AFTER a total of 40 matches beginning last April between 19 teams we are now down to the final four in the Inter/Junior grade of the National Inter-Club Competition and it will all be decided this Saturday in Tullamore as Bagenalstown of Carlow, Collinstown of Westmeath, Lakeside of Tipperary and St Patricks of Wexford bid to become the second winners of the grade after St Annes of Cork’s victory in the inaugural competition in 2013 in Bruff. Communications & Press Officer Jason O’Connor assesses the form of the four sides involved on Saturday.
Semi-Final One: Bagenalstown vs. Collinstown
THERE is a lot of reason for optimism in both these two teams’ ranks ahead of Saturday. For the Carlow club, they have a 100% record so far in their campaign, they defeated last year’s runners-up Deerpark of Kerry in the quarter-finals and five of the club’s squad (Ken Campion, Joe Paul Kelly, Donal and Darren McNally along with Patrick Robinson Jnr) were recently competing in the Carlow colours at the recent Gents B Inter-County Championships at Saturday’s host venue. Despite not featuring amongst the medals at that event, the Bagenalstown players will have gained great knowledge of Saturday’s venue and will be able to use their handicaps in a way they weren’t at the Inter-County. The way they overturned a 2-1 deficit to Deerpark in the Quarter-Finals and won all the Singles matches to emerge 7-2 winners was possibly their most impressive feat so far in the campaign.
In Collinstown’s case meanwhile, Tullamore is not a venue that they have far to travel to and they have three of the Westmeath Intermediate team (Gary Middleton, Darren Reilly and Stephen Ruane), who were quite impressive winners of the inaugural Leinster Inter-County Championship in Athgarvan last month, amongst their squad. Although they were defeated by McBride in the Group Stages, they looked quite impressive in the way they saw off Clare Road in the quarter-finals in Lakeside four weeks ago and will be a formidable prospect on Saturday. It’s been a great year for Westmeath Pitch & Putt at Inter-County level that a success for one of its clubs would really top it all off but after the Westmeath Seniors not quite living up to expectations in Tullamore in the battle for the Anchor Cup, Collinstown will well aware about entering Saturday with a degree of caution.
Considering both were 7-2 victors in their respective quarter-finals, this has the ability to be a cracker if both teams hit form and it be interesting to see if Bagenalstown draw on the experience of having a recent competitive outing in Tullamore under their belt or if Collinstown can get out of the blocks quickly and put points on the board like they did so ruthlessly against Clare Road.
Semi-Final Two: Lakeside vs. St Patricks
As the only Munster side left in this grade, Lakeside will draw some inspiration no doubt from flying the flag for the province but they face a tough challenge in the form of their Wexford opponents who have made it to the semi-finals of this grade for the second year in-a-row. They lost out to Deerpark last year but St Pats appear to be stronger this year, buoyed on no doubt by the fact they have five of the side who won the inaugural Leinster Junior Inter-County in Athgarvan for Wexford in the form of Glenn and Ruairi Fortune, the two Aidan’s O’Brien and O’Neill along with Richard Grannell. They also have four players who were on the Wexford Intermediate team that finished second to Westmeath giving them more good competitive experience and the way they overturned a very fancied Collins side in the quarter-finals in Ryston to win by 7-2 will improve their confidence no end.
Lakeside have only one player who wore Tipperary colours this year in the form of Paddy Murray who was a member of the Junior Gents team that finished second to Cork in the Munster Inter-County. However they are a side who definitely have the bottle needed to make it here with the way they have grinded out wins to get themselves here. Despite losing to Majestic and Clare Road in the Group Stages, they just managed to scrap through on match difference to the quarter-finals. There they had a tight, ding-dong battle with McBride of Louth in Ryston before eventually coming through on a score of 5-4 with Martin McCormack, Alan Maher, Ian Delahunty and Patrick Kennedy all picking up key points for them in that contest. They certainly won’t be overawed by the challenge of facing St Patrick’s and the key thing to remember here is that Matchplay is a different beast to Strokeplay (which all of the Inter-County Championships are contested over) and matches can change very quickly over the course of a few holes.
It will be interesting to see which way this goes, will St Pats bigger experience of major Championships in club and county colours be the difference or can Lakeside draw on their experience of tight encounters so far during the campaign in making it to the final later on in the afternoon?
Certainly you would pay more than a penny for the thoughts of the four captains of these respective teams this week as doubles pairings as well as Singles orders are likely to be occupying their minds as Saturday approaches ever nearer. How the players from the various four teams respond to the occasion will be crucial as while Singles and Inter-County Championships bring their own pressure, there can be no greater honour or expectation to represent and preform for the place where a Pitch & Putt player plays the majority of his or her rounds.
What will be left in the tank for the respective winners of the semi-finals come the afternoon decider will be crucial as well and you get the sense that whoever does make the Final will hope that their semi-finals are settled early for the pressure cooker that the decider will undoubtedly be.
Tomorrow: We look ahead to the Semi-Finals of the Scratch Gents competition.
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