, Barton Shield, Junior Cup, Jimmy Bruen Shield and the Pierce Purcell Shield.

More than 20,000 golfers and 1,500 club teams participate at the first stages of the events at Provincial level. The champions from each Province go forward to compete in the All-Ireland semi-finals and finals which will be held at Carton House for the next four years in a break from the traditional rotation between the provinces.

The cost of hosting the Cups and Shields Finals, where clubs are required to erect temporary marquees and catering facilities, can run to €30,000. 

But with Carton House, home to the GUI’s National Headquarters, tailor made to host such events, the move makes perfect sense.

“I haven’t had anyone say this is wrong,” said Pat Finn, General Secretary of the GUI. “There’s probably a couple of different views. One is it’s a good thing, it could create this ‘road to Carton’ tie-in, that attitude around the events people are building to getting to Carton House in the finals. Given a permanent fixture for the finals, that might help that.

“On the other hand a lot of people who have been involved (in clubs) in the administration or running the events say you get a great feeling when a club embraces the championships, and that the club itself benefits.

“Everyone’s on a high for the week of a festival of golf, so we’ll lose that. There’s a difference in that Carton are committing to this for four years, versus ‘we’re going to do this once and we’re going to do it really well’.”

The move will be reviewed after next year’s second staging and a decision will be made on the way forward when Carton House’s agreement ends after the 2017 finals.

The 17th green on the O'Meara Course with Carton House in the background.

AIG Cups and Shields Finals 2014, Carton House Golf Club (O’Meara Course) 

Paddy Gribben can't make it but Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell will be at Carton House.

AIG Barton Shield

  • Semi-Finals — Wednesday 17 September

10.30 am Warrenpoint v Royal Dublin (Warrenpoint names first)

  • William Hanna & Stephen Coulter v Richard Knightly & Sean Ryan;
  • Colm Campbell & Ryan Gribben v Barry Anderson & Ian O'Rourke

10.50 am Athenry v Muskerry (Athenry names first)

  • Brian O'Reilly & Martin Hynes v Niall Gorey & Dave O'Donovan;
  • David Byrne & Joe Bernie v David Hallissey & John Waldron
  • Final –  Thursday 18 September 11.10 am

Clubs are represented by two foursomes pairings playing off scratch and there could be a new name on the trophy this year with Connacht champion Athenry bidding for their first national success of any kind.

The other three finalists are historic contenders with four-time winners Warrenpoint (1987, 1988, 1998, 2011) taking on three time champions Royal Dublin (1924, 1925, 1968) in the first semi-final and 1953 champions Muskerry facing Athenry in the other.

It’s certainly been a magical year for Warrenpoint with Colm Campbell winning the East of Ireland the and the Home Internationals on his Ireland debut and having ousted Shandon Park by four holes in the Ulster final, they will be confident they can go all the way. 

Campbell and Ryan Gribben and Paul Reavey and Stephen Coulter are their preferred partnership but they will not have it easy against a strong Royal Dublin squad that features two players who were Championship contenders this season.

Managed by Michael Chambers and captained by James Monaghan, the men from Dollymount can count on the likes of Kelan McDonagh, Chris Drumm, Bryan McSweeney, Mark Connolly and Gary McGrane though their first choice line up may well be  Barry Anderson and Cork native Ian O’Rourke and South of Ireland Championship semi-finalist Richard Knightly and Sean Ryan.

Two-hole winners over Kilkenny in the Leinster quarter-finals, Royal Dublin then beat Naas by five holes in the semis before crushing a powerful squad from The Island by five holes to win the provincial title.

Athenry face Muskerry in the other semi-final having clinched their second Connacht title in three years at Castlebar in June.

The pairings of Martin Hynes and Brian O'Reilly and David Byrne and Joe Bernie had a combined eight-holes aggregate semi-final win over Athlone before going on to a three-hole victory against Portumna in the final.

"We still haven't got a national pennant in the club, so we're looking forward to going to Carton House and giving it a good rattle to try and get over the line," said Athenry manager John Duffy.

