County Sligo win it for Mark; Cill Dara take Jimmy Bruen by a short head
Ruairi O'Connor (Co Sligo) holes the winning putt on the 19th green in the final of the AIG Senior Cup at Carton House. Picture by Pat Cashman

Ruairi O'Connor (Co Sligo) holes the winning putt on the 19th green in the final of the AIG Senior Cup at Carton House. Picture by Pat Cashman

Ruairi O’Connor coolly brushed in a slick eight footer for birdie to beat Robert Moran on the 19th and give County Sligo a heart-stopping 3-2 win over Castle and their fifth AIG Senior Cup title at Carton House.

Following last Thursday’s AIG Junior Cup win, the Rathfarnham club was bidding to become just the third since Royal Dublin in 1927 and Portmarnock in 1933 to win the Junior and Senior Cups in the same year.

But while they turned around early deficits to get within touching distance of victory, County Sligo cruelly snatched the blue riband title from their grasp and dedicated an emotional victory to much-loved panel member Mark Rooney, who is battling cancer.

“This means a lot to us now,” an emotional O’Connor said as the winners celebrated and the losers licked their wounds as Co Sligo had done on the same green in similar circumstances two years earlier.

“Our team captain from the last couple of years (Mark Rooney) is going through a tough time so it means a lot to bring this trophy back to him. He wasn’t able to make it today but he was glued to the scoring.

"Our management staff, Robbie Fitzpatrick and team captain Shane Flanagan, they’ve been outstanding. They left no stone unturned for us. Two years ago, we lost it on 19, the same situation. It was great to come out on the right side of it."

Shane Flanagan (Team Captain) and Robbie Fitzpatrick (Assistant Team Captain) with the Co Sligo team members (from left) Ruairi O'Connor, Declan Reidy, Garth McManus, Mark Morrissey, Sean Flanagan, TJ Ford, David Brady, Shane Underwood, Alan Gaynor and Cian Feeney after their victory in the AIG Senior Cup at Carton House. Picture by Pat Cashman

Shane Flanagan (Team Captain) and Robbie Fitzpatrick (Assistant Team Captain) with the Co Sligo team members (from left) Ruairi O'Connor, Declan Reidy, Garth McManus, Mark Morrissey, Sean Flanagan, TJ Ford, David Brady, Shane Underwood, Alan Gaynor and Cian Feeney after their victory in the AIG Senior Cup at Carton House. Picture by Pat Cashman

While the Rosses Point men had two points on the board with the excellent David Brady growing in stature as the competition developed, beating Peter McKeever 4 and 3 and new kid on the block, TJ Ford, seeing  off Jim Mulready 3 and 2, Castle were leading in the other three matches on the pristine O’Meara Course.

With Irish Close champion Alex Gleeson winning the 18th to completed a hard-fought two-hole win over Declan Reidy at number two and Daniel Holland coming back from three down to secure a dogged, 2 and 1 win over Mark Morrissey in the anchor match, it appeared that Moran would be the hero of the hour when he took a one up lead over O’Connor to the 18th tee.

However, the 23-year old Sligo man had other ideas, hitting a bullet-like 220 yard three iron to the heart of the 18th to set up a winning par four and force extra holes as Moran overshot the green.

At the 19th, the par-five first, Moran hit a corking drive but with O'Connor in sand short left, he missed the green left and pitched 10 feet past.

O'Connor had a difficult third from the front left bunker but he played it very well and it caught the ridge short of the hole and rolled down to no more than eight feet.

"It was lying okay," he said of the bunker shot. "Tough shot, well below the level of the green, just had to get it on and the slope of the green would do the rest."

After watching Moran, who had a been a hero for Castle throughout the competition, leave his birdie putt short, O'Connor listened to his caddie, Alan Gaynor's advice and hit his putt at the left lip.

"My caddie, Alan 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."

The AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield also went to the 19th with nine-hole Cill Dara edging out Athenry 3-2 with former Derby-winning jockey Christy Roche holing a two footer for par and the win as he and his partner Patrick Hopkins edged out Ciaran Coughlan and Seamus Burke in the decisive match.

Christy Roche (Cill Dara) reacts to missing his putt on the 17th green in the final of the AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield at Carton Hous. Picture by Pat Cashman

Christy Roche (Cill Dara) reacts to missing his putt on the 17th green in the final of the AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield at Carton Hous. Picture by Pat Cashman

Having won the Barton Cup together in 2004, they are now Cill Dara's dream team after helping the modest Kildare club to its first green pennant.

They also won friends in Athenry by conceding a two and a half footer for a half on the 18th green with the match in the balance. It was all the more remarkable considering Roche had missed a tiddler on the 17th

“Absolutely fantastic," said Hopkins.

Roche added: “It's a super win for a small club like Cill Dara, a social club you could call it. A small nine-hole course with a limited amount of members, to take on the powers that be if you like, beat Muskerry and beat Athenry like we did, fantastic.”

The winning Cill Dara team with the 2016 Jimmy Bruen Shield.  Picture by Pat Cashman

The winning Cill Dara team with the 2016 Jimmy Bruen Shield.  Picture by Pat Cashman

Hopkins added: “I think that's the advantage of having a nine-hole course, 300 main members, it's very close.”

On the match, Hopkins said: “It was very sporting Athenry were lovely people."

Roche holed a good putt for par at the 18th, then made a two footer for a winning par in extra time and insisted that the pressure was not a problem for him given his experience in top class sport.

"No, I've experienced being under pressure all my life and I was able to put it out of the way. And this man was drilling me to forget about it, 'forget about it!' So it was great in the finish because if I didn't knock in the winner I would be remembered for missing the two-footer on 17.”

The sporting nature of the clash summer up a memorable week at Carton House.

“Everyone said the same from all the matches, they were so friendly and it was a really good spirit, you'd just hate to see a loser," Roche said. "It was a really enjoyable game which you often don't get now. Nobody deserved to lose.”

On Cill Dara's generous concession on the 18th, Roche added: “It was no more than they deserved.”

AIG Cups and Shields Finals, Carton House (O'Meara)

AIG Senior Cup

Co. Sligo 3 Castle 2 (Co Sligo names first)

  1. David Brady bt Peter McKeever 4&3;
  2. Declan Reidy lost to Alex Gleeson 2 holes;
  3. Ruairi O’Connor bt Robert Moran 19th;
  4. TJ Ford bt Jim Mulready 3&2;
  5. Mark Morrissey lost to Daniel Holland 2&1.

AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield

Cill Dara 3 Athenry 2 (Cill Dara names first)

  1. Ray Mackey & Christopher Harhen lost to Ethan Regan & Oisin O’Connell 2&1;
  2. James Dunne & Ciaran Ryan lost to David Flaherty & David Mooney 2 holes;
  3. David Kelly & Desmond Scahill bt Sean O’Connell & Paul Molloy 3&2;
  4. David Fox & Declan Plunkett bt Ian Kelly & Mark Moran 2&1;
  5. Patrick Hopkins & Christy Roche beat Ciaran Coughlan & Seamus Burke 19th.