By Brian Keogh
The entire Irish golfing family was at County Louth to witness the battle for the Golfsure sponsored Interprovincial Championship. And while it was the men of Munster who walked away with the famous old trophy for the first time since 1997, the three-day matches could well prove to be the foundation stone of an eagerly sought victory in September’s Home Internationals at the same venue.
Ireland last won the Home Internationals at Ballybunion in 2003 and having landed the European Amateur Team Championship for the first time in 20 years just last month, Irish team captain Michael Burns and his selectors were far more than casual spectators on the pristine Baltray links.
“We certainly hope to use the advantage we have gained by playing the Interprovincial Matches at Co Louth to our advantage in the Home Internationals,” Burns said afterwards. “We have lost Rory McIlroy and Richard Kilpatrick but we have players who will take up the baton and carry on.
“Rory has been a great ambassador for Irish golf and raised the game of the rest of the players. There is no loss, we have actually benefited from having Rory. I think the players are up for it.”
Burns and his selectors named four new caps in the 11-man side to represent Ireland at County Louth from September 19-21 with 35-year-old Joe Lyons from Banagher in Co Offaly, earning his debut alongside Paul Cutler, Cian Curley and Paul O’Hanlon thanks to a brilliant season in matchplay combat.
Victory in the West of Ireland championship at Rosses Point earlier this season confirmed that Lyons is a rival to be reckoned with and he proved that his Sligo performance was no fluke when he reached the final of the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch earlier this month, only losing to Dunmurry’s Darren Crowe on the 18th.
“Joe won the West and was runner up in the South,” Burns said. “He is a trier and 100 percent committed to the team. He will produce the work when he is asked and I have no doubt that he will be a huge asset to the team.”
Exhausted by a hectic schedule, Lyons failed to produce his best golf at Baltray, earning just half a point from his six matches as Connacht failed to build on a shock victory over defending champions Ulster on the opening day and ended up with the wooden spoon
Pat Killeen's youthful Connacht squad took the foursomes series 3-1, but it could easily have ended up all square as Athlone's Kelan McDonagh discovered he had 15 clubs in his bag as he partnered fellow club man Ciaran O'Connor.
The Connacht pair were all square after two against Ciaran McAleavey and Stephen Crowe but were subsequently penalised with the loss of both holes before 17-year-old McDonagh jettisoned an "extra" two-iron in his bag on the third and the pair went on to rack up an impressive 4 and 3 victory.
Co Sligo's Gary McDermott and The K Club's Michael Lavelle produced a brilliant comeback from three down after 10 holes to beat North of Ireland champion Gareth Shaw and Porstewart's Cutler.
The Connacht pair took then next six holes on the bounce, winning four of them with birdies for an amazing 3 and 2 victory. In the afternoon singles, West of Ireland champion Lyons lost balls at the 16th and 17th as he fell by 3 and 1 to Shaw.
But Lavelle recovered from a lost ball on the tough 16th to beat Conor Doran by one hole thanks to winning pars at the 17th and 18th. Munster beat Leinster 7 ½ - 5 ½ in the second match with veterans Murray and Bornemann taking full points from their encounters
In the morning foursomes, Munster won all four foursomes matches as Murray teamed up with Peter O'Keeffe to beat Irish Close champion Shane Lowry and Castle's Dara Lernihan 3 and 2.
Bornemann and South of Ireland semi-finalist Stephen Moloney then beat Curley and Neil O Briain by one hole to leave Munster in an almost unassailable position going into the singles.
Lowry gave Leinster hope with a 2 and 1 win over Cian McNamara in the top match but Murray beat Simon Ward 4 and 3 and Bornemann edged out Dara Lernihan by one hole to send Munster on their way.
The foursomes proved to be Ulster’s undoing over the three days and while the loss Darren Crowe through injury on Tuesday was a blow, the absence of foursomes pair McIlroy and Caldwell due to Walker Cup duty proved to be fatal.
The same could be said of runners-up Leinster, who lost 4-0 to Munster in the foursomes on the opening day and came up just one and a half matches short of overall victory in the end as John Carroll’s side took the title on a countback - 22 matches to Leinster’s 21.
Carroll paid tribute to his “old guard” in the moment of victory as 43-year old Karl Bornemann, 41-year old John “Junior” Morris and 36-year old Pat Murray drew on their vast experience at the top level.
Following Ulster’s 7-6 win over Munster and Leinster’s four-point victory over Connacht on day two, all four provinces went into the final series of matches with one win apiece and their title hopes intact.