Muskerry captured the Munster title at Shannon, beating Ballybunion by one hole in the semi-finals before clinching a two-hole win over Dungarvan in the final.  Dave O’Donovan and the experienced international Niall Gorey beat John Reynolds and Kevin Stack by two holes as Daniel Hallissey and John Waldron halved with Peter Mullaney and Alan Thomas.

AIG Junior Cup 

  • Semi-Finals — Wednesday 17 September

11.10 am Castle v Warrenpoint (Castle names first)

  • Harry Gleeson v Paddy Magee;
  • Ben Murray v Jack Campbell;
  • Fergal Walsh v Shane McMahon;
  • Kevin Moran v Michael McGurk;
  • Gerry Moran v Stanley Weir

12.00 pm Castletroy v Athenry (Castletroy names first)

  • Jonathan McDonnell v Darragh Conlon;
  • Colm Geary v Brian O'Connor;
  • Keith Bermingham v Louis O'Hara;
  • Brendan Reidy v Thomas Reaney;
  • Michael Murphy v Michael Kennelly
  • Final — Thursday 18 September 10.20 am

The second oldest inter club competition, the Junior Cup was first played for in 1900 when Portmarnock claimed the title.

Since then over 60 different clubs have added this impressive piece of silverware to their trophy cabinet, with some of the more frequent victors being Foxrock, Limerick and Lahinch.

Castle take on Warrenpoint the first semi-final with both clubs bidding to take the title for the first time in their history. The Dublin club came through Leinster in impressive fashion at Lisheen Springs, beating Ardee 4-1 and Elm Park 3.5-1.5 before seeing off Rathcore 3.5-1.5 in the final.

Team manager Barry McConville has assembled a highly competitive squad with Gareth Bourke, Fergal Walsh, Gerry Moran, Kevin Moran, Ben Murray, Tommy O'Brien, Jim Pender and Marc Dillon all playing their part in their Leinster triumph. 

Warrenpoint won’t be easy to beat, however, as they showed in the Ulster final at Omagh where they beat Greenisland 3.5-1.5 thanks to a strong squad featuring Paddy Magee, Jack Campbell, Morgan O’Hare, Michael McGurk and Stanley Weir.

Like Warrenpoint, Athenry will also be going for a Barton Shield-Junior Cup double but if they are to give themselves a chance they must beat 1972 winners Castletroy in their semi-final.

The Limerick men had to come through North Munster first and did so impressively with wins over Adare Manor, Charleville, Nenagh and finally East Clare to qualify for the Munster final. 

At Shannon they beat Muskerry 3.5-1.5 in the semi-finals and West Waterford 3-2 in the Munster final with a squad featuring Colm Geary, Cillian O'Muineachain, Keith Birmingham, Brendan Reidy and Michael Murphy.

Athenry know how to feels to let the All Ireland title slip through their finger having lost to Donaghadee in the 2012 final at Kinsale.

Just one member of the runner-up squad from 2012 remains in Thomas Reaney but with Darragh Conlon, Brian O’Connor, Peadar O’Beirn, Michael Kennelly and Louis O’Hara all playing their part in the campaign alongside Paschal Carbin, Norman Farrell,  Dave Kinnen and Brendan Penney and with Philip Somers leading from the front, the Galwaymen will be doubly determined to make up for that painful loss in Kinsale.

Their 3-2 win over pre-tournament favourites County Sligo in the Connacht semi-finals was key but they still had to produce their very best golf to come through to take the pennant with a tight 3.5-1.5 win over Galway in a memorable decider played in rain and high winds.

Spanish Point celebrating last year's win at Royal Tara. Picture: Pat Cashman

AIG Pierce Purcell Shield 

  • Semi-Finals — Thursday 18 September
  • 11.40am Enniscrone v Spanish Point
  • 12.30hrs Rossmore v Coollattin
  • Final — Friday 19 September 10.30 am

Five foursome pairings represent each club, comprised of minimum individual handicaps of 12 and minimum combined of 27. In short, this is the battle for the minnows and arguably the most entertaining of all the trophies for the neutrals to watch.

