AS always this is probably the competition that comes with it the biggest degree of uncertainty in advance. Is local knowledge the key to success or is there an unknown lurking in the background waiting to strike and claim the big honour? Stackallen’s Damien McBride carries the hopes of the entire club on his shoulders this weekend, whether the fact he is out in the first two-ball is a help or a hindrance it’s hard to know but certainly he will be hoping to set the early pace. The other three Meath players taking part in this grade tee-off in the final three pairings namely Laytown’s Gareth McLoughlin and Navan duo John Cunningham and Paul Leddy.
Interestingly there are only three County Junior Strokeplay Champions among the 36 man field, indicating again just how difficult it is to qualify for these Finals. Louth’s Barry Dyas (McBride), Kerry’s Roger Guthrie (Tralee) and Limerick’s John Farrell (Bruff) are that trio and they will all be hoping to do a unique double on Saturday. It is an interesting return to Stackallen for another Kerry player, County Board Secretary David Hobbert from Tralee. He returns to the course where he famously used a putter from the tee-box back in 2001 and managed a par thereafter! David was an Intermediate at the time but two other Kerry players, Deerpark’s James Fleming and Castleisland’s Paudie Looney are also likely to feature strongly on Saturday.
While neither of the two Provincial Strokeplay winners at Junior level are amongst the field Riverdale’s John Minogue (Munster Runner-Up) is in action this weekend along with another regular on the Junior scene in recent years, Alan Bennis from Parteen. CPM’s John O’Keeffe and Lucan’s Jack King are the only two Dublin players amongst the field as Louth’s Owen Campbell is another player to look out for on Saturday. Whether or not the dizzy scoring heights of last year’s winner (Conor McCarthy) and runner-up (Patrick Robinson) are scaled again it’s hard to say but over 54 holes (hopefully) they might have a better chance as opposed to last year’s reduced 36 hole tournament.
The Top 10 in the field will go forward for the 18 hole playoff to decide the eventual winner. Nine over par was the cut mark for the playoff back in 2001; it will be interesting to see if it will be something similar or different come lunchtime on Saturday.
46 players look to emulate Brendan Lawlor’s success of last year in Rocklodge with some interesting names from recent years amongst the field. Deerpark’s Creagh Courtney was National Boys Strokeplay Champion back in 2011 while club-mate St John Kelliher was a team-mate of his in the Kerry U-16 team that won the Inter-County in St Bridgets the following year. 2013 National Junior Strokeplay Runner-Up Patrick Robinson from Bagenalstown is also involved in this year’s Intermediate event while Fermoy’s Justin McCarthy will be hoping to go one better than his runner-up’s finish at the recent Munster Strokeplay in Douglas.
The host county has a total of four representatives, three from Navan which include Anthony Gibney, Tony Lalloway and Conor McCabe while Trim’s Niall Winters Jnr is the other Meath player taking part in Stackallen. Three County Strokeplay Champions, all from Leinster, are taking part namely Dublin’s Charlie Egan (Erin’s Isle), Kildare’s Owen Farrell (St Bridgets) and Westmeath’s Gary Middleton (Collinstown). One player who took part in the 2001 event at this venue and in the same is Seapoint’s Bobby O’Brien. There is a diverse selection to this particular field when you consider that a total of 12 County/Regional Boards are represented. Some other names to watch out for include Dublin duo Dave Hayden II (Lucan) along with Aaron O Droighneain (Glenville) along with Paul Collins from the Majestic club in Cork. Martin Carter (Collinstown) and Niall Seery (Clare Road) are two other players who could feature if they get their games in order on Saturday. Without a Stackallen player involved, it really does have the feel of a lottery not only in terms of who the winner will be but also who the 12 that will make up the playoff will be.
Back in 2001, the cut mark was six over par, the somewhat different nature of the Stackallen course now will test whether or not the scoring will be that severe again in terms of making it to the playoff but this will be a good examination of the 46 who will tee-off on Saturday. Again let’s hope that the weather doesn’t intervene like last year and reduce the event to 36 holes from the 54 we all hope that the Champion will be decided over.
An 11 under par round (at any stage of the day) like Brendan did in winning last year would go a long way towards the potential winner getting his hands on the Cup!
