AS is always the tradition, the defending National Matchplay Champions will get proceedings underway in their respective competitions in Lakeside this Saturday. Communications & Press Officer Jason O’Connor spoke to both John Walsh and Breda Lonergan and got their thoughts ahead of this weekend in Templemore.
IN bridging a 12 year gap between last year and his first National Matchplay title back in 2002, John Walsh also put the memory of some tough near misses at national level behind him with a 5&3 victory over Deerpark’s Damien Fleming in last year’s decider in Parteen. He comes to Lakeside with maybe not as stellar a run-in as he had to last year’s event but the thought of being the defending champion should inspire him to step it up a notch. “I’m only really practicing this week because I wasn’t able to practice for the week after the Munster Matchplay in Rosscarbery. I took a lot from Rosscarbery in terms of what I need to do in order to improve, I was happy with how I played against Bryan Delaney in the quarter-finals despite the fact he beat me,” the Collins clubman said.
Of course John’s first time claiming the Day Cup was in a Tipperary course itself in Hillview 13 years ago and John is appreciative of Lakeside. “It’s not a course I would have scored well on throughout my time playing there but it certainly is a great test. I think the longer shots on the course will be a factor as well as how speedy the greens might be. If the wind is up around the course as well then I think chipping could be a big factor if the greens aren’t holding,” the Irish No 1 said. By virtue of being the defending champion, John does not have to qualify for the following year’s competition and considering the standard in Cork he said it’s not something to be taken lightly. “When the joy of winning does sink in after winning a national you do feel a sense of relief after about not having to qualify the following year especially when you consider the standard we have in Cork,” Walsh said.
Having experienced the gruelling schedule that can await players on the Sunday of the event, coping with the fatigue is a big factor John admits but his focus is a lot more short-term ahead of the start of the event. “To be honest I don’t know a lot about Richard (Bunyan from Listowel, Walsh’s First Round opponent) but I will treat him with respect. I haven’t paid much attention to the way the draw might work out but I think when you look at the 64 names in their entirety and notice names that you think will be there are not there then it does reinforce how difficult an event it is to qualify for not to mind winning it.”
When you consider that the defending champion fell at the first hurdle last year (Ray Murphy losing to Eoin Walsh) you certainly can’t blame Walsh for not wanting to get too far ahead of himself.
AFTER ending Munster’s two decade wait for a National Singles title with victory over Tara Dillon in last year’s Final, Breda Lonergan travels northwards in her native county to defend the Elvery Cup and Lakeside has a bit of a resonance for her in terms of when she made her comeback to the game in 2012 as she explains.
“I was only back playing about six or seven weeks at the time and my club Tipp Hills encouraged me to enter the County Matchplay because it was on in Lakeside that year. It was 23 years since I had played there but I was struck by how magnificent it still was and as it turned out I went on to win that day,” Breda said of this weekend’s venue. As the draw would have it this year, it’s a First Round tie that would be a Tipperary County Final in a lot of ways as Martha O’Brien (local player and hope for the weekend) will be the player waiting for Breda on the first tee-box. “It’s unfortunate for a lot of the Tipperary people that we have drawn each other so early but at this level you have to treat every game as a once off and both myself and Martha will be only be thinking about ourselves when we tee off. There are no easy games and a draw like this proves it,” the defending champion said.
Overall it’s been a pretty good year for Tipperary Hills as a club thus far, wining the Spring League in the Premier County with multiple qualifiers in the recent Munster Matchplay and Pat Martin reaching the final of the Senior Gents event in that competition below in Rosscarbery. Breda said there is a good degree of pride amongst the Tipp town at present. “We certainly do seem to be pushing each other on no matter what we are playing in with the club colours. Certainly Sean Keane (the late PPUI patron and club stalwart) is still very much in our thoughts when we represent the club and it’s having a good effect at the minute,” she said.
The defending champion is happy to see the usual field of 32 players for the event and hopes that number keeps up for future years. “I would certainly encourage Ladies in every grade to keep entering these events both national and provincial because it would be a shame to lose them with the manner in which numbers have dropped.” Important words indeed from Breda but the interest in her encounter with her former Tipperary Inter-County team-mate around 12.30pm on Saturday should be pretty big amongst the Premier County faithful.
Tomorrow: We preview the Ladies Championship this weekend.
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