IT’S impossible not to have a conversation about Stackallen without the name of Sean Downes coming up somewhere along the line. The five time National Champion (four of which came in consecutive years from 1992-1995) was one of the undoubted starts of the 1990’s and is still a name that commands much respect around Pitch & Putt circles. Unfortunately Sean will not be in action on Sunday in the Senior Gents Championship, a decision he is quite comfortable with. “I made up my mind in February that I would be taking a step back from the playing side of the game and in all I think I’ve only played the game about three times this year. I’ve no regrets about it and I’m looking forward as much as everyone else to see who actually comes out on top this weekend,” the former PPUI Vice-President said.
It’s been for the gain of the club however as Sean has worked tirelessly along with the rest of the club in getting everything ready for this weekend. Indeed Sean’s record at Nationals on his home course has not been what you would have expected. “I never did as well as what was expected of me when we hosted a National here. Definitely I think it got to me when I was playing here and everyone was expecting me to do well,” Sean said. A National Matchplay semi-final with Paul O’Brien in 2007 at the Co Meath venue was Sean’s best performance on home turf but with his mind firmly on matters outside the competition he feels it’s a great honour for Stackallen to be hosting an event of this magnitude again. “It certainly has given everyone in the club a boost and it has got us all working hard again to get everything right when it kick-offs on Saturday,” he said.
How different is the course from the set-up in 2007 back at the National Matchplay? “It’s reasonably the same except for the fact that the second green is now brand new and the slope at the 13th green has been levelled from top to bottom and the green is now longer. There still is a quick pace to the greens and with breaks nearly everywhere I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of three putts this weekend,” Sean feels. Looking ahead to the three Championships this weekend, Sean feels the Intermediate and Junior grades are impossible to call as pretty much always but he certainly is very much qualified to give his opinion of how the big one on Sunday will go. “From a Meath point of view I think both Eamon Gibney and Ian Farrelly are in with a great chance. Eamon grew up playing Stackallen as a Juvenile and is still an associate member here so he will be very familiar with the surrounds. I always knew a big one was in Eamon and I think he proved it winning the Irish Open back in May and certainly that’s going to give him big confidence ahead of this Sunday,” he said
Unsurprisingly he expects John Walsh and Ray Murphy to be amongst the mix as well. “I think no matter where a National is in the country you have to fancy those two to be up there in contention but the one thing that’s probably more interesting is those that haven’t qualified. From a club point of view we’re obviously very disappointed that Patrick McBride didn’t qualify but Sean Goggin from Louth was another player I would have fancied to do well around here if he had of made it,” Sean said. He’s also likely have a good idea on what the winning score could be after 54 holes on Sunday. “If I was in the clubhouse with 24 or 25 under after the three rounds, I would feel very confident about my chances of winning it but a lot is going to come down to the conditions on Sunday.”
Nine years ago when this competition was last held at a Meath course, Royal Meath, Sean was the winner himself. Whether it proves to be an omen for the Royal County contingent this year remains very much to be seen.
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