Portmarnock and Royal Portrush will meet in a clash of the Titans for the AIG Senior Cup at Thurles on Sunday ahead of massive 2019 for both clubs.
With Portmarnock staging the Amateur Championship in the club’s 125th year and Royal Portrush set to host The Open, both would love to show off the blue riband trophy next year.
It’s been seven years since Portmarnock won its 19th Senior Cup title while Royal Portrush has been without a win in the event since their win on home turf in 1979, they are gunning for glory after losing to Galway in the semi-finals last year.
Both sides have strength in depth and they showed it in the semi-finals with Royal Portrush crushing Dungarvan 4-1 as Portmarnock beat holders Galway 3.5-1.5 with Geoff Lenehan making an eagle three at the 19th to beat Liam Nolan in what proved to be the decisive match.
Playing captain Matt McAlpin was the only loser for Royal Portrush, who were led by the front by former professional Paul Cutler in his first team event since that famous 2011 Walker Cup win over a Jordan Spieth-led USA at Royal Aberdeen.
After halving his singles on the final day with Patrick Cantlay in a 14-12 Great Britain & Ireland win that year — Harris English, Russell Henley and Peter Uihlein were also in the US side — Cutler played on tour for three years before giving up on his dream.
He was reinstated as an amateur three years ago and clearly still loves the team atmosphere, making six birdies in a high-quality, two-hole win over Alan Thomas.
“I just lost a bit of interest,” Cutler (29) said of his sojourn in the professional ranks. “It's not as glamorous as you think. I just didn't play well and I lot interest.”
Now the father of a two-year-old boy, the former Irish Close, East of Ireland, West of Ireland and Lytham Trophy winner plans to return to championship action at Rosses Point next year even if he’s now “just” a plus one handicapper having turned professional when he was plus four.
“I just wasn't enjoying it and decided to knock it on the head,” he said of the pro game. ”But it’s great being back in a team environment.”
With Andrew Morris beating Kevin Stack 6&5, Richard McCrudden defeating John Reynolds 4&3 and Mark McMurray a 3&2 winner over Daniel Raher, skipper McAlpin was not too upset by his 4&3 lost to Gavin Smyth.
“Andrew’s won every point since he's played for Royal Portrush, Richard McCrudden had a great win and so did Mark McMurray and Paul is probably one of the greatest Irish amateurs we’ve had in the last 30 years, so it's great to have him,” McAlpin said.
“I took over as captain two years ago, when our club hadn't been in an Ulster final for 20 years, and we've now won Ulster two years in a row. We lost to Galway in the semi-finals last year and we've got a tough match with Portmarnock tomorrow. It will be a very tight match.”
Portmarnock had to dig deep to dethrone Galway with Conor Purcell forced to come back from three down after eight holes to beat left-hander Liam Power by one hole.
James Fox fell 4&3 to the excellent Ronan Mullarney, but it wasn’t for Stephen Walsh as he eventually beat Joe Lyons 2&1.
As Darragh Coghlan leading Luke O’Neill and Geoff Lenehan 1 up on Liam Nolan coming down the last, a Portmarnock win looked inevitable.
Two eagles in the day for @kingratom - one a hybrid from over 200 yards - the other on 19 to defeat Liam Nolan and Galway 3.5-1.5. Open hosts @royalportrush beat Dungarvan 4-1 & now face 2018 Amateur hits @PGC1894 at Thurles for the AIG Senior Cuo on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/SwbXCYbwDy— Brian Keogh (@IrishGolfDesk) October 6, 2018
But Nolan made a clutch birdie at the 18th force extra holes, and Lenehan had to hit a stunning five-iron to 15 feet and make the eagle putt to win as Nolan’s chip from short of the green finished just inches away.
“Galway are worthy champions, and they pushed us as has as we would have expected,” said Portmarnock’s non-playing captain Michael Brett. The standard of play was exceptional in all games with lots of birdies and really nothing in it.
“We were fortunate to come out on the right side with some incredible grit and determination by both Conor and Geoff to keep going.
