WITH us now just one day away from the 59th (Gents) and 45th (Ladies) staging of the National Inter-County Championships in Tullamore, Communications & Press Officer Jason O’Connor assesses proceedings in advance of tomorrow’s tee-off at 8.30am.
Gents B Championship
LESS than a month ago, this competition was only a pipe dream and a throwback to the last decade when Tipperary won the last such staging in 2003. However in much the same way a ‘rolling stone can gather moss’ a request from Clare and seconded by a number of other counties say NEC approval for such a re-introduction and henceforth Carlow, Galway, Longford, Monaghan, Waterford and the Banner County will now contend for such an honour. This development had to be welcomed for much the way that it will hopefully aid the development of the game in the six counties concerned.
The positive reaction that has been received so far is an indication that it is something coveted by those concerned. Its impact means that Carlow, Galway and Monaghan end long absences from the inter-county scene. The Tribesmen and the Farney County last competed in the event back in the year 2000 in McDonagh while Carlow last appearance at an Inter-County came in 2006 at another Kildare course, St Bridgets. It’s going to be hard to assess form based on it being the first year of its return but if you were to assess the scores of the six counties involved in their respective Provincial Inter-County, Waterford had the best score of the six counties competing in the B Championship with Longford the best of the Leinster counties. Such a comparison might be like comparing chalk and cheese but one will no doubt feel all six counties will be galvanised by the prospect of having something genuine to fight for this weekend.
They are playing the same 72 holes in both format and structure as their ‘A’ counterparts and certainly won’t feel this is any demotion or lesser event compared to the battle for the Anchor Cup.
WILL we have the fourth different winner this decade in the Ladies and will Kildare be the ones to become that county and end a six year wait for the honour? It’s not fair or indeed accurate to suggest that the introduction of the doubles to the Inter-County has had an adverse effect on the Lilywhite Ladies, Dublin beat them in the last year of the straight 36 hole Singles in Cloghogue back in 2009, but certainly they don’t seem to be imposing themselves on the winners enclosure in the same way they did between 1997 and 2008 when they won eight out of the 12 titles on offer in those years.
Interestingly bar the aforementioned Cloghogue in 2009 and St Patricks in 2012, the other three stagings have all been won by the host county. That lends itself towards Offaly’s chances of a historic first ever success but as team captain Tracey McGrath pointed out during the week, the host county have history to overcome as much as the other six teams involved in trying to achieve that particular feat. Margaret Hogan’s return will definitely improve their chances but it’s a team as opposed to an individual format and the Faithful County need big performances from their other four players to really stand a chance of claiming a different colour of a medal (if any) than the bronze they’ve picked up in Leinster over the last two years.
The winners of the Provincial Championships themselves, Dublin and Tipperary, will enter with confidence after those respective successes in Collinstown and Tipperary Hills. Dublin may have the more marquee names than the Premier County but Tipperary seem to function well as a team and will feel capable of successfully defending their title considering they were the first county to emerge triumphant in this 54 hole format. Dublin will always be there in the shake-up and if they click on the day might well be hard to stop from winning their third title in six years. Cork appear to be out of the conversation in terms of potential winners at the outset, this might not be as strong a set of Rebelettes as previous years but they might benefit from a lack of expectancy from the outside about their chances.
Louth and Meath are the massive underdogs in terms of proceedings in the Ladies. One has to go back to 1989 for the last of the latter’s four titles of which this year is the 25th anniversary of. The Wee County finished above the Royals in Collinstown but both will still go out there with the intention of performing well and seeing what might happen from there. Considering the precedent has been set for the Gents with bringing in a B Grade maybe the question should not be asked of doing likewise for the Ladies?
That’s a debate for another day but let’s hope this weekend’s proceedings serve as an inspiration for more Ladies to take up the game competitively in the years ahead.
The Anchor Cup
ONLY three times this Millennium have the winning county in the Gents not been Cork. On each of those occasions it has been the host county which has beaten them. Kildare in 2000, Louth in 2002 and Wexford in 2012 have been the ones to deny them a clean sweep since the end of the 20th Century with the latter perhaps the most heart-breaking for the Rebels seeing as it denied them the much heralded 10th consecutive title that they seemed destined for. In fairness they didn’t let that setback get to them as they got straight back onto the top step of the podium in Hillview last year with not even an expanded format troubling them over the weekend.
The honour of starting out Saturday with the Rebels falls to Offaly this year. Fourth place is Collinstown at the Leinsters was probably a disappointment to them after being second overall after the first 18 holes but this is their chance and indeed maybe the best stage possible for them to perform on in trying to win what would be a first ever title for the Faithful County. It is the victors in Collinstown who perhaps much of the pre-tournament discussion is about however. There’s been something purposeful about Westmeath this year in the way they’ve gone about their business. Maybe it’s their proximity to both venues that has been the key factor in their drive this year but after winning their first ever Leinster on home turf, they will feel a second Inter-County is potentially within their grasp at the site of their only celebrated success back in 1978.
On the subject of previous inter-counties in Tullamore, Kerry won their only Anchor Cup here back in 1986. The 2014 class from the Kingdom is a young one, but one not to be underestimated after a decent showing at the Munster in Tipperary Hills. They led after the first 18 before the Singles got the better of them but they will hope that Tullamore will be kind to them again in terms or trying to bridge a 28 year gap. Tipperary finished second last year in Hillview and were second again on home turf in Tipp Hills recently. They probably are fed up with silver medals at this stage and would yearn for a gold medal to add to their four Anchor Cups of 1966, 1981, 1993 and 1995. One county that does not have an Anchor Cup to its name is Limerick, they’ve looked like threatening in recent years but it just quite hasn’t happened for the Treaty County just yet. With Kieran Earls and John Cunningham being added to their ranks, it should help them improve on their performance in Tipperary Hills.
Returning to Leinster, Louth were runners-up to Westmeath in Collinstown. It was a great shootout between the two counties given the former’s win in the Leinster of 2013 and they will feel they know a lot more about themselves in trying to win their first Anchor Cup since Seapoint back in 2002. Wexford were seventh in Collinstown, they will know that they need to do a lot better if they are to relive the glory of Enniscorthy in 2012 but Kildare and Meath are probably the two counties that will want to rise up the pecking order most after finishing fifth and eighth respectively at the Leinsters. Down were the team to finish sixth in Collinstown but considering there was a mere nine shots between those four counties on that particular Sunday, the order they finish could easily be different this weekend in Tullamore.
There is something quite enthralling and invigorating about a Pitch & Putt player putting on his or her county colours and representing them on the grandest stage there is. Some thrive, some falter but it’s definitely an experience no one forgets. Best wishes to the 150 players of the 25 teams representing 18 counties that have the honour of doing so this weekend.
We hope you all have the opportunity to join us in Tullamore this weekend to see how it all pans out. If you can’t make sure you check out the PPUI website as well as our Facebook and Twitter Pages for updates of proceedings throughout both days.