FOLLOWING a great National Matchplay weekend in Seapoint, now the focus turns to Strokeplay for the next month or so beginning with the Provincial Strokeplay Championships this Sunday which will take place in four venues across both provinces. Communications & Press Officer Jason O’Connor begins the build-up with a look at the Leinster events which will be held on the two Westmeath courses of Rochfortbridge (Ladies) and Collinstown (Gents).
The Intermediates get proceedings underway in Rochfortbridge on Sunday and with no entries from the host club in any of the grades, local Westmeath interest will centre on the Collinstown, Custume and Kilbeggan clubs. Anne Kelly will be the first Westmeath player to tee-off in the second pairing alongside RGSC’s Carol Tracey and she is the only player from the Lake County entered in the grade. Last year’s winner from Bagenalstown Bernie Dunne (St Bridgets) will tee-off alongside a former PJ Bell winner in Ferbane’s Ger Ryan while the recent winner of the Leinster Matchplay Championship in Bellewstown at this grade Siobhan McDonnell of Lucan looks to do the double like Bernie did in both formats as she tees-off alongside another Dubliner in Marise Carroll of RGSC.
Former National Strokeplay Champion at this level Esther Martin of Ryston is entered this weekend as she tees-off alongside Gaeil Colmcille’s Noreen Myles (last year’s runner-up in this competition) while former National 0-55’s winner at this grade Mary Sherry (St Bridgets) tees-off alongside Sandra Keogh of Lucan in the first pairing on Sunday. In the Junior grade there are three Westmeath entries amongst the 23 strong field. Theresa O’Keeffe will bid to follow club-mate Catherine Smith’s achievement in Bagenalstown last year by bringing back the title to the Newbridge club. She tees off in the first two-ball alongside Mildred Kelly from Custume. Lynda and Dina Carton from the Kilbeggan club are the other two players in the grade from Westmeath. Lynda tees-off in the second two-ball alongside Glenville’s Brenda O’Connor while Dina plays with Audrey Donnelly from McBride. Last year’s second and third place finishers in this grade at Bagenalstown, Ferbane duo Ann Minogue and Mary McKenna, return this year, Mary playing with St Bridgets’ Dina Dillon while Ann is out in a concluding three ball alongside Gowran’s Marie Power and Stackallen’s Margaret Muldoon. Last year’s National O-55’s winner at this grade, Catherine Fox of Glenville, is another player to look out for on Sunday.
Moving to the Seniors and Chrissie Byrne is the defending champion from last year at Bagenalstown, however she is likely to face strong competition from Ger Ward after Ger’s recent victory in Seapoint in the National Matchplay. Chrissie tees off alongside RGSC’s Glenda Hoey and the player she defeated in the Quarter-Finals of the recent National Matchplay in Linda Thomson from Lucan. Ger finds herself out with Marian Courtney and Tullamore’s Denise Pyke while the sole Westmeath entry, Liz Quinn from Collinstown, tees-off alongside Ryston’s Rose Kelly and RGSC’s Claire Keely. Last year’s third place finisher, Tracey Redmond of Erry, tees off alongside St Bridgets Margaret Keogh and recent National Matchplay Semi-Finalist Ger Holland of RGSC. 2014 winner Phil Condron of Lucan gets proceedings started in a two-ball with Pauline Balfe of Old County. The other pairings see Margaret Hogan tee off with Lucan’s Barbara Furlong and Poulaphouca’s Mairead O’Toole, Tara Dillon plays with Mary Donnelly and Siobhan Keely while the final three-ball is an all Dublin grouping of Maree O’Toole, Helen Greagsbey and Sheelagh Elmes.
How familiar a lot of the players are with Sunday’s venue is hard to say but it will be interesting to see if it is a factor in determining the eventual winners in the three grades.
Collinstown plays host to the Gents events this Sunday with many in Westmeath Pitch & Putt hoping that the county can turn some recent inter-county successes into individual honours in the three competitions this Sunday. In the 36 strong Junior grade, the host club have three entries namely Stephen Harte along with Damian and Maurice Middleton with Kilbeggan duo Tom Crowe and David Donoghue making up the Westmeath representation in the event. Maurice was third in last year’s event in Enniscorthy and will hope to feature strongly again in his home county. McDonagh was the home club of last year’s winner in St Patricks in Anthony Ryan and the Kildare club have two entries looking to follow in his footsteps namely Emmet Doran and Michael O’Brien. Of course another McDonagh player Paddy Phillips finished second overall in the grade last year to make it a memorable day for the club.
