Alex Gleeson and Daniel Holland showed their class as top level competitors when they helped Castle see off AIG Senior Cup royalty Shandon Park and keep their double hopes alive at Carton House
Bidding to become just the third club since Royal Dublin in 1927 and Portmarnock in 1933 to win the Junior and Senior Cups in the same year, the Rathfarnham club needed every ounce of experience from their top players to clinch a 3-2 win.
On a day when Nenagh proved too good for Castlebar and cruised to a 4-1 AIG Pierce Purcell triumph and Athenry set up a Jimmy Bruen shield showdown with Cill Dara after they saw off Fortwilliam and Muskerry respectively, Castle and Shandon Park served up a cracking Senior Cup semi-final.
The other semi was special too with Co Sligo’s TJ Ford slipping on the Superman cloak at the 18th to hit a low cut three wood around a tree and set up the win that gave the Rosses Point club a 3.5-1.5 triumph over Monkstown.
Most of the fireworks came in the Castle-Shandon Park showdown, however, where Jonathan Taylor’s 3&2 win over Peter McKeever was erased by the experienced Jim Mulready, who pulled off some spectacular shots to beat former international and Mullingar Scratch Trophy winner Nicky Grant by the same margin.
With Robert Moran and Holland leading in the last two matches, Castle looked to be cruising to the final when Irish Close champion Gleeson came back from two down after 14 to beat former South of Ireland champion Stuart Bleakley one up.
Two down with four to go, Gleeson won the next three holes to go ahead with the highlight a 35 footer for a two at the 16th, where he was putting uphill from the bottom tier.
“I holed nothing [on front nine] and I was getting a little frustrated but I was hitting it well,” Gleeson said after a solid four at the 18th sealed a crucial win. "I missed a short one on 14 for the win but made that bomb on 16 – I got a nice read on it – and momentum switched.
“I was fairly pumped going up 17, hit a lovely third shot in and missed another one but he didn’t get up and down from the back of green.
“On 18 I knew four was probably going to be good enough, it’s a seriously long hole in this wind. I busted a drive and 4 iron, hit two lovely shots into 20 feet and two putts was good enough.”
With his confidence sky high, Gleeson added: "I have been playing nicely all year. I took a bit of time off after the Close and after we won Leinster, so I was feeling fresh coming in. I started nicely, just didn’t hole much on the greens which is unlike me, I have been putting well all year.
"I feel confident every time I stand on the tee which is nice. If I am playing well, then I have got a good chance to win each match. My game’s in good shape, my ball striking has improved a lot which takes a lot of pressure off. I’d say last year if I’d putted like I did today I wouldn’t have won, but my ball striking has improved and that gives me the opportunity to not have to putt as well.”
All did not go to plan in the last two matches, however, as Moran saw the experience Philip Purdy turn the tie on its head by beating him on the 18th.
Holland’s two up lead then disappeared at the 17th, where he got a mud ball and tugged his approach out of bounds against Jonathan Gourley.
Gourley then drove into the right rough and failed to cut his approach around the big tree, ending up short left from where he failed to get up and down.
Holland had finish 25 yards ahead of his opponent and hit a stunning four iron to the green to set up a deserved victory.
“I had 204 to the pin into the breeze,” Holland said. “It wasn't a rescue because there was a bit of adrenalin flowing, so I decided to hit four-iron.
“The worst case scenario was I might have been a bit short but really nutted it and it came out perfect.”
Admitting he feared a Shandon Park par save and a 19th hole duel, he said: “To be honest I said to my caddy 'be ready for 19' because it's happened to me enough in the past where guys have got up and down against me before. So you have to be ready for 19 but thankfully it went our way this time.”
The 26 year old surprised himself by playing exceptionally well this year (for little reward), losing to Jonny Yates in the final of the West and Rowan Lester in the semi-finals of the South.
