The Leinster Juvenile Strokeplay Championships, sponsored by Eamonn Birchall and Brophy Brothers Builders, (Blessington) took place at Kilbeggan Pitch and Putt Club on Thursday last on a day where the elements played havoc with the administrators, the spectators, but thankfully not the players. The folly of youth is normally a quip that gets bandied around, but the gusto with which these young boys and girls took to the immaculately prepared Kilbeggan course was impressive to see, and even allowing for the shotgun start in the teeming rain, there wasn’t one word of dissent from these wonderful youngsters.
The format remained the same as always, 36 holes strokeplay, but the timing and setting were tinkered with slightly. With a nod to the time that is offered up by the volunteers, and with an eye on getting as many players to play as possible, a midweek afternoon slot with a shotgun start was introduced by the PPUI. The review will begin in earnest to establish if this development is successful and worth pursuing.
As is standard with the Juvenile competitions there was a healthy collection of parents, coaches, mentors and assorted others all watching along the path and at various vantage points around the course. The viewing area close to the 3rd tee-box was a particular favourite! Great crowds attended from the host club, as you would expect naturally, but also from neighbouring Offaly but most especially from Dublin, and two clubs that I happened upon in particular, those of Lucan and Longmeadows. Portmarnock had their usual presence.
Lucan I’ll get to later as you will see, but the Longmeadows club should be applauded and in particular their mentors, as their relaxed approach and nice encouragement has reaped rewards, and they had a healthy number both playing and watching in Kilbeggan. They had some success, and if they keep at it, persistence will reap greater rewards eventually. The club entered a team in the Dublin adult leagues this season, on the back of some consistent hard juvenile work translating into adult membership, and they hope to add a second team next year. Take a bow lads - your efforts are really commendable.
Jimmy Milligan too, head of Juvenile Operations in Dublin, also deserves plaudits for steering the young players down the right path, his blend of common-sense and a natural air of authority is a winning formula for both getting the respect of the kids, but also to get them playing the sport in the right fashion. The results will take a while to be seen, but pitch and putt will be in a good state of affairs in Dublin in the next decade or so when these guys breakthrough fully.
The previous days inter-county had seen the Dub(een)s reclaim the crown by a single shot from Offaly, with the final pairing of both counties determining the destination of the cup, and drama was in high quantity. The Strokeplay Championship began with the boys 10-13 section, and it also had drama in its conclusion too. Underage pitch and putt in Leinster in the continues to deliver high quality play that has been going back at least to the mid-90’s in the younger section, and this year was no different.
Gauging who the early pace-setters were going to be was a difficult task given the nature of shotgun starts, and as the conditions began to deteriorate early into the second round (the clouds became more-menacing as the day progressed) it was getting harder and harder to see who was going to emerge.
Confirming my decision to not reference any of the players in the Championship preview, two of the players constantly being enquired about were Erry’s Mark Newman, and Old County’s Ross O’Reilly. Newman never really got going, while O’Reilly had a shocking first round, before a best of section 50 made his score quite respectable.
Two very solid rounds of 55 and 54 from the popular Ciaran Purtell catapulted him one shot ahead of Ross O’Reilly into 3rd place, before Arron Donnelly of Portmarnock and Bryn Evans of Collon tied the lead with an excellent score of 107 – which meant we were heading to a playoff!
At this stage conditions had deteriorated to a downpour with the 14-15 boys (and the girls section) waiting at their respective tee-boxes, and it was decided on a 3-hole play-off (16/17/18) to decide the section. Mary Farrell acted as referee, and the first hole (the short 16th) was the decider as Bryn Evans chip rushed pass the cup to leave a tricky par-putt that just slipped by the cup, with Arron Donnelly safely in for a par.
The now-torrential rain meant that a birdie would be tough and so it played out as pars by both players on the final two holes meant Arron Donnelly from Portmarnock was the Leinster Boys 10-13 Strokeplay Champion. All credit to Bryn Evans as well, his valiant effort to take the game to sudden death just missed out and he had to be content with 2nd place. As already mentioned Ciaran Purtell from the Longmeadows club was a deserved 3rd place.
We then looked forward to the girl’s 10-13 section and the boy’s 14-15 section who were able to play alongside each other given the shotgun start. There was real anticipation of a good championship here amongst the boys, and the word on the course was all about young Ryan Sheerin from the Tullamore club who had shined gloriously for Offaly the previous day – could he reproduce the magic in the individual event? Who would challenge him? Would Louth provide another challenger in their recent good run of form?