Galway, Muskerry, St Annes and Warrenpoint have all won this shield more than once but this year it’s Spanish Point’s chance to win the All Ireland title for the second year running.

The nine-hole Munster club struck a blow for minnows everywhere when they retained their provincial title in style with comprehensive victories against Killarney (4-1) and Thurles (4.5-0.5) at Faithlegg.

Last year, Spanish Point beat Claremorris 4-1 in the All Ireland final at Royal Tara and they are clearly a force to be reckoned with once more. However, they will be hard-pressed by Enniscrone, who triumphed in memorable fashion in the Connacht finals at Strandhill.

No fewer than 92 holes were required to separate Enniscrone and Roscommon in the provincial semi-finals where the County Sligo club prevailed at the third tie hole when John Griffin and Jim Bowe claimed the crucial point in a 3-2 win.

Enniscrone faced Castlebar in the final but after wins for Eugene O’Doherty and Kenny McGrath (1 hole) and John Rush and Jim Rickard (3 and 2) it fell to Griffin and Bowe to linch the winning point in a 3.5-1.5 victory.

Two up with three to play, Griffin and Bower were taken to the 19th but came through to seal victory for a solid all-round squad that can also count on sterling performers in Ray Basquill and Richie Cloonan and Pat Ruane and Padraig Tighe.

Established in 1916, Ulster champions Rossmore might not be well-known nationwide but the club has a long history having counted on the services of former Walker Cup and Ryder Cup player Norman Drew as head professional for many years.

Situated just a 10-minute drive from Monaghan town, they led the Ulster qualifiers at Tandragee and then beat Kilkeel, Dunmurry, Rockmount and Letterkenny before going on to beat Kilrea 4-1 in the Ulster final at Rockmount last month.

Their opening three partnerships proved intractable on that occasion with Bernard Gilbane and Rory McDonnell, Adrian Trappe and Dermot McMahon and Padraig Trappe and Brendan Casey all winning comfortably. 

The squad also features the partnerships of Alan Finnigan and Declan Murphy and John McKenna and Malachy Deery. And they may well prove to be a handful for Leinster champions Coollattin from Co Wicklow, who won the first pennant in the club’s history thanks to a 3.5-1.5 win over Tullamore in the final at Lisheen Springs.

AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield 

  • Semi-Finals — Friday 19 September
  • 12.00 pm Lisselan v Strandhill 
  • 12.50 pm  Strabane  v  Waterford 
  • Final -  Saturday 20 September 10.30am

Ireland's amateur golf legend is commemorated by the Jimmy Bruen Shield, inaugurated in 1978 when Stackstown won the first competition. Clubs are represented by five pairs, the minimum individual handicap being 6 and the minimum combined 17.

Clontarf, Warrenpoint, Nenagh and Beech Park are amongst those clubs that have won this coveted title more than once. But this year there could be a new name on the trophy with Munster minnows Lisselan, a nine-hole course in Clonakilty designed by the legendary Christy O’Connor Snr, taking on Connacht champions Strandhill and Ulster winners Strabane facing beaten 2012 semi-finalists Waterford.

Lisselan are cleary the Cinderella story and while they reached the final of the Irish Mixed Foursomes Championship at Castlerock in 2010,  winning the Jimmy Bruen title in Munster with victories over Spanish Point and Tralee was a huge achievement.

Leo Hassett and Andrew Whelton, Pat Coughlan and Barry Hayes, Donncha Crowley and Richard Fleming, Paul Corcoran and Richard Fitton and Eoin Ryan and Cathal Kirby will certainly give everything for the cause.

“You can only imagine how excited we are,” said Lisselan team captain Fergal Keohane. “For a nine-hole club on the side of the road with less than 200 members to take on some of the biggest clubs in Munster and come out on top is massive for us.

“But it’s not really a major surprise to those who know what these guys are capable of. We have been working towards this for the past 12 months and we now go forward to represent Munster with a great deal of pride and quiet confidence.”

