2019 National Matchplay Build-Up Day Two

Declan Sheedy previews the two Ladies grades this weekend

2019 National Matchplay Build-Up Day Two  image

2019 National Ladies Matchplay Championship Preview

Preview by Declan Sheedy


As the dust settles on the excellent 2019 Provincial Ladies Matchplay Championships the weekend before last all eyes now firmly turn to the 2019 National Ladies Matchplay Championships which will be held at the excellent Rocklodge course in Cork over the June bank holiday weekend, June 1st to 3rd. Like last year there are two National Ladies Matchplay titles up for grabs with the National Ladies Scratch Matchplay Championship being defended by Geraldine Ward (Portmarnock) and the National Ladies Handicap Matchplay Championship where Elaine Quinn (Lakeside) will seek to defend her title. Based on the players entered and the outcome of the draws, both events promise to deliver two excellent and competitive championships with the best lady players in the country displaying their skills over the Rocklodge venue. Ahead of the championship we conduct a preview of the matches and the draw for both championships.


National Scratch Matchplay Championship

A total of 17 ladies take to the field in Rocklodge on Saturday June 1st all with one aim which is to still be there on the afternoon of Monday June 3rd lifting the silverware. Six previous National Matchplay champions (Geraldine Ward, Chrissie Byrne, Margaret Hogan, Breda White, Tara Dillon & Shelagh Elmes) are entered in the field this year, all looking to add another title to their list of honours, but they will have to be at the top of their game to prevent a new first-time winner coming through from this very competitive field of players. Geraldine Ward enters as the defending 2018 champion and remarkably is seeking a fourth National Matchplay title in-a-row this year and a 13th title in her career. To see who may be able to stop Geraldine’s dominance of this championship in recent years we look at the draw and the matches scheduled for the round of 16.


Kicking off the Ladies Championship on Saturday morning will be a Preliminary Round match between Pauline Balfe (Old County) and Barbara Furlong (Lucan). This all Dublin affair promises to be an intriguing battle between two evenly matched players who will know each other’s games very well. Pauline enters this championship off a very successful 2018 season where she claimed both the Leinster Inter Matchplay and Strokeplay titles among other wins and is an experienced player on championship weekends at the highest level. Similarly, Barbara is another player who will be no stranger to the big championships and is a very steady and determined match player. Barbara will come into the weekend with plenty of confidence of having a big say in how this year’s championship plays out. This match promises to be a close affair with little expected to separate the Ladies.

The reward for the winner for this preliminary match will be midday match in the round of 16 proper against defending champion and 12-time National Matchplay Champion Geraldine Ward (Portmarnock). Geraldine’s, Irelands #1 ranked lady player, record in this event speaks for itself and Geraldine will on merit very likely enter this championship as the favourite to retain her title. Geraldine will be aiming to create new records this weekend and become the first lady player to win four National Matchplay titles in-a-row and surpass her own record she shares with Claire Keating (Woodvale) and Theresa McGuigan (Shandon) having won the title 3 times in a row, a feat Geraldine has achieved on three separate occasions. Interestingly Geraldine has never won a National Matchplay title in Cork, will 2019 be her first and ensure another new milestone in her career wins? She must first get past the strong challenge of either Pauline or Barbara in what will be another all Dublin encounter and an interesting match is promised.

Match Two in the round of 16 brings together Breda White (Tipperary Hills) and Margaret Keogh (Ryston). Winner of the 2014 National Matchplay title in Parteen, Breda comes into the championship off the back of solid performances at Scratch Cups in the early part of the season including wins at Ardnacrusha & Hillview Scratch Cups. In addition to her National Matchplay title, Breda is a National Senior Strokeplay champion from 1987 and has 12 Munster Senior titles over Matchplay and Strokeplay formats to her name so enters the Championship with knowledge and experience of what it takes to win on the big occasions. Breda is a serious contender for this title and would be no surprise to see her challenge come Monday. She must first get past Kildare and Rystons Margaret Keogh. Margaret returns to the National Matchplay Championship after a brief absence which is great to see. Winner of the Leinster Inter Matchplay title in 2017, Leinster Senior Strokeplay in 1995 and an ever present and key member of the Kildare Intercounty teams over the years, Margaret will relish the challenge over the weekend and with proven title success over match play formats will know exactly what it takes to win. Margaret’s experiences on the big championship days combined with being an excellent match player could well prove key in this match and Margaret cannot be overlooked in this championship. What is certain is that this promises to be an intriguing match.


