While sadly we won’t be in Larkspur Park this weekend as we all hoped, John Manning has taken a specific look back at the National Matchplay in the years ending in 0. Keep in mind, the Ladies competition was played separately to the Mens until 1994 when the format we all know now came to be. We start off firstly with the Mens events.
A two foot putt at the first-tie hole after his opponent had missed from 2.5 feet gave Eamonn O’Reilly (Portmarnock) victory over Robert McCarthy (Carrigaline) in the 1970 National Gents’ Matchplay Championship final at the Erin's Isle course.
O’Reilly, the 1968 finalist, came from three behind after 21 holes and was one ahead with five to play. He lost the 15th where he was bunkered and then just missed clinching the match at the 36th where his chip from off the green lipped the hole. In the morning semi-finals, O’Reilly had an easy victory over local hope Jimmy Doyle while McCarthy led Tony Macken (Royal Meath) dormie six. Macken then produced five birdies in a row before going out at the 35th.
For sheer drama and excitement the 1970 final was hard to surpass and must be termed one of the all-time classics with copybook Pitch & Putt all through. McCarthy was three up early on but a storming fightback put O’Reilly ahead for the first time after 28 holes. O’Reilly canned a 10-footer for a three after escaping from the bunker at the 33rd but McCarthy holed for birdie. On the 35th, McCarthy pitched to six inches but O’Reilly’s tee-shot stopped on the very edge, the very rim of the hole!
Both missed the green at the 75 yard 36th. O’Reilly’s chip for the Championship narrowly missed before the former Ballincollig member and Cork County Board Secretary (who had recently moved to Dublin) prevailed on the 37th.
A decade later 22-year-old Michael Collins of the Shandon Club in Dublin became the new Irish Matchplay Champion at Navan in 1980.
Before what was surely one of the largest attendances ever to witness a final, Collins overcame 1979 champion Kevin McDonnell of the Cement Club in Drogheda by a convincing 5&4 margin. In Monday morning's semi-final, McDonnell overcame Munster's lone remaining hope Tony Brennan of Waterford Glass by a 7&6 margin whilst Collins beat Pat Doyle of Athgarvan by 4&3.
Collins (the brother of RTE personality Ronan Collins) shot approximately 14 under par for the 32 holes of the final to dethrone McDonnell, who also won the 1978 National Strokeplay Championship.
At the start of the last decade of the 20th century, Eamon Culleton (St Fiaccs) raced out of the blocks in the 1990 National Matchplay semi-final against Vincent Murphy of the host club Tullamore. Culleton established a big lead early on, which he never lost. The ex-Laois Gaelic footballer reached his first final by a 6&4 margin.
The other semi-final between Jack McCormack and 1987 Champion Johnny Campbell (Cement) produced chipping of a wonderful standard. And a superb chip by Jack on the 34th sealed a 3&2 success for the Lake County man. The good-humoured banter between these two all through definitely epitomised all that is good about our sport.
Fortified by four birdies from the start to be four up, Eamonn was always in control of the decider with Jack struggling to find his best form, particularly on the greens. The new Champion, the very first from the Carlow/Kilkenny/Wexford region, was 11 under par in clinching a 7&5 victory in a very sporting final.
The historic Intermediate Matchplay final pitted together two stylish youngsters who both gripped the club left hand under. Gum-chewing Ciarán Feeley (Stackallen) faced the pride of St. Annes, Frank Dineen. Dineen, who at that tender age had already formed his first company, was given to meditation between matches! The Cork man had survived an exciting semi-final joust with Alan McCormack, son of the senior finalist. Dineen arrived at the 59 metre 36th one down. Having holed an eight-footer for a two, he jumped high in the air with delight, before securing his spot in the decider with another birdie at the 37th.
Feeley was not to be denied in the final however, and boosted by a hole in one at the 18th to go two up; he was an impressive nine under par in winning by 2&1.
Employing a model of the putter that Jack Nicklaus used to win the 1986 Masters, Liam O’Donovan won six holes-in-a-row from the 15th in the inaugural Junior final against John Kelly (RGSC). Putting woes haunted the Dubliner and although incredibly, he fired successive holes in one at the 42 metre 12th and 38 metre 13th second time round, he eventually succumbed by 4&3. O’Donovan (another left under right exponent) was four under when the match ended at the 33rd.
Mark Millar from the Cement club in Drogheda was but 21 when he won his first major title with a breathtaking display of Pitch & Putt at Seapoint, Co. Louth. Mark was 15 under par for the 27 holes played in the millennium year Penfold Commando Men's National Matchplay championship final and he beat his Bruff opponent, Pacelli Darcy by 11&9.
That represented the largest winning margin in a final in the event's 40-year history. The new Champion covered the opening nine holes in a brilliant 20 strokes to be six up and he was never in trouble thereafter. 10 under par after 18 holes and 8up, Mark sealed victory with another glorious pitch to within three feet of the hole on the 27th. When Pacelli failed to hole his chip, he sportingly conceded hole and match.
In the semi-finals, Mark Millar was a stunning twenty one under par for the 32 holes he had to play to beat Royal Meath's Mark Keane 5&4. Keane himself was a very impressive 16 under par. Pacelli Darcy claimed the not inconsiderable scalp of holder and three-time champion, Sean Harkins (St. Bridget's) by 3&2.
John Ross Crangle was behind early against John Walsh in the 2010 semi-final on a foul day weather-wise at Larkspur Park before sparkling into full flow on the second eighteen. Three up at one stage, the Loughlinstown star won by 2&1. 1995 Strokeplay kingpin Chris Scannell (Collins) reached his third Matchplay Final by defeating ESB’s Thomas Lynch by 3&2.
In the wind and rain, the final didn’t quite live up to expectations. Chris started well. Four up after 14 and putting superbly, he took 15 and 16 for a six-hole cushion at halfway. JR won the 25th but Chris held on to triumph by 5&4.
Clare Keating of Woodvale captured her third National Ladies Matchplay Championship in glorious fashion at sun-drenched Rocklodge in June 1970. In the 36 hole final, which was an all-Cork affair, she defeated comparative newcomer and surprise packet of the championship, Kay Foley (St Annes) by 5&4.
In a sparkling final, in which play was of a very high standard, Clare Keating was 11 under par when the match ended on the 32nd green. Yet, she did not manage to shake off her tenacious opponent until the pair entered the final nine. Kay was one up after the first nine, but had fallen two in arrears at the halfway stage, with Clare six under for the opening round. The St. Anne’s lady fought back well, however, and was still well placed at one down with nine to play. It was at this point that Clare thrilled the large gallery with four successive birdies.
Throughout the two-day event, the winner was a model of consistency, and in her second round on Saturday night, she fired a staggering 13 birdies, to eliminate Highfield's Carmel O'Grady. In her semi-final match on Sunday morning, Clare recorded eight under for the 30 holes of her game with Mary Snell of Irish Ropes.
The defeated finalist had her hour of glory in ousting three times winner of the title Teresa McGuigan of Shandon. This last-four encounter also finished at the 30th, by which stage Kay was five under. The St. Anne’s player figured in a dramatic finish to her first round game with Georgina Matthews (Ierne).
Dormie three down, Kay produced two birdies and a hole in one, to claim her place in Round 2.
The brilliant Margaret Hogan was named Offