IT’S an expanded field for this year’s National Gents Intermediate and Junior Strokeplay Championships in Cunnigar this weekend with an extra 34 competitors across both grades from the traditional 80 split. Communications & Press Officer Jason O’Connor takes a look at the enlarged field across both grades.
The last four winners of this grade have all come from Munster making a Leinster success a tall order particularly as we are at a Munster course again this year. Of the 54 participants, the hosts have three representatives amongst the field namely Declan Byrne, Michael Aherne and Paul O’Riordan with Byrne having won the County Strokeplay title in the South-East county back in May. Byrne is one of four County Strokeplay winners amongst the field with Richard Swords (Tipperary), John Farrell (Limerick) and Cillian Roche (Cork) also qualified.
Looking to the provincial competitions some of the prize-winners in those competitions have managed to make it here this weekend. John Minogue (Riverdale) has won the Munster Junior Matchplay and finished second in the equivalent Strokeplay competition on his home course last month. From Leinster, the Junior Matchplay runner-up, Richard Burke from Granard has qualified alongside the second and third place finishers from the Strokeplay competition in Enniscorthy namely Paddy Phillips (McDonagh) and Maurice Middleton (Collinstown) respectively. Form is always a hard thing to judge in this competition but it is interesting to see two sons of two of the game’s greats taking part namely Sean Downes Jnr (Stackallen) and Ryan Walsh (Collins).
There are a number of clubs with multiple representatives this weekend, four being the highest for an individual club in Cork club Collins’ representatives. They include Brendan Meade, Nicholas Byrne and Sean Miller alongside the aforementioned Ryan Walsh. Bruff, Lucan and Tipperary Hills both have three entries each alongside the hosts. Bruff’s three qualifiers are Michael McGuane, Joseph O’Riordan alongside John Farrell with Lucan’s three representatives comprising Jonathon Dillon, David Lee and Alan Doyle while Tipperary Hills are represented by a trio of the aforementioned Richard Swords, William McGrath and Stephen Cavanagh Jnr. Clubs to have two representatives include Riverdale (John Cawley and Minogue), Deerpark (Johnny O’Brien and Kieran Fitzpatrick), Bagenalstown (Martin Baird and Darren McNally), Erins Isle (Ryan Cooney and David Roy) and Lough Owel (Ollie McNamee and Derek McKevitt).
This always is the hardest event to predict in advance and it could well be any of the 54 players who succeed Parteen’s Alan Bennis as this year’s winner. Being out in a three ball as opposed to a two ball will create a different dynamic as well as will the fact that the 12 players who do make the Final 18 playoff maybe not necessarily having the experience of playing 54 holes in such an environment.
HARD to know if it will be as dramatic as last year’s staging but one of the protagonists in the 64 holes needed to decide the eventual outcome in Stackallen looks to go one better this time as Deerpark’s Creagh Courtney looks to make amends for that most dramatic of losses to St Bridgets Owen Farrell at the 10th playoff hole. The first three ball amongst the 60 competitors features two interesting names, those of the recent Leinster Strokeplay winner at this grade, Bellewstown’s Luke Heeney while Drimoleague’s David O’Mahony was the 2012 winner of the National Junior Strokeplay in RGSC. They play with Castleisland’s James Dignan.
Last year’s National Junior Champion Alan Bennis of Parteen also makes the step up to the Intermediate ranks this year as he tees off in the second last group alongside Douglas’ Cian Morrison (Munster Intermediate Matchplay Runner-Up) and Deerpark’s Michael Cronin. A big form player in 2015 amongst the field is McDonagh’s Anthony Ryan who has done the Leinster Junior Matchplay and Strokeplay double thus far (he’s also won the Kildare Junior Strokeplay this year) as he tees off alongside Custume’s Willie Prendergast and the aforementioned Courtney. Interestingly there are only three County Strokeplay Champions amongst the field namely Christy Hannon of St Bridgets (Kildare), Conor Clancy of Fermoy (Cork) and the aforementioned Bennis (Limerick). Some other names to look out for from the recent Provincial Strokeplays include Kevin Doyle of St Pats, second to Luke Heeney in Leinster while Rocklodge’s Craig Cahill was third in this grade in Munster recently at Riverdale.
Local interest will centre on the performances of Aidan O’Rourke and Thomas Maher, the only two players from the host club to have qualified for the event. Another interesting name amongst the field is that of last year’s National Juvenile Strokeplay Champion Charlie Morrissey of Raffeen Creek while Deerpark of Killarney have the single biggest amount of qualifiers from any club with Courtney and Cronin joined by club-mates Ger Casey, James Fleming and Michael Foley. Lucan of Dublin have four qualifiers meanwhile in the form of Gary Ryan, Damian Creevey, Noel Ryan and Paul Dillon. There is a strong geographic spread to the qualifiers for Saturday with Mellows duo Alan O’Keeffe and Padraig Conroy and Inniskeen’s Michael Vaughan representing some of the game’s lesser populated areas in Galway and Monaghan.
Whereas Munster has dominated the Junior grade, the last three winners of this grade have all come from Leinster. The course will provide its only unique challenges to the players and hopefully we will get just as much excitement as there was in Stackallen last year. The Top 12 at the end of the initial 36 holes will then go forward for the Final 18 holes to decide the eventual winner.
Tomorrow: We preview Sunday’s Senior Gents Championship