Match Three pits the first of the Cork entrants in the form of Mairead Manning (St. Stephens) against Mairead O’Toole (Poulaphouca). Both ladies competed in their recent provincial match play championships and despite narrow defeats in their respective matches both performed very well and will come into this weekend with plenty of confidence to challenge strongly for the title. Mairead Manning is a lady who is making major strides upwards in the lady game in Ireland in recent years and enters as the reigning 2018 National Inter Strokeplay Champion. Add to this winning the 2016 National Junior Strokeplay title plus 2018 Munster Inter Matchplay and 2015 Munster Junior Strokeplay titles Mairead is no stranger to the winner’s circle and will be very familiar with the Rocklodge course where knowledge of the tricky venue may prove key over weekend. Expect a very strong challenge from Mairead Manning over the championship weekend. If she is to progress she will need to be at the top of her game in Round One as she faces Poulaphouca’s Mairead O’Toole. The Kildare lady is one of the great supporters and players of the ladies’ game. 2018 National Ladies Inter Seniors champion and another ever present member of the very successful Kildare Intercounty teams over the last two decades Mairead O’Toole has all the experience and skills to put in a big challenge over the matchplay weekend. Mairead is a very consistent player and with her experience of the National Matchplay championships each year she will not be overawed by the occasion and may be one to watch over the weekend. A great match in prospect. Which Mairead will come through is hard to call.


Match Four and the final match in the top half of the draw is an all Cork battle between the first of the two home favourites Mary Murray (Rocklodge) as she takes on Cork team-mate Nicola Ahern (Collins). As #4 ranked lady player in Ireland, this appropriately shows Marys rise through the ranks of the ladies game in the last five years to establish herself as one of the top lady players in the country. 2016 National Inter Strokeplay champion, in addition to being 2018 and 2014 Munster Senior Strokeplay Champion and 2018 Munster Senior Matchplay Champion, Mary will be hoping to add a National Senior Ladies title to her accumulating list of honours. Mary will no doubt have great home support over the weekend and will know the course better than anyone which could prove to the key for success come Monday. Mary will enter the weekend rightly as one of the favourites for the title and will hope to lift the silverware on her home turf. First however Mary will have to get past the stern test she will face from Collins Nicola Ahern. The 2007 National Junior Strokeplay champion Nicola will enter the championship weekend with confidence and knowledge of the Rocklodge course believing that she can stake her claim for the title. Nicola will be very familiar not only with Rocklodge but Mary’s game as they will have competed against each other in many county championships, so Nicola will know what it will take to win this match. This promises to be an interesting first round match and would not be a surprise to see this one going down to the last few holes.


In the bottom half of the draw, match 5 sees Sheelagh Elmes (Portmarnock) take on the second local player in the form of Paula Nolan (Rocklodge). This match on paper promises to be a classic match play battle. Winner of the National Matchplay title in 1983, Sheelagh is one of the great supporters of the ladies National Championship events and despite the 36-year gap since her last win in this event, Sheelagh is still one of the top lady players in the country and will have a big say in the where the title goes this weekend. Previous National Senior Strokeplay winner 1995 and winner of multiple Inter-County championships with Dublin, Sheelagh will know exactly what it takes to win on the big stage and is a very strong and determined Matchplay player who should contend strongly over the weekend. If she is to do so she must get past a very serious test in the form of Paula Nolan. Playing out of her home course, Paula comes into the championship off the back of a very good performance in the Munster Senior Matchplay Championship where she was a beaten semi finalist by eventual winner Martha O’Brien. Paula is another player who will know the Rocklodge course inside and out and with home support behind her over the weekend Paula will be one to watch. Expect a major challenge from Paula over the weekend. Great match in prospect and one which could go to the wire and maybe even extra holes.


