PJ & Catherine Bell National Seniors Ladies Championship Preview
By Declan Sheedy
ESB in Cork will be venue for the final Ladies’ Singles Championship of the 2019 playing season when it hosts the PJ & Catherine Bell National Seniors Championship this Saturday, 27th July. Despite a relatively small entry in some of the grades, the 16th staging of this Championship promises to deliver another very competitive Ladies’ Championship over the 36 holes Strokeplay format. Ahead of this Saturday’s championship, where all three Ladies’ grades will be played for, we preview each of the grades and who can be expected to be staking their claims for a national title.
The Junior grade begins the weekends action at 10am on Saturday. 10 Ladies are entered in this grade with two previous junior champions returning to try and reclaim this title. 2018 winner Anne Sweeney of St. Bridgets will be out to defend her title she won in McDonagh last year and having been Runner-Up last month in the National Junior Strokeplay Championship in St. Bridgets, Anne will be considered the favourite to complete the back to back win. One of Anne’s biggest challengers will be her club-mate and the 2016 winner, Dina Dillon. Dina was Runner-Up to Anne in McDonagh last year in this Championship by a single shot so one can expect that there will not be too much between both players again this year come the end of play.
St. Bridget’s third competitor in this grade in Gaberielle Sweeney who will be hoping to add her name on the cup and add to the list of St. Bridget’s winners. NEC officer Breda Brophy of McDonagh is the fourth Kildare representative on Saturday and will no doubt be looking forward to being part of the action on the course this weekend and will be hoping for a good performance. Cork’s sole representative in the junior grade is Nuala McNamara of Collins. Nuala is an experienced player and with the ESB course being a venue many of the other ladies will be unfamiliar with; her county knowledge of the course could prove critical on Saturday and will be considered a serious contender for the title. Expect to see Nuala medal at very least.
Tipperary clubs are represented by Liz Forde of Riverdale and Hillview’s Lorraine Creed. Liz won the final 18 prize in the National Junior Strokeplay championship in St. Bridgets last month so is in good form and will be hoping to build on this in ESB. Lorraine will also be hoping for a strong showing and to feature within the medals come Saturday evening. Bruff’s Margaret O’Donovan is established as an ever-present and consistent performer in the Ladies Championship over the last five years. Winner of many Ladies’ prizes on the Scratch Cup circuit this year, Margaret can be expected to again challenge strongly this weekend and it would be no surprise if she were to go close Saturday.
Other contenders this weekend are Marie Brennan from Bellewstown’s and Alice Sargent of Old County, both of whom will be hoping to bring the title home to Leinster.
15 players compete in the Inter grade and with the 2018 Champion Mairead O’Toole competing in the senior grade this year a new champion will be crowned for 2019. Mary Sherry of St. Bridgets will be out to claim her third Intermediate title in this Championship having previously won in Erry in 2013 and in Collins in 2014. Another previous winner taking part is Loughlinstown’s Betty Cody who won this inter title in 2014 in Gael Colmcile to add to the Junior title she won in 2009 in Tullamore. Both Mary and Betty know what is needed to win and it will be interesting to see how they handle the ESB course in their attempts to add further titles to their names.
If they are to win again both faces very stiff competition from a number of other players no more so that the 2019 National Intermediate Strokeplay Champion, Bridget Shelley from Lakeside. Bridget claimed an excellent victory in St. Bridget’s only a month ago over the 54-hole format and will enter this weekend full of confidence and will be many peoples favourite to add this senior inter title to her CV. The lady she piped for the Inter title in St. Bridgets was Patsy O’Donovan of Collins who is again entered this weekend and will be hoping to go one better in ESB. Having put in an excellent performance in St. Bridgets, been runner up in the National Handicap Matchplay and this week secured her place on the Cork Inter-County team, Patsy is having an excellent year and to clinch a national title in her home county would be a fitting reward. One can expect another strong challenge from Patsy on Saturday.
In addition to Bridget, Lakeside’s Frances Ryan and Lily O’Brien compete on Saturday. Frances has had a relatively quiet season so far but is an excellent player and would be no surprise to see her name at the top end of the leader board at the conclusion of play. Lily too will be hoping to put in a good showing this weekend over the shorter 36-hole format. Phil Downey of the Collins club will be another lady who will be familiar with the Cork venue and will be hoping to replicate her success from 2018 when she won the National Junior Strokeplay title a few miles down the road in her home club of Collins. Another very steady player who will look forward to the championship weekend and could be one to watch as she steps up a grade this year.