THE one thing that is noticeable about the 80 Gents who will go in search of the Donnelly Cup on Sunday is the fact that the Top Three from the last time this event was held here are all in action again. John Cahill came of age in 2001 when he won his only National Singles title to date at Stackallen. Ray Murphy and John Walsh were just behind him making it a strong 1-2-3 finish for the Rebel County at the time. After a few years away Cahill is back in competitive action this year and while there will be happy memories for him of Sunday’s venue, certainly he has his work cut to make it back into the podium. Ray Murphy has been there and done it all as we well know but John Walsh has arguably been the player of the year so far with his National Matchplay success, Cork Senior Strokeplay title and numerous Scratch Cups to boot.
The host county will be hoping to one of their own can win this title for the first time in nine years and in that vein Eamon Gibney of Castletown arguably represents their best hope. His Irish Open success was a good marker but his associate membership of the Stackallen club gives him a good deal of knowledge about the undulations of the track also. With a big one now under his belt, Gibney might well start to blossom now on the national stage. Ian Farrelly from Bellewstown can’t be dismissed either, an encouraging display at the National Matchplay might yet be the springboard to him finally translating his European and International success onto the national stage as well. Fintan Wogan (Castletown) is another associate member of the Stackallen club so he certainly could feature if local knowledge becomes key. Anthony Kavanagh from Bellewstown is the other Meath representative and will be the last player to tee-off in the competition around about lunchtime.
Some other indicators for Sunday include 2007 National Matchplay Runner-Up Paul O’Brien from Lakeside’s return to competitive action at Stackallen. The Tipperary native is playing steadily so far this year and might hope to stake a claim come the start of the playoff on Sunday. Another Tipperary player likely to enter with a good degree of confidence is Tipp Hills’ James Ryan who was the recent winner of the Munster Strokeplay in Douglas. Overall there are nine current and former winners of the Donnelly Cup taking part this weekend stretching back 25 years to Anthony Malone’s first National Strokeplay victory back in 1989 before going on to add his second two years later. Chris Scannell (1995), Walsh (1997), Murphy (1998, 2006, 2007, and 2013), Cahill (2001), Liam O’Donovan (2002), William Buckley Jnr (2003), Bryan Delaney (2009) and Jonathon Goodall (2012) are the other former winners and in total they are responsible for more than half of the victors in that period.
In terms of potential new names, two men who faced each other in the National Matchplay in Parteen might be in with a shout. John Ross Crangle is patiently waiting for the door to open up for him in terms of a national success having been so close on many different occasions in the past five years. The man who defeated him in the National Matchplay semi-final Damien Fleming would also like to add the Strokeplay title to his National Matchplay and Irish Open crowns. Certainly he will want to go one better than RGSC in 2012 when he lost out to his good friend Jonathon Goodall in what was an epic day for Kerry Pitch & Putt. The runner-up of this event last year in Rocklodge, St Annes Donal Duggan performed very well in finishing behind his club-mate Ray Murphy but will have to improve on that if he is to stand a chance of replicating that great feat.
One of the other Champions from Rocklodge last year, Junior Gents winner Conor McCarthy from Deerpark will be making his debut as a senior player in a National Championship while Parteen’s Kieran Earls will be another hoping to make progress this Sunday. There will be a slight international flair to proceedings when Dutch native and Collinstown member Rene Jan Bloem hits the first tee-shot on Sunday alongside Tullamore’s Michael Hogan but there are some other interesting combinations in the first 36. Anthony Malone is paired with St Bridgets’ Ian Dillon while Chris Scannell tee-offs with Tralee’s Jason O’Regan soon after. The pairing of Derek Courtney and John Cahill will attract a few onlookers as will John Walsh and Mark Millar later on in the second session.
Considering the drama and quality in Fermoy at the Ladies Senior Finals, the Senior Gents certainly have an act to follow. Five under was a very high cut for the playoff here back in 2001, if its bettered then it will tell you how much the game has moved on. If not it will tell you that a course can still get the better of the players when it finds its teeth!
Updates of proceedings in Stackallen will be available throughout the weekend on our website, Facebook and Twitter pages.