Match Six brings together the match between Margaret Hogan (Tullamore) and Sarah McGrath (nee Byrne) (Fermoy). Four times National Matchplay Champion Margaret is without question one of the great lady players of the game and continues to play and compete at the highest level. Add to this five National Senior Strokeplay titles and it is understandable why Margaret will be considered one of very strong contenders to lift the title come Monday. An excellent Matchplay player Margaret will know how to tackle the challenges of the Rocklodge course and what is needed to win. She will however face a very strong challenge in Round 1 from Fermoy’s Sarah McGrath. 2013 Munster Inter Champion Sarah has established herself as one of the countries top senior players and is a very consistent performer at all Championships. In recent years Sarah has become a regular member of the Cork Intercounty team and will enter this Championship very confident of putting in a serious challenge for the title. Sarah will know the Rocklodge course very well from county championships and with knowledge of the difficult course likely to prove a big advantage one can expect a determined challenge from Sarah over the championship weekend.


Match Seven on paper promises to be one of the most competitive matches of round 1 as it brings together Martha O’Brien (Lakeside) and Tara Dillon (Ryston). Fresh off the back of winning the Munster Senior Matchplay title in Larkspur, Martha enters the Championship in top form and no surprise will be considered one of the favourites for the title. The 2012 Munster Senior Strokeplay champion, regular member of Tipperary intercounty team and member of the victorious Irish team in 2018 who defeated Catalonia, Martha has the proven experience and skills to win over the match play format. As one of Irelands top senior lady players Martha will relish the one on one format and will be hoping to add an individual national senior ladies title to her CV over the bank holiday weekend. Expect Martha to have a big say in the destiny of the title. Awaiting her in round 1 is Irelands #3 ranked lady player and 2008 National Matchplay Champion Tara Dillon. While Tara has the one National Matchplay title to her name so far, she boasts an excellent record in this championship have been narrowly beaten in 3 finals over the last decade, two of those defeats in sudden death holes. Tara is one of the most consistent senior lady players in the game and is a name that appears that appears at the top of the leader board at ever championship so must be considered a very serious contender for the title this year. Tara enters off the back of a very competitive semi final defeat to Chrissie Byrne in the Leinster Senior Matchplay and comes into the weekend in excellent form. This match is too close to call and will be no surprise to see it go the distance.


Match Eight and the final game in the Round of 16 has drawn together Chrissie Byrne (Ryston) v Vera McCarthy (Collins). Ireland’s #2 ranked lady player, 5-time National Matchplay Champion and runner up on 4 occasions, Chrissie enters the championship after claiming her record breaking 9th Leinster Senior Matchplay title in Trim last week. Last winning this title in 2015, Chrissie will be keen to add a 6th title in Rocklodge having been beaten the final of this championship in the last two years by the narrowest of margin by Geraldine Ward on both occasions. One the great players in the lady’s game, Chrissie is likely to enter the Championship as one of the favourites for the title and given her record in this event and Matchplay format it is easy see why. If Chrissie has plans to lift the cup on Monday, not only will she have to come through a difficult section of the draw, but she must first get through a very tough first round match against the another of the greats of the lady’s game in the form of Collin’s Vera Mc Cathy. The 2005 Munster Senior Matchplay Champion and ever-present member of the Cork Intercounty teams, Vera will bring a wealth of experience of the Rocklodge course into the championship. Combined with her ever consistent performances in senior championship and matchplay skills Vera will not fear the challenge ahead and don’t be surprised if Vera has a big say on this championship, one to watch out for. Another great match in prospect to wrap up Saturday’s play in the Scratch Championship.