“Conor was one down with three to go but he won 16 and 17 to go ahead and then smoked on down 18 and Liam couldn't get up and down from the trap at the last. So he played professional-type golf there at the end.
“Geoff was under the gun. He was two down after five and but holed his second shot at the nine for eagle after a terrible tee shot went just 150 yards. So there were six birdies and an eagle in the first ten holes. The standard was exceptional."
Coghlan and Walsh are just back from a golfing trip to the US, and after playing such tracks as Shinnecock Hills, Plainfield, Sleepy Hollow, Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge, Hudson Valley, Pine Valley, Garden City, Southampton, Friar's Head, they were sharp.
“Darragh even played Oakmont,” Walsh said. “But we’re back to Thurles for the big one, and I tell you what, it's in some nick. The greens are great. It's in class condition."
Lenehan said he was “a relief” to win his point after a dramatic day which saw him hole a 19-degree hybrid from 208 yards for an eagle two at the ninth after almost topping his tee shot.
“I was one down through seven, birdied eight and eagled nine to go back one up,” he said. “He birdied 10 to level, I birdied 11 to go back one up, we shared 12, shared 13 in birdies, and 18 he birdied to take it up 19.
“When you are holding one up leads, it's tough, and Liam is an outstanding player,” Lenehan said. “And he's only a boy golfer! The standard of these kids is incredible.”
Portumna to face Fortwilliam for AIG Junior Cup
Portumna beat Elm Park 4-1 to reach the final of the AIG Junior Cup where they will face Belfast club Fortwilliam.
The Ulster champions were tied 2-2 with Clonmel, but they stole the tie in dramatic fashion when Eamonn O'Kane (20) holed a greenside bunker shot for what proved to be a winning birdie on the 18th against Eamonn Dervan, who failed with his 15-footer to force extra holes.
“I hit a bad drive and was out of position but duffed it up the fairway and had about 265 in and hit it into the bunker,” six-handicapper O’Kane confessed. “And I holed the bunker shot! Incredible.”
AIG Cups and Shields Finals, Thurles
AIG Senior Cup Semi Finals
Dungarvan 1 Royal Portrush 4 (Dungarvan names first)
Alan Thomas lost to Paul Cutler 2 holes;
Kevin Stack lost to Andrew Morris 6&5;
Gavin Smyth bt Matthew McAlpin 4&3;
John Reynolds lost to Richard McCrudden 4&3;
Daniel Raher lost to Mark McMurray 3&2
Portmarnock 3.5 Galway 1.5
Conor Purcell bt Liam Power 1 hole;
Geoff Lenehan bt Liam Nolan 19th;
James Fox lost to Ronan Mullarney 4&3;
Stephen Walsh bt Joe Lyons 2&1;
Darragh Coghlan halved with Luke O’Neill
AIG Junior Cup Semi Finals
Clonmel 2 Fortwilliam 3
Billy Hewitt bt Martin Colohan 5&4;
Brian McClean lost to Conor Bradley 2&1;
Darragh Lynch bt Declan Hughes 3&2;
Jack Alton lost to Gary Currie 2&1;
Dennis Conway lost to Eamonn O’Kane 1 hole.
Portumna 4 Elm Park 1 (Portumna names first)
Sam Murphy bt Mark P Dunne 6&5;
Gerard Lynch bt Paul O’Hanlon 1 hole;
Damien Burke bt Paul Roddy 4&3;
Michael Flanagan halved with Cian Poland;
Eamonn Dervan halved with Timothy Maher.
Sunday 7th October
AIG Junior Cup Final
0930 - Fortwilliam v Portumna
Gary Brown v Sam Murphy;
Conor Bradley v Gerard Lynch;
Declan Hughes v Damien Burke;
Gary Currie v Michael Flanagan;
Eamonn O’Kane v Eamonn Dervan
AIG Senior Cup Final
1030 – Royal Portrush v Portmarnock
Paul Cutler v Geoff Lenehan;
Andrew Morris v Stephen Walsh;
Matthew McAlpin v James Fox;
Richard McCrudden v Conor Purcell;
Mark McMurray v Darragh Coghlan.