By Brian Keogh
Big guns Leinster and Ulster will face each other on the final day of the Golfsure Interprovincial Matches at County Louth. But unlike other years, the match between Connacht and Munster will have equal importance as all four provinces tee it up with one victory each and their title aspirations intact.
Bloodied but unbowed after their shock defeat to Connacht on the opening day, defending champions Ulster kept their hopes alive when they came back from another shaky foursomes performance to beat Munster 7-6.
Trailing 2 ½ to 1 ½ at lunch, John White's charges won five and halved another of the nine singles to set up what promises to be a titanic tussle with hosts Leinster today.
"It was extremely tight but we are delighted to get out with a win today," said non-playing captain White. "Year after year we seem to end up playing Leinster on Friday and it is going to be interesting. We are a point or two behind and we need a good win. The foursomes are vital and it is tough to pick a team."
Leading by a point after the foursomes, Leinster cruised to a comfortable 8 1/2 to 4 1/2 victory over a youthful Connacht side that is bidding to win the Interprovincial crown for the first time in 24 years.
Irish Close champion Shane Lowry sent Frank Gannon's side on their way with an impressive 3 and 2 victory over West of Ireland winner and South of Ireland runner-up Joe Lyons.
And while County Louth's Simon Ward was a beaten by one hole in his clash with Westport's Cathal O'Malley, he was three down after 10 holes but rattled off four birdies and an eagle on Baltray's outward half to take the match to the last.
"The players performed much better today," Gannon said. "Losing all four foursomes yesterday was a terrible start to the matches for us. Today we got two and a half out of four which took a lot of pressure of us going into the singles.
"It makes for a terrific final day tomorrow because all four provinces are in with a chance. Coming into this, Ulster would have been the fancied team. There is never an awful lot between us and it could go right down to the last match."
With 17-year old debutant Kelan McDonagh claiming four points out of four, Connacht's youthful side has every chance of winning the title for the first time since their triumph at Connemara in 1983.
"We have a great chance," said Connacht's non-playing captain Pat Killeen. "As far as matches won goes, we are only a point and a half behind the leaders Leinster. So if we can beat Munster with a few points to spare tomorrow we will be right up there with a chance of being first or second, which would be a great result."
Golfsure Interprovincial Matches, Co Louth
Ulster 7 Munster 6
(Ulster names first)
Foursomes: R Kilpatrick & C Doran lost to P Murray & P O’Keeffe 1 hole; G Shaw & S Crowe bt K Bornemann & S Moloney 3/2; N Grant & M Sinclair lost to S Power & J Morris 4/3; F Rafferty & P Cutler halved with C McNamara & C Bowe.
Singles: G Shaw bt P Murray 2/1; R Kilpatrick lost to P O’Keeffe 1 hole; C Doran bt S Power 3/1; P Cutler lost to C McNamara 4/3; N Grant halved with J Morris; C McAleavey bt S Moloney 6/5; S Crowe lost to T O’Flynn 3/1; R Leonard bt G O’Flaherty 6/5; M Sinclair bt K Bornemann 3/2.
Leinster 8 ½ Connacht 4 ½
(Leinster names first)
Foursomes: S Lowry & P O’Hanlon halved with J Lyons & C O’Malley; C Curley & N O Briain bt M Lavelle & G McDermott 2/1; N Kearney & N Gorey bt D Scully & D Coyne 3/2; A Hogan & S Grant lost to C O’Connor & K McDonagh 1 hole.
Singles: S Lowry bt J Lyons 3/2; S Ward lost to C O’Malley 1 hole; P O’Hanlon bt M Lavelle 5/4; C Curley bt G McDermott 2 holes; N Kearney bt D Scully 4/3; N Gorey bt D Coyne 4/3; D Lernihan lost to C O’Connor 3/1; S Grant lost to K McDonagh 1 hole; N O Briain bt T McGowan 5/4.
Previous results: Connacht 8, Ulster 5; Munster 7 ½, Leinster 5 ½.
Standings: Leinster 1 pt (14 matches); Munster 1 (13 1/2); Connacht 1 (12 1/2); Ulster 1 (12).
Today: Ulster v Leinster; Connacht v Munster