All of these questions were answered emphatically by the boy himself, Sheerin, who absolutely obliterated the field firings excellent rounds of 48 & 49 to walk the Championship. This little left-hander, has a great strut about him, and from very early on, this result was never in doubt, and Offaly look to have a little dancer on their hands here if they keep him involved in Pitch and Putt.
Daniel Condon of the Woodlands club, who wouldn’t be noted for their Juveniles given their relatively short existence, came in a very credible 2nd place and this should be used as a booster by the North Kildare club to get themselves a bit of exposure out of the shadow of the South Kildare giants from the Newbridge-Curragh-Kilcullen axis. Condon’s score of 104 was excellent in the conditions and he can be rightly proud of his achievement. Third place went to Keelin Evans, brother of the younger Bryn, as he edged out countymate Daryl McDonough from McBride on back18’s with a score of 106. Congratulations must also be offered to the Dublin pair of Ciaran Lynch (Portmarnock) and Jamie Power (Old County) for being the other pair of boys to break par on a sodden Midlands evening.
All the while the girls were taking place and it was great to see a near perfect complement of girls playing. It would have been easy to up sticks and give in taking into account the horrid conditions, but these young ladies are made of hardy stuff, and they grimaced and got in with the job in hand. The home club Kilbeggan provided 3 of the competitors, and the club officials must be very proud of the latest batch of girls to come through, as each is a credit to their wonderful club.
Aisling Dixon found the going hard, but never let the course get the best of her, and she kept her head held high and smiling as she played her 36 holes. Holly Cuffe fared a little better, and was supported all the while by former National Champion (but more importantly) her father Niall Cuffe, a sight we see a little more regularly now from our high-profile players.
There was little to choose between the Girls 10-13 prize-winners. Molly McCarthy from Lucan played steady pitch and putt, to take 3rd place, to delight of the Lucan enclave that braved the weather. She was beaten to 2nd place by the tall and elegant Sarah Cullen, who is a nice little player and to the delight of the home supporters (a fitting reward for a great two days work by the hosts and she is a player who could develop well under the tutelage of the Kilbeggan mentors).
However, the winner, who was supported throughout by a vociferous Lucan group (as were all the girls, there was no partisanship on display) was Aoife Mahon, and she thoroughly deserved her victory. Her score of 125 was very good given the conditions, and her own slight frame made some of the longer holes especially tough to play, but this girl has a lovely style of play from the tee-box – this was evident last year in Old County too – and she is one of the most courteous and sporting kids you’ll come across. Watch out for her, if Lucan can keep her playing, and I implored them to do all they can, then she’ll be one to look out for in the distant future.
That just left the small matter of saluting Amy Galvin. Assured of her medal by way of isolation in the Girls 14-16 section (a sad indictment of all of us involved in PPUI, and in the country in general), the easy thing would be to go through the motions, particularly given the understandable gulf in class and physical strength between herself and the younger girls. But no, this is a girl with breeding steeped in the highest calibre of Offaly Pitch and Putt, and she set about her task in admirable gusto.
Playing with conviction and supreme sportsmanship, she shot an excellent 109, only weakening when the evening reached its nadir, and she will be very confident going through to Cork in a week’s time. She is definitely a player the Offaly Ladies will be welcoming to their ranks with anticipation, and she spoke with maturity beyond her years in her victory speech.
At the closing ceremony, the large (and quite damp) crowd that has assembled listened to a passionate and thought provoking speech from John Carton, who on behalf of the Kilbeggan club spoke well yet again, and from Eamonn Birchall, who spoke on behalf of the two sponsors, which of course is himself and Breda Brophy, who was representing Brophy Brothers Builders Blessington, for which we are all grateful for their long and continued sponsorship of this event. Kathleen Carton, Vice Lady Captain, in the stead of Rose McCormack (Lady Captain) received the Host’s plaque.
With that the crowds departed, with the thoughts of hot showers, warm towels and inviting beds making the long journeys that little bit shorter, with the promise of a greater journey to Pfizer’s in a week’s time occupying the thoughts of most.
Leinster Juvenile Strokeplay Championships:
1st: Arron Donnelly (Portmarnock) 107 (p/off)
2nd: Bryn Evans (Collon) 107
3rd Ciaran Purtell (Longmeadows) 109
1st: Ryan Sheerin (Tullamore) 97
2nd: Daniel Condon (Woodlands) 104
3rd: Keelin Evans (Collon) 106 (ob18)
1st: Aoife Mahon (Lucan) 125
2nd: Sarah Cullen (Kilbeggan) 128
3rd: Molly McCarthy (Lucan) 132
Amy Galvin (Tullamore) 109