But he admits that a second Senior Cup win — he’s one of two survivors alongside Gleeson from the winning 2012 team — would easily make up for those reverses.
“There’s a much bigger dream now,” he said, referring to the double. "We’ve got the Junior Cup so we can have one massive day for the club tomorrow. We just have to perform.
“There's no 'I' in team. We've got a great bunch of lads and we just play for each other. Alex pulled a serious win out of the bag there.
"And then Jim got a great win over Nicky Grant, because Nicky is a serious player. He's a former international. Jim's been around for a while so I'm delighted to see him winning. He sat on the bench in 2012, so he was very eager to play this one.
“Tomorrow’s the biggest day in the club’s history. We’ve a chance to really put a mark down for the Castle.”
Co Sligo stand in Castle’s way and while the last won in 2013, it’s their third final in four years and they have a young, hungry side that’s more than capable of winning.
“It’s very surreal to be back in the final,” said Mark Morrissey, one of the survivors from the 2013 side and a man destined for the First Stage of the European Tour Qualifying School at Frilford Heath later this month.
“This will be my third final. Fingers crossed we’ll do it. We’ve 11 guys better than one handicap, I don’t think many club teams would have that. Training is so competitive and the vibes are so good between the team. Everyone pulls for one another. It’s great to be here again.”
Morrissey’s 4&3 win against Monkstown’s Eoghan Long in the back match gave Sligo the edge after David Brady won the top leg 2&1. However, the match remained in the balance as Ruairi O’Connor and Nick Moore finished all square after 18.
While they were poised to play extra holes, attention turned to 19-year-old TJ Ford. Holding a one-hole cushion, Ford delivered the telling blow with his stunning three-wood approach to the 18th setting up a winning par.
A son of the great Sligo stalwart Tom Ford, the hero of the hour won the 16th with a birdie two to go one up and then hit a career shot at the last to set up a match winning four.
Blocked out and with 250 yards to go, he chose a three wood, “opened the face and cut it around the tree..
"The line was at the bunker, that's all I could see. I didn’t see the point of hitting a 4-iron, I would have had to cut it the same amount so I just tried to get up around the green, it paid off. It just sort of suited the eye when I went over.”
Ford gave up playing rugby with Connacht at U19 level to concentrate on golf this year.
"It’s my first year playing Senior Cup,” he said. “It’s great to be doing so well on my debut. I just started in Maynooth this week, got to play Carton a good bit to practice this week and it’s paid off.
“I put the interest in golf for the year and it was great to travel the country and play so many great courses for the year. I’ve given up the rugby completely, I’ll see how it goes in the future but I am happy playing the golf at the minute.
"I played in the qualifiers in the West, shot 73 and was beaten in a 7-man playoff. But it was a good confidence boost, just unlucky at the end.”
As for his Dad’s influence, he said: “He doesn’t force it on me, but any time you’re looking for advice or help he’s there. Uncle Dara over from Madeira, he’s a pro out there. Great to see him. The big granddad wasn’t able to make it up, so it would good to do it for him as well.”
Before the destination of the Senior Cup is decided, Athenry and Cill Dara will go head to head for the Jimmy Bruen Shield.
Cill Dara were comfortable winners against Muskerry, Paddy Hopkins and Christy Roche clinching the match with a 5&3 success in the anchor leg. Athenry’s clash with Fortwilliam proved a dramatic affair and it was only decided at the 20th.
Seamus Burke and Ciaran Coughlan found themselves centre stage when their match went the distance and then some. At the second extra hole, Burke and Coughlan combined for a par. And that proved enough to take the all-important point.
As for the Pierce Purcell Shield, Nenagh extended Munster’s grip on the trophy to six years with an emphatic 4-1 win over Castlebar to lift the title for the fourth time.
Paddy Kennedy and Padraig Hackett won 5&4 at No 1 and when Bernard Hackett and Pat J Hogan also recorded a 5&4 win in match two, Castlebar faced a huge task.