In what promises to be a very competitive field there are many questions which will only be answered come Monday afternoon. Can anyone stop Geraldine from claiming her fourth successive National Matchplay title and 13th title in her career? Can Chrissie go one better than the last 2 years and clinch the title in Rocklodge? Can Margaret, Tara, Sheelagh or Breda add to their tally of titles? Will we see a Cork winner for the first time since 1991 when Norma O’Brien of Douglas last won? Or will we see first time winner come from elsewhere? What is certain is that a great championship is promised, and we wish all 17 competitors the very best of luck over the championship weekend?


National Handicap Matchplay Championship

2019 sees the second staging of the National Handicap Matchplay Championship take place after it was introduced very successfully into the calendar last year in Tullamore where Elaine Quinn of Lakeside claimed the inaugural title. Elaine returns to defend here title in Rocklodge against ten other ladies with eight players from Munster clubs and three players from Leinster taking part. With the use of handicaps, we saw in Tullamore last year a high majority of matches very evenly matched and games going down the 36th hole and a number into extra holes and we expect to see a repeat of the same in Rocklodge this. Another very open championship in store so we begin by looking at the three preliminary matches down to be played on the Saturday along with the quarter final matches to be played on Sunday.


Preliminary Match One pairs together Sarah O’Neill (Collins) v Lisa O’Connor (Tralee). Sarah comes into the championship off the back of an excellent performance in the Munster Inter Matchplay in Larkspur where she was narrowly beaten in the final 2&1 against Lakeside’s Mary Quinn. On route to the final Sarah had excellent wins again the defending National Handicap Matchplay Champion Elaine Quinn and Fermoy’s Ailish Sexton so will enter Rocklodge in top form and full of confidence. Sarah can be expected to challenge strongly for this National title with her knowledge of the course also being a big plus over the weekend. Her first-round opponent will be Lisa O’Connor of Tralee. Despite first round defeat in the Munster Inter Matchplay Lisa performed very well and will be confident of having a big say in this championship having put in an excellent showing in last year championship in Tullamore where she was a beaten semi-finalist. Lisa’s experience from last year could prove the key to success over the weekend and she will at least be hoping to go one match further this year. An evenly balanced match in prospect which could well be decided on the last hole or two in Rocklodge.


The winner of Sarah and Lisa’s match with play the defending champion Elaine Quinn (Lakeside) in the first of the quarter finals on Sunday. Having claimed the title with an emphatic win in last years final against Annie Galvin of Tullamore, Elaine will be very determined to retain her title for a second year and bring it back to the Premier county. A proven winner over this National matchplay format, experienced intercounty player, interclub winner and winner of the 2018 Munster Mixed Foursomes title, Elaine is no stranger to the winner circle and knows the skills needed to cross the winners finish line. This experience on the big occasion combined with being a very determined match player could well prove the key to the successful defence of her title. Whether her opponent will be Sarah or Lisa, this quarter final match will prove to be a great game and will be too close to call.


Preliminary Match Two on Saturday sees Phil Downey (Collins) take on Audrey Donnelly (MacBride). 2018 National Junior Strokeplay Champion Phil will be hoping to add another National title to her name in Cork again this year having claimed the Strokeplay title in Collins last year. Phil also won a Munster Junior Strokeplay title back in 2007 in another Cork venue, St. Annes, so Phil is not stranger to picking up championship titles in the Rebel County. Phil like the other Cork ladies will have strong knowledge of the Rocklodge venue and having played in many championship finals will bring plenty of experience into the weekend. Phil will be a serious contender for the title this year. Her opponent Audrey Donnelly however is a proven match play championship winner having claimed the Leinster Junior Matchplay title in 2018 and put up an excellent defence of her title last week in Trim only to be beaten on the second tie hole in the semi-final. Another lady who is moving quickly through the ladies ranks in recent years, Audrey is great supporter of scratch cups and the game and is a determined matchplayer who will relish the challenge of the championship weekend. Audrey enters the weekend in very good form having been a prize winner in recent open competitions and is a lady who will have a big say in where the title goes this year. A great match in prospect and expect this match to go the distance and possible into extra holes.  