Doran was a recent semi-finalist in the Leinster Matchplay at Bellewstown as Martin Brannigan is the sole representative from the Meath club in this grade. A number of players who recently competed in the National Matchplay Championships in Seapoint tee-off in this grade on Sunday namely Cement’s Kieran McDonnell and Navan’s Jason Gibney while there is some strong representation from individual clubs. Bagenalstown of Carlow have four players amongst the field namely Martin Baird, Peter Doyle, Darren McNally and Shane Tobin while Cement and Tullamore have three each. Owen Brannigan and Alan McLernon join the aforementioned McDonnell for the Louth club while Tullamore are represented by William Clear, Ashley Lowry and PJ Murphy. Old County’s Ross O’Reilly meanwhile is a former Leinster Strokeplay Champion at U-16 level.
The Intermediate grade has only one representative from the host club, David Penrose, who tees off last of the 36 competitors but a lot of eyes will be on St Patricks’ Dayle Donohoe following his recent run to the National Matchplay Final in Seapoint. He tees off alongside another player to have competed in Seapoint in Gerry Breen Snr as well as Declan Hogan from Lough Owel. One of Donohoe’s St Patricks club-mates in Kevin Doyle will want to go one further than last year when he finished second on home turf in Enniscorthy as Shane Redmond completes the Wexford club’s representation in this grade. One interesting feature of the draw is that two former National Intermediate Strokeplay winners are paired in the same three ball. Anthony Carroll of Erins Isle won the grade in the O-55’s in Old County last September while Owen Farrell (St Bridgets) won the 2014 National Intermediate title in Stackallen.
Elsewhere Tullamore’s Jamie Hogan will look for the provincial double after winning the Matchplay title in Bellewstown last month. The player he defeated in the Final Antony Gibney of Navan is also taking part in the Strokeplay decider this Sunday as is last year’s National Junior Strokeplay runner-up in Richard Burke of Granard. Inniskeen’s Michael Vaughan was another player to compete in the recent National Matchplay while Custume like St Patricks have three entries amongst the grade namely Willie Prendergast, Ray Doyle and Sean Langdon who tee-off in the last three pairings for the Athlone club. It’s encouraging to see Mellows of Galway with two players amongst the 36 in Alan O’Keeffe and Frank O’Neill.
Moving on to the seniors who will have 54 holes to negotiate on Sunday with the Top 12 after the initial 36 going forward for a further 18 holes to decide the eventual winner. Loughlinstown’s Hubert Kelly was a surprise winner last year in Enniscorthy, whether he can repeat his fine showing that day remains to be seen but both club-mate John Ross Crangle and Castletown’s Eamon Gibney will view this Sunday as a great chance to fine tune their games before the World Cup next week in Andorra. Crangle was second last year on countback from Cement’s Sean Goggin (who also tees-off this weekend) last year and he will want to improve on a disappointing National Matchplay showing where he was defeated in the First Round by fellow Dubliner George McGreal. McGreal also competes this Sunday as the field contains no less than five Collinstown players. They are Dutch native Rene Jan Bloem, John Browne, Michael Buckley, Alan Hanlon and Stephen Ruane who will hope that local knowledge can help them carry the weight of expectations for a local success.
Martin Kenny from Custume completes the Westmeath representation amongst the field which includes a number of players to show some recent good form. Ian Donnelly of Cement was the recent Leinster Matchplay winner in Bellewstown and in the same three ball as him will be his club-mate Mark Millar, a recent National Matchplay semi-finalist from Seapoint. St Bridgets Derek Courtney, Ryston’s Sean Harkins and Lucan’s Anthony Malone will be two players to look out for on Sunday as will Lucan duo Chris Gallagher and Keith Redmond in what hopefully will be an exciting battle around the rural Westmeath track.
Loughlinstown have the biggest representation of any club outside of the hosts with Gary Healy and Eoin Mithen joining both Crangle and Kelly as Harry O’Hanlon of Mellows flies the flag for not only Galway but indeed Connacht in the grade. A local winner will be fancied on Sunday but another surprise success shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out in advance.
Tomorrow: We look ahead to the Munster Events in both Hillview (Ladies) and St Annes (Gents).