“It’s a great honour to win an All Ireland title,” said team captain Tony McCann. "We're very proud of our team and the effort they put in over the last five or six months since we started out in Roscrea.”
“Yesterday we came up against Nuremore and I think in fairness to Nuremore they didn't give the best account of their quality of the golf they're capable of.
"But we knew we'd be up against it against Castlebar and we were well prepared. We’ve good golfers in the club and we're delighted they were able to finish it off.”
AIG Senior Cup
Co. Sligo 3.5 Monkstown 1.5 (Co Sligo names first)
- David Brady beat Sean Desmond 2&1
- Declan Reidy lost to Donal McDonnell Jnr 3&2
- Ruairi O’Connor halved with Nick Moore
- TJ Ford beat Martin Poucher 2 holes
- Mark Morrissey beat Eoghan Long 4&3
Castle 3 Shandon Park 2 (Castle names first)
- Peter McKeever lost to Jonathan Taylor 3&2
- Alex Gleeson beat Stuart Bleakley 1 hole
- Jim Mulready beat Nicky Grant 3&2
- Robert Moran lost to Philip Purdy 1 hole
- Daniel Holland beat Jonathan Gourley 1 hole
AIG Pierce Purcell Shield Final
Nenagh 4 Castlebar 1 (Nenagh names first)
- Patrick Kennedy & Padraig Hackett beat Pat Waldron & Michael Heneghan 5&4
- Bernard Hackett & Pat J Hogan beat Stephen Munnelly & Thomas Ruane 5&4
- Mel Gleeson & John Hogan halved with David Molloy & Paul Fitzgerald
- Thomas Slattery & Jim Gleeson halved with Sean Haugh & Declan Prendergast
- David Hickey & Matthew O’Gara beat Val Jennings & Michael McHugh 5&4
AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield
Athenry 3 Fortwilliam 2 (Athenry names first)
- Ethan Regan & Oisin O’Connell lost to Aiden Hawkins & Patrick McGurnaghan 3&1
- David Flaherty & David Mooney beat Donald Skeats & Martin Kelly 4&2
- Sean O’Connell & Paul Molloy beat Andrew Lane & Vincent McKinley 7&6
- James O’Connor & Mark Moran lost to Paul Gillen & Conal Duffy 2 holes
- Ciaran Coughlan & Seamus Burke beat John M McAuley & Alan Hawthorne 20th
Cill Dara 3.5 Muskerry 1.5 (Cill Dara names first)
- Ray Mackey & Christopher Harhen halved with Andrew Gray & Tony Gardiner
- James Dunne & Ciaran Ryan beat Sean Geary & Gary Lucas 4&3
- Tom Friary & Pat Garry lost to Paul Herlihy & Fionn Hickey 2&1
- David Fox & Declan Plunkett beat Fergal Murphy & Michael O’Brien 3&2
- Patrick Hopkins & Christy Roche beat Michael O’Callaghan & Jack Taylor 5&3
SCHEDULE FOR SATURDAY 17 SEPTEMBER
AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield Final
Athenry v Cill Dara (Athenry names first)
- 0900 Ethan Regan & Oisin O’Connell v Ray Mackey & Christopher Harhen
- 0909 David Flaherty & David Mooney v James Dunne & Ciaran Ryan
- 0918 Sean O’Connell & Paul Molloy v David Kelly & Desmond Scahill
- 0927 Ian Kelly & Mark Moran v David Fox & Declan Plunkett
- 0936 Ciaran Coughlan & Seamus Burke v Patrick Hopkins & Christy Roche
AIG Senior Cup Final
Co Sligo v Castle (Co Sligo names first)
- 1030 David Brady v Peter McKeever
- 1039 Declan Reidy v Alex Gleeson
- 1048 Ruairi O’Connor v Robert Moran
- 1057 TJ Ford v Jim Mulready
- 1106 Mark Morrissey v Daniel Holland