The winner of Phil and Audrey’s match will play Christine Mulvey (Glenville) on Sunday in the second of the quarter final matches. Christine, a Leinster Junior Intercounty winner with Dublin in 2018 and a regular player in International Opens, will enter the match play with plenty of confidence of staking her claim for the title. A regular competitor around the Dublin circuit, Christine will know what it takes in the matchplay format to win and one can expect Christine to put up a big challenge to either Phil or Audrey in the quarter finals. Christine may be a player to watch over the weekend and we may well see Christine contend late on Monday.


The third and final preliminary match on Saturday will see Lily O’Brien (Lakeside) take on Catherine Leonard (Lucan). This match promises to be an evenly match contest and a difficult one to call a winner. Lily will bring plenty of matchplay experience into the weekend having been a member of the successful Lakeside teams who have won the National Interclub in recent years and is another lady who will be very familiar with championship days and what is needed cross the finishing line. A determined Matchplay player, Lily will no doubt put up a strong showing over the weekend and will be a tough competitor to get past. Lily takes on Dublin and Lucan’s Catherine Leonard in the quarter final. Catherine is another lady who is no stranger to championships and opens so will not be overawed by the big occasion. A very consistent and solid player Catherine will enter Rocklodge in confident form that she can have a big say in the title and it would be no surprise if we saw Catherine challenge for the title on Monday and bring the title back to Dublin. A tight match in prospect.


Patsy O’Donovan (Collins) awaits the winner of the Lily and Catherine’s game in the 3rd quarter final on Sunday. Patsy, one of four ladies from Collins competing for the title this weekend, is another of the great supporters and players of the ladies again. Regular member of the Cork Intercounty teams over the years, Patsy will know the Rocklodge course as well as anyone in this championship which could prove to be the key to success over the weekend. A very solid and determined player, Patsy will look forward to the one on one match play format and will enter the weekend as one of the favourites to get her name on the cup. Patsy will have one of the lower handicaps in the championship so will be giving away some shots in her match but despite this expect to see Patsy challenge strongly for the title.


The final Quarter-Final match scheduled for Sunday sees Nuala McNamara (Collins) v Margaret O’Donovan (Bruff). Another two ladies who are great supporters for the ladies’ game come face to face in this match. Both Nuala and Margaret competed in the recent Munster matchplay championship so come into the weekend fresh from knowing what it is needed to win in the matchplay format. Nuala like her other Cork competitors is someone who will be very familiar with Rocklodge having played it on many occasions in county championships and will know the right shots required to be played around the challenging venue. This course knowledge could prove the key and Nuala will be hoping to take advantage of this over the weekend. Margaret flies the flag again for Limerick ladies pitch and putt which is great to see. 2016 Munster Junior Strokeplay Champion Margaret is no stranger to championship finals and is a regular competitor at scratch cups around Munster and beyond. A very steady player, Margaret will enter Rocklodge with plenty of confidence of progressing far in this competition and with experiences from multiple match plays and championships behind her she will be considered a strong contender for the title this year. This is another match which promises to be a very close affair and another we can expect to see decided over the final couple of holes in Rocklodge.


Like the scratch championship this is a very open and competitive field. With the use of handicaps, the management and use of the shots on important holes may prove to be to success over the tricky Rocklodge venue. Who uses them best we will have to wait and see. Can Elaine successfully defend her title and ensure the cup returns to Lakeside? Could we potentially see an all Collins semi final line up given the draw? Will we see a Leinster lady clinch the title on Munster soil? Or maybe the title could end up in Limerick or Kerry come Monday evening?


The answer will be known Monday afternoon and we wish all 11 competitors the very best of luck come championship weekend.


Tomorrow: John Manning takes a look at some of the more memorable Championship moments to take place in Rocklodge