Strandhill were so proud of their win in Connacht that they organised a fundraiser for the team that beat Castlebar 4-1 in the semi-finals before overcoming Tuam by the same margin in the final on their home course with Peter McDonnell, Ciaran Henry, David Lindsay, Tristan Probst, Noel Tivnan, Brian Herny, Ronnie Conlon, Robbie Henneberry, Jim Branley and John Howley all playing their part.

Strabane beat neighbours Faughan Valley in their semi-final before sneaking past Galgorm Castle 3-2 to win the Ulster title for only the second time since 1984. 

The club captain on that occasion was Jimmy Roarty and it could be a good omen for the Ulstermen that his son Senan is captain this year. 

The squad of Franke Gallagher, Ciaran Duffy, Paddy O’Kane, Brian Haughey, Kevin Connolly, Damian McGranaghan, Andy Connolly, Gary Duffy, Liam Curry, Declan Devine, and Shay Callaghan will certainly give team captain Aidan Boyle 100 percent.

They face Waterford, who lost to Roscommon in the All Ireland semi-finals in 2012. And the Leinster champions look like being tough opponents having beat Ardee and then Killeen in a weather-delayed final at Laytown and Bettystown.

Waterford had beaten Ardee 3.5-1.5 in their semi final, while Killeen beat Beaverstown on the 19th to book their place in the final. 

However the poor weather during the final with all matches out on the course, lead to the match being halted in mid round, and all were required to come back and finish their matches the following weekend.

Waterford captain Michael Dollard and  manager Martin O'Mahoney have a strong squad with JJ Ryan, Richard Gaule and Chris Hoban as well as Pat Murphy, Val Carey, Paul Kelly, Paul Mackey, Barry Griffin, Michael Wall, Eamonn Rice, John Hale, Liam Maguire, Gerry Fell and Matt Holohan joined by the lone survivor from 2012, Gary Dunphy.

Rosslare's Mark Mullen. Picture: Pat Cashman

AIG Senior Cup 

  • Semi-Finals — Friday 19 September
  • 08.30 am Rosslare v Tramore 
  • 09.20 am Co Sligo v Banbridge
  • Final — Saturday 20 September 9.00 am

First played in 1900, when Dublin University claimed the trophy, the Senior Cup is the most coveted trophy in club golf with teams of five taking each other on in singles matchplay, off scratch.

County Sligo took the title last year with a 3-2 win over Rosapenna and they will again face Ulster opposition at Carton House when Banbridge challenge them in the second semi-final. 

Mark Morrissey, Steffan O’Hara and Sean Flanagan were backed up by schoolboy David Brady and Ruairi O’Connor in the Connacht championship, where they beat Galway 3.5-1.5.

Even without Gary McDermott, who played for Carton House this year, Co Sligo are strong gain and hey will be going for All Ireland glory for the fifth time since 1996.

Banbridge have never won the Senior Cup but they have a seriously experienced team as they showed in Ulster with a 5-0 win over Dunmurry in the semi-finals followed by a 4-1 win over defending champions Rosapenna in the final at Royal Portrush.

The line up is strong from one to five with former professional Jim Carvill leading from the front with the vastly experienced internationals Conor Doran and Rory Leonard backed up by Stefan Greenberg and Colin Wilson.

Whoever comes out on top will be highly fancied to win the All Ireland crown but Rosslare or Tramore cannot be underestimated.

Leinster champions Rosslare beat The Heath, Carlow, New Ross and Kilkenny to reach the provincial finals at Mount Juliet where they saw off Carton House 3-2 and a highly fancied Headfort 4-1 before cruising to a 4-1 win over a Hermitage side featuring the likes of former tour player Stephen Browne, Alan Dowling and British Boys finalist Rowan Lester.

Mark Mullen, Paul Murphy, Gary Collins, Tony O'Leary and Ian Lynch have been sensational for the Wexford men throughout the campaign but they must be wary of 1992 champions Tramore, who look very strong.

The Waterford men have a very balanced team with 18-year old international Robin Dawson enjoying a strong finish to the year. Seasoned championship campaigner Alan Thomas is joined by former Waterford hurling star Paul Flynn and the combative Chris Butler and they must be regarded as serious contenders and a good bet to end a 22-year wait for a second All Ireland crown.