As the time draws near to the 58th playing of our National Matchplay championships and to the 25th staging of the twinned Gents and Ladies showpieces, John Manning casts a look through the record books and reflects on the most memorable championships since 1961. John’s entirely personal choice is divided into two groups of six, ranked in order of their dramatic quality.
Gents Matchplay Finals
- 1983 - O'Leary v. Forrest
- 1996 - Campbell Junior v. Downes
- 1991 - Harkins v. Caulfield
- 2006 – Murphy v. Walsh
- 1972 – Doyle v. Matthews
- 2001 – Millar v. Collins
In the 1997 PPUI Yearbook, we hailed the O'Leary/Forrest encounter as "Match of the Eighties". A marvellous climax to the 1983 National Matchplay championship produced an outstanding new champion in the 17-year-old John O'Leary from the Dunlops club in Cork. O'Leary, playing over his home track, overcame the great Michael Forrest (Carrigaline) in an absorbing final that went to the 36th green to provide a dramatic finish. The players were locked together when they pitched to the home green before a large and enthusiastic gallery.
Their tee-shots stopped virtually equidistant from the pin and the referee, Liam Houlihan, had to measure them before deciding O'Leary had to putt first. He rolled his putt bravely downhill and into the back of the cup to a huge roar of appreciation from his many supporters in the Blackrock stronghold. And, despite the tension, 1976 Matchplay and Strokeplay champion Forrest went within an ace of following him in. His putt from ten feet across the slope horseshoed out and the new champion was acclaimed.
Sean Downes holed an eight-footer on the 32nd green in the 1996 Matchplay final at Waterford Crystal. This put the Stackallen man three up with four to play. A third National Matchplay crown and a fifth national title in five years looked certain. Johnny Campbell Junior (Bissell) birdied the last four holes in a row to win one up and emulate his father's feat of nine years before.
In the 1991 National Matchplay final at Cement, young Cormac Caulfield from Old County led 1986 champion Sean Harkins, then playing out of Shandon, by three with four holes to play. Cormac bogeyed three in a row and Sean's fifteen-footer from the left fringe for birdie at the 36th clinched a great escape and a second of three Matchplay crowns!
Ray Murphy (then of Templebreedy) regained the Irish Matchplay championship title with a 2 holes verdict over fellow Cork Inter-County player John Walsh (Collins) in the 2006 final at Fermoy. In the second all-Cork final in a row (and the twelfth in history), 1998 champion Murphy and 2002 winner Walsh were all square after 18 holes – Murphy having missed a succession of short birdie putts. Ray holed from four feet for birdie on the 28th to move one ahead. Murphy made another birdie from six feet at the 30th as uncharacteristic Walsh putting errors left him two down with seven to play.
Murphy pitched to within inches at the 53-metre 14th for a conceded birdie and a three-up lead with just four left. Walsh holed a six-footer at the 33rd and pitched dead at the 35th (just as he did in an absorbing quarter-final with Eddie Hennessy) to be one down with one to play. With the honour, Walsh pitched very disappointingly to the final hole. From the front right bunker, he could only make bogey and conceded Murphy’s fifteen-footer for birdie. It was the first of Ray’s four-in-a -ow.
The National Gents Matchplay Finals crossed the Shannon into Connacht for the first time in 1972. Standing on the cusp of Pitch & Putt immortality, Joe Doyle (Carrigaline) was three up in the Mellows final against Ray Matthews (Seapoint) early on. Pegged back to level by the 32nd, Joe restored a one up advantage after pitching to five feet at the 33rd. Joe’s tee-shot at the 77 yards 36th pulled up six feet away. The putt was confidently holed, and Joe Doyle became the first three-time winner in National Gents Matchplay history.
Mark Millar retained his Penfold Commando National Mens Matchplay title with a brilliant display at the Ryston course in Newbridge over the 2001 June Bank Holiday weekend. A six-yard birdie putt from just off the back of the 16th green clinched a 3&2 victory over Darren Collins (St. Anne's) in their 36-hole final.
The Cork player, who won the 1993 National Intermediate Strokeplay title over the Newbridge course, got off to a slow start and the holder was two up after the opening 18 holes. Mark, who won at Seapoint in millennium year, shot nine birdies in the opening thirteen holes of the second round to open up a four holes advantage. Darren holed a six-footer for birdie on the 32nd green to reduce the margin and the Cement player was just two ahead when Mark bogeyed the next after pitching in the back bunker. However, Mark Millar sealed victory with that fine putt at the next. Darren was just short with his birdie try from a fraction closer.
Mark thus joined the then select band of T.J. O'Riordan (1964/65), Joe Doyle (1971/72) and David Hayden (1988/89) - the only players to have won successive National Matchplay championships before Ray Murphy and John Walsh have managed to do so in more recent times. Earlier Mark had come from two down with eight holes to play to win his semi-final with his international colleague and 1995 National Strokeplay champion Chris Scannell (Collins). Darren had recovered from a two-hole deficit with five to play, helped by a prodigious putt across the two-tier 15th green, to win 2up against Alan Hanlon (Collinstown).
It didn’t make the final cut, but honourable mention must be made of T.J. O’Riordan’s astonishing 41 strokes for the first eighteen in the 1965 final at Rocklodge, to be 4up on Woodvale’s Pat O’Brien at halfway. The Rocklodge man eventually prevailed by 4&3 in his quest to be the first player to win two titles-in-a-row.
Ladies Matchplay Finals
- 1982 - A. Ginnane v. M. Hogan
- 1993 - G. Ward v. N. O'Brien
- 2001 – B. Coffey v. A. Hall
- 1977 – C. Keating v. T. McGuigan
- 2006 – C. Byrne v. M. Byrne
- 1996 - R. McCormack v. P. Campbell
An hour and a half was all it took to play the greatest Ladies National Matchplay final of all time. Ann Ginnane (St. Annes) took the then Sunday World sponsored event, beating Margaret Hogan (Tullamore) by one hole in the 1982 final at Limerick's Catholic Institute. Eight under par for the opening round, Ann Ginnane led by one at halfway, having trailed by one after nine. Margaret levelled the match again with three to play.
A superb chip-in by Ann on the 34th put the St. Anne’s player into a vital lead. Margaret lipped-out from ten feet at the home hole and Ann’s safe chip and putt par gave the Cork star, who was reigning Strokeplay champion at the time, her first and only Matchplay crown. The champion was an estimated 14 under par when the classic match finished to Margaret Hogan’s 13 under. So impressed was sponsor’s representative Peter O’Neill that he called for a series of Pitch and Putt exhibitions between the top Ladies and the top Gents.
Seeding was justified as Number 1 played Number 2 in the 1993 National Matchplay final at Hillview. Norma O'Brien (Douglas) led Geraldine Ward (Portmarnock) by one after 18 holes. Geraldine produced the perfect pitch and run to Hillview's 34 metre opening hole, second time round. The ball bounced short of the putting surface and rolled all the way into the hole for a hole-in-one. Geraldine immediately followed this up with a pair of birdies and although Norma had an ace of her own at the 14th, Geraldine took her then sixth Matchplay crown with a 4&2 win.
1999 National Matchplay Champion Bernadette Coffey (St. Bridget's) recovered from being four down after 18 holes in her 2001 National Matchplay final match at Ryston to claim a second Matchplay crown. Holder Ann Hall (Royal Meath) looked to be in control when she shot a five under par 49 first round to hold that strong advantage. Bernadette secured a fine birdie at the 19th to get a hole back and the margin was down to one when Ann bogeyed the 3rd and 7th. Ann still led by one with four to play but a couple of bogeys in a row at the 33rd (as a result of a bunkered teeshot) and 34th (where she chipped too strongly) holes were to cost her dear.
Bernadette had birdie putts on the final two greens to clinch the match, but the ball lipped out on each occasion. The chances swung one way then the other over the extra holes, Ann Hall missing a particularly good possibility for birdie at the tricky third. Bernadette finally took her opportunity when a curling five-foot birdie putt found its target on the 40th. She was ahead just once in the match - on the final green. It was up to then the longest final in history. This was Bernadette’s third National championship title success. She also won the National Strokeplay in 1998.
Collinstown 1977 may have been a first National championship for the Co. Westmeath club but it also saw the end of an era in ladies Pitch & Putt. Clare Keating (Woodvale) was a 3&2 final winner over Teresa McGuigan (Shandon). It was the last of Clare Keating's 14 majors. It was the fourth of four Clare Keating/Teresa McGuigan finals of which the Cork player won three. The match was nip and tuck for most of the way until the latter stages when the Dublin lady faded somewhat. Teresa McGuigan also made a closing appearance in the National Matchplay decider. She won four of the eight she contested.
There was a dramatic finale to the 2006 Ladies Championship. A unique pairing brought together the Byrne sisters from Kilcullen, Co. Kildare – Marian and Chrissie. Older sibling Marian, seeking her third successive crown, was three up with four to play on a sun splashed afternoon, having earlier held a five-hole advantage. Chrissie knocked in a birdie putt across the fifteenth green to get one back. Reigning Irish Strokeplay Champion, Chrissie coaxed a birdie chip from short of the next into the hole only for Marian to can a ten-footer to go dormie two clear. Chrissie made an eight-footer for birdie on the penultimate hole. Marian’s six-footer for the match lipped out.
On the home green, Chrissie slotted a seven-foot putt for her fourth birdie in a row. Marian missed a five-footer to win. At the 37th, for the third successive hole, Marian had a putt for the championship after Chrissie’s six-footer rimmed the hole. Once again, she agonizingly failed. After Chrissie had pitched to a yard behind the stick at the 38th, Marian’s tee-shot flew the green and she could not get up and down. Chrissie had two putts for it and she needed just one, to regain the Matchplay title she previously won at Lucan three years before.
Rose McCormack (Kilbeggan) was an approximate nine under par for the 1996 National Ladies Matchplay final at Waterford Crystal. Her opponent Peggy Campbell (Glenville) was seven under. Playing the round of her life, Rose led by one at halfway and by three with ten to play. Three birdies in a row from Peggy squared the match after 29. After halving six holes in par, Peggy bogeyed the last and Rose's two-putt three clinched her first-ever national individual title.
It just missed the top six but kudos too for the longest-ever National Ladies Matchplay final. Margaret Hogan beat Tara Dillon (St. Bridget’s) after five extra holes at Collinstown seven years ago in 2011.
Tomorrow: We preview the two Ladies events in Tullamore this weekend.
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