Panel game - New faces, old questions as GUI picks 2015-16 squads

Irish champion Tiarnan McLarnon is one of six new faces in the Irish national senior panel. Picture by Pat Cashman

Walker Cup stars Gavin Moynihan, Paul Dunne and Gary Hurley have left the amateur ranks to pursue their careers in the professional game but the same old questions remain with it comes to the make up of the Golfing Union of Ireland's panels for the coming season.

While each and every player must, undoubtedly, have been given due consideration, the good news stories are always tempered by annual omissions that will, one assumes, be explained in the fullness of time.

Stackstown's Richard Bridges has also turned professional while his international team mates Jack Hume and Colm Campbell may follow suit if they are successful at the European Tour Qualifying School this month.

With these loses, it is only natural that the GUI has named six new players to the National Senior Panel. But one wonders why talents that might flourish at the highest level, such as Co Louth's Thomas Mulligan or The Island's Kevin LeBlanc, remain in Boys golf.

And can anyone reasonably explain what Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty has to do in 2016 to get some recognition following his failure to make the Senior or even the Development panel?

LeBlanc — Ireland’s 11th best player according to the World Amateur Golf Ranking — tied for third with Walker Cup hero-to-be Ewen Ferguson in the Irish Amateur Open in May, with only eventual champion Gavin Moynihan and Brabazon Trophy winner Cormac Sharvin, another Walker Cup star, ahead of him.

Mulligan finished just outside the Top 10 that week but was a member of the young Leinster senior team that clinched an impressive victory in the Interprovincial Matches at Rosapenna.

Both were considered for full international duty but were consigned to the Boys team for the European Boys’ Division Two Championship where they were expected to help Ireland gain immediate promotion to Division One.

If that was indeed the case, it beggars belief that that they were split up as a foursomes partnership and Ireland were beaten 4.5-2.5 by Portugal in the first, decisive match.

Might they be better served at the Senior level, just as Rory McIlroy was when he decided to say goodbye to Boys golf at the age of 15? Perhaps not. 

As for the new national senior panel, Irish Close champion Tiarnan McLarnon from Massereene is one of six new names alongside Rosslare’s Gary Collins, Royal Dublin’s Jeff Hopkins, Waterford’s Eanna Griffin, Naas’ Conor O’Rourke and Portmarnock’s Conor Purcell while Geoff Lenehan returns after being unceremoniously dropped last year.

There’s plenty of room for debate, such as the absence from the Senior Panel of Royal Portrush's Peter Kerr, the runaway winner of the Boys Order of Merit.

What about New Ross' Michael Ryan, winner of the Leinster Boys, runner up in the Irish Boys and  unbeaten in Boys Interprovincials? He made no panels.

Then there's Rafferty, who reached the semi-finals of the “North”, the quarters of the “Close” and was second in strokeplay qualifying for the “West”. He also failed to make the grade.

Either we are way off the mark or there are perfectly sensible reasons for these decisions. 

The Panels (numbered by me for information purposes only)

GUI National Panel 2015-16:

  1. Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint)
  2. Gary Collins (Rosslare)
  3. Robin Dawson (Faithlegg)
  4. Colin Fairweather (Knock)
  5. John Ross Galbraith (Whitehead)
  6. Alex Gleeson (Castle)
  7. Stuart Grehan (Tullamore)
  8. Eanna Griffin (Waterford)
  9. Jeff Hopkins (Royal Dublin)
  10. Jack Hume (Naas)
  11. Geoff Lenehan (Portmarnock)
  12. Rowan Lester (Hermitage)
  13. Paul McBride (The Island)
  14. Dermot McElroy (Ballymena)
  15. Tiarnán McLarnon (Massereene)
  16. Conor O’Rourke (Naas)
  17. Conor Purcell (Portmarnock)
  18. Cormac Sharvin (Ardglass).

GUI Development Panel 2015-16

  1. Cathal Butler (Kinsale)
  2. Peter Kerr (Royal Portrush)
  3. Sean Flanagan (Co Sligo)
  4. Neil McKinstry (Cairndhu)
  5. Devin Morley (Oughterard)
  6. Ronan Mullarney (Galway)
  7. Jonathan Yates (Naas).

Boys Development Panel 2015-16

  1. Sean Desmond (Monkstown)
  2. Harry Gillivan (Westport)
  3. Ross Kelly (Tuam)
  4. Jordan Logue (Hilton Templepatrick)
  5. Jack McGarry (Rosslare)
  6. Joseph O’Neill (Tralee).

Boys Under-18 National Panel 2015-16

  1. Reece Black (Hilton Templepatrick)
  2. Owen Crooks (Bushfoot),
  3. Alan Fahy (Bray)
  4. Matthew Fitzsimons (Ardglass)
  5. Jack Hearn (Tramore)
  6. Kevin Le Blanc (The Island)
  7. Marc McKinstry (Cairndhu)
  8. Andrew Mulhall (Waterford Castle)
  9. Thomas Mulligan (Co Louth)
  10. John Murphy (Kinsale)
  11. Mark Power (Kilkenny)
  12. Cameron Raymond (Newlands).

Boys Under 16 National Panel 2015-16

  1. John Brady (Rosslare) 
  2. Sean Carroll (Castle Dargan)
  3. Charlie Dawson (Faithlegg)
  4. Charlie Denvir (Milltown)
  5. Jack Doherty (Carton House)
  6. Sean Doyle (Black Bush)
  7.  Ian Halpin (Cahir Park)
  8. Allan Hill (Roscommon)
  9. Odhran Maguire (Slieve Russell)
  10. Aaron Marshall (Lisburn)
  11. Luke O’Neill (Connemara)
  12. Edward Walsh (Mallow).

UPDATE - Mea culpa, I've been reminded me that the GUI didn't pick Alex Gleeson or Colin Fairweather on any panels last year either. The year before that Colm Campbell played his way onto the Irish team by winning the East. So the GUI does correct mistakes and players can play their way onto teams.