Old County have three ladies entered in the form of Vera Glennon. Dolores Mason and Madeline Nugent all of who will be hoping to bring at least one medal back with them to the Kimmage club. Dublin’s clubs are further represented this Shandon’s Mary Fullam who will be aiming for a solid showing in this Championship. Ballinlough’s Linda O’Donovan is another experienced player and will have played the ESB course on many occasions in county championships so can be expected to perform well on Saturday. One player to keep a close eye on is Hillview’s Pauline Lucey whose last outing in the ESB course saw her win the 2017 Munster Intermediate Strokeplay title. Pauline will return with very fond memories and experience of ESB and with proven success on the course should contend strongly to claim more titles at the venue.
Riverdale’s Margaret Forde will however hope she is the Tipperary lady who leaves ESB with the cup and has proven in past championships that she is has the game to challenge. Last but by no means least is Trim’s Margaret Connelly. Margaret is a very experienced player and is having a good season todate with a highlight being her runner up spot in the Leinster Intermediate Matchplay in Trim. While she may not be familiar with ESB Margaret will look forward to the challenge and can be expected to be put in a good performance on Saturday.
While the senior grade only has nine entrants it certainly doesn’t lack quality with the field full of senior inter-county players and national champions. Four of the nine entered have won this title in the past. Mairead O’Toole of Poulaphouca is a two-time winner of this Championship (2007 & 2013) and will be hoping to continue the six-year winning pattern with another win in 2019. The ever consistent Mairead will relish the challenge the ESB course will throw up. Expect another strong showing from her this year.
Mary Murray of Rocklodge comes in as the defending champion and having claimed the biggest win of her playing career to date on Cork soil in June in the National Matchplay, Mary will be hoping to add more honours this weekend in her native Cork. A proven winner on the big stage Mary will be fancied by many to put in a very strong defence of her title in ESB and add to her list of 2019 honours. Breda White of Tipperary Hills who won this event in Fermoy in 2016 has had a very consistent and strong playing season at Scratch Cups and Ladies’ Championships this year and will be keen to pick up the gold this weekend to add another National Championship title to her name. Breda will be a major contender this weekend.
Having won this title in Cloghue in 2017 and been runner up on two other occasions in 2007 & 2011, Kathleen Geraghty of Skryne is a lady who has proven success in this senior championship and more could come on Saturday. Kathleen has put in good showings in the Strokeplay championships this year and while ESB will be an unfamiliar venue to Kathleen she is a seasoned and experienced player and will enter with no fear. Tullamore’s Margaret Hogan has won all the other ladies senior singles titles at Leinster and National levels possiblewith this championship title in one she is yet to put her name on. Margaret playing records speak for itself and she will certainly be one of the favourites this weekend and add this title to her name. Expect Margaret to medal, what colour it will be is to be seen.
Collins Vera McCarthy is the other Cork player in this senior grade and like Mary will know the ESB course as well as anyone which may prove the key. One of the most respected and top players in the Ladies’ game, Vera has all the skills and experience to win this weekend and to overlook Vera for the title would be a big mistake. Expect Vera to have a big say in the destiny of this Championship. Maree O’Toole of Shandon is having a very good year in the Strokeplay championships to date. Runner-Up in the Leinster Senior Strokeplay in Kilbeggan and winner of the best 36 Nett in the National Senior Strokeplay in St. Bridget’s, Maree enters in very good form and will have plenty of confidence she can get her name on the cup come Saturday evening. Maree cannot be overlooked adding this senior title to the inter title she won in 2017.
Pauline Balfe of Old County and Shula McCarthy of Hillview complete the entries in the senior. Both Ladies have recently secured their places on the Dublin and Tipperary Inter-County teams respectively so clearly both are playing well this year and both will be looking to feature in the winner’s circle on Saturday ahead of representing their counties in August and September.
We wish all players the very best of luck on Saturday and enjoy the excellence ESB venue.
Tomorrow: We preview the Gents grades in ESB this weekend.
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