Carroll said: "A few people on the periphery said there were a lot of old stagers in the camp, but the result speaks volumes for those lads. Junior Morris was outstanding all week, remaining unbeaten. And Peter O'Keeffe won two big singles and then took three points with Pat Murray in the foursomes."
Morris was a member of the side that last won the title at Mount Juliet in 1997 - beating legends Padraig Harrington and Garth McGimpsey in his singles matches.
While Leinster beat Ulster 3-1 in the foursomes en route to a 7-6 victory, Munster took three and a half points from their foursomes to leave the two provinces level on matches won entering the afternoon singles.
And in the end it was Munster who won by the greater margin, taking five points from the nine singles with 25-year-old O'Keeffe leading the way with a 6 and 5 win over West of Ireland champion Lyons.
Carroll added: "This is my third year in charge and it nice to get a victory after a two disappointing years before that. I knew that Leinster would find it tight against Ulster and after getting three and a half from the foursomes, I felt sure that we could get five points from the singles. And we did."
(All results below)
Interprovincial Championship, sponsored by Golfsure, Co Louth Golf Club.
Connacht 8 Ulster 5 (Connacht names first)
Foursomes: J Lyons & C O’Malley lost to R Kilpatrick & C Doran 2 holes; M Lavelle & G McDermott bt G Shaw & P Cutler 3/2; D Scully & D Coyne bt M Sinclair & F Rafferty 3/2; K McDonagh & C O’Connor bt S Crowe & C McAleavey 4/3.
Singles: J Lyons lost to G Shaw 3/1; C O’Malley bt R Kilpatrick 2/1; M Lavelle bt C Doran 1 hole; G McDermott lost to N Grant 3/2; D Scully lost to P Cutler 5/3; D Coyne bt F Rafferty 3/2; C O’Connor halved with R Leonard; K McDonagh bt M Sinclair 3/1; S Kelly halved with S Crowe.
Munster 7 ½ Leinster 5 ½
(Munster names first)
Foursomes: P Murray & P O’Keeffe bt S Lowry & D Lernihan 3/2; S Power & J Morris bt N Kearney & S Grant 4/2; C McNamara & C Bowe bt S Ward & P O’Hanlon 3/1; K Bornemann & S Moloney bt C Curley & N O Briain 1 hole.
Singles: C McNamara lost to S Lowry 2/1; P Murray bt S Ward 4/3; S Power lost to N Kearney 2/1; P O’Keeffe lost to P O’Hanlon 2/1; C Bowe lost to C Curley 6/5; J Morris halved with N O Briain; S Moloney lost to N Gorey 3/2; G O’Flaherty bt A Hogan 2/1; K Bornemann bt D Lernihan 1 hole.
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.
Munster 8 1/2 Connacht 4 1/2 (Munster names first)
Foursomes: P Murray & P O’Keeffe bt J Lyons & C O’Malley 6/5; S Power & J Morris bt M Lavelle & G McDermott 5/4; K Bornemann & S Moloney bt D Coyne & D Scully 6/4; C McNamara & C Bowe halved with K McDonagh & C O’Connor.
Singles: P O’Keeffe bt J Lyons 6/5; P Murray lost to C O’Malley 1 hole; C Bowe bt D Coyne 2/1; C McNamara lost to M Lavelle 3/2; S Power halved with G McDermott; J Morris halved with C O’Connor; G O’Flaherty bt K McDonagh 3/2; K Bornemann bt D Scully 4/3; T O’Flynn lost to S Kelly 3/2.
Leinster 7 Ulster 6 (Leinster names first)
Foursomes: S Lowry & P O’Hanlon bt R Kilpatrick & C Doran 2 holes; S Ward & S Grant lost to G Shaw & S Crowe 2/1; C Curley & N O Briain bt M Sinclair & N Grant 3/2; N Kearney & N Gorey bt F Rafferty & P Cutler 4/3.
Singles: S Lowry lost to R Kilpatrick 2/1; S Ward lost to G Shaw 2/1; P O’Hanlon bt C Doran 5/4; C Curley lost to P Cutler 2/1; N Kearney lost to N Grant 1 hole; D Lernihan bt C McAleavey 3/2; S Grant bt F Rafferty 2/1; N Gorey bt R Leonard 2/1; N O Briain lost to M Sinclair 5/4.
Final standings: 1, Munster 2 pts (22 matches); 2, Leinster 2 pts (21); 3,Ulster 1 pt (18); 4, Connacht 1 pt (17).