DESPITE the changes to the Ladies set-up, the National Gents Matchplay remains a 64 horse race around Tullamore this weekend. Communications & Press Officer takes a closer look at some of the 32 First Round ties this weekend.
AFTER all the highs and lows experienced in becoming Leinster’s first winner of the title since 2003 last year in Tipperary Hills, John Ross Crangle certainly won’t have much time to savour the defence of his title! That’s because, in an ironic twist of fate, not long after they were both announced as the two wildcards for the Irish team for the upcoming European Championships, Crangle discovered the defence of his title would begin against his World Cup team-mate from 2016 in Eamon Gibney.
Whether it ends there is hard to say but Gibney has form in ending a defending champion’s reign at the first hurdle, only two short years ago he beat John Walsh (the other member of that World Cup winning team) up in Seapoint and will want to repeat the trick on Saturday morning. What awaits the winner on Sunday morning won’t be easy either as either local favourite Darren O’Connell or Bellewstown’s Peter Reilly will be the opponent in Round Two. O’Connell was Runner-Up in the National Senior Strokeplay on home turf two years ago and will want home advantage to matter again in a strong showing around his native track. Reilly won’t fear the challenge of a local player though and it has the potential to be tight affair. With six out of eight of the first players drawn, the eastern province has a good chance of having a Quarter-Finalist for Sunday evening but when 2016 winner Shane Murphy and Bruff’s Thomas Hanley are the two Munster players, it doesn’t look so certain.
Murphy is back playing competitively again while former Munster Matchplay winner Hanley really impressed at the Irish Team Trials in Larkspur Park in securing his place on the team for Urduna. This could be a big battle of wins as another former winner, Kevin McCarthy of Rocklodge, features in the next match against Graham Donohoe of St Patricks, giving us our first inter-provincial battle. 19 of the 32 matches are inter-provincial in nature with nine Leinster and four Munster players guaranteed to be involved in the Second Round regardless of individual match outcomes. All four provinces are represented as well this weekend with Mellows Frank O’Neill taking on RGSC’s Junior Smith and Niall Quigley of Cloghogue taking on George Beardsley of McBride. A former winner and two members of the Irish team are the standout names from the rest of the top half of the draw.
2011 winner Damien Fleming tees-off in the penultimate match of the morning session as he faces Ierne’s Jason Larkin. He could be on for a potential re-match with St Patricks Martin O’Neill from last year’s Second Round in Tipp Hills which the Enniscorthy clubman won. Rest assured however O’Neill and Bryan Delaney will have to plenty to say about that scenario. Delaney led the scoring in Larkspur Park at the Irish Team Trial and comes in with plenty to be confident about in terms of 2018 in general. John Cahill will have hopes of making it to the Quarter-Finals at the very minimum on paper but the Irish team member won’t look past Phillip Sweeney of Lucan in his First Round encounter. Munster Mixed Foursomes winner Mick Fennell will want some individual honours this weekend as he faces a good campaigner in Chris Gallagher (also of Lucan) in the top half.
The player to dominate the early years of this event in the Millennium, Mark Millar, gets the afternoon session underway with Larkspur Park’s Christopher Hickey his First Round opponent. Millar will feel capable of a third title not just because of last year’s National Strokeplay success in Hillview but also a victory in South America back in March where he won the inaugural Fernando Morgado Trophy in Chile. Three out of the next four matches feature Offaly players Erry’s JJ Wynne takes on Old County’s Thomas O’Reilly. Another Clara clubman in Gerard Gallagher plays Fermoy’s Declan Freeman and Jimmy Scanlon from the host club takes on Emmet Doran from McDonagh. A match between players who were paired together for the first 36 holes of the Irish Team Trial is the next to catch the eye as Leinster Mixed Foursomes winner Ian Dillion takes on Deerpark’s John McGrath who will hope for some support in his wife’s native county!
His Deerpark club-mate Jason O’Brien faces Jamie Hogan from the host club in an interesting match between two players that have won Intermediate Matchplay titles at provincial level in the recent past. Former Runner-Up Eoin Walsh will play Lough Owel’s Gary Middleton but a lot of eyes will be on reigning World and European Strokeplay Champion Liam O’Donovan as he returns to the scene of one of his greatest Pitch & Putt performances. He shot a masterful scoring in leaving the field in his wake at the 2016 National Strokeplay as William Buckley Snr from Erry will be his opponent in the First Round. Patrick Murphy from the host club will take on a former National Strokeplay Runner-Up in Donal Duggan of St Annes before Leonard O’Meara becomes the last Offaly player for the day to tee-off against former National Intermediate Strokeplay Champion Declan McCarron of Listowel.
The meeting of Hillview’s James Cleary and Parteen’s Kieran Earls will be interesting with the recent Irish Team Trials in mind. Earls wasn’t far off being in the automatic top four as Cleary ensured he would be with last year’s runner-up and six time champion Ray Murphy was another not far away from going to Urduna as well. Last year saw a rare occurrence in a defeat for Murphy in a National Matchplay decider but he won’t mind being in the bottom half of the draw again as it was the means he got to the Final last year. Dessie Baker of Lough Owel is his opponent in the First Round this year.
That’s just a sample of what we have for starters this weekend. There will be plenty of thrills and spills along the way as we set out to discover the 2018 winner. A Leinster winner seems more likely with the course it is being played on and the stranglehold of Munster success now broken. Whatever happens we hope that you will join us either in person or online in Tullamore this weekend.
A safe journey to all travelling to the event this weekend. Updates will be available on the PPUI website and social media throughout the weekend and we hope that you will join us for the Final on our Facebook page on Monday around lunchtime when we stream the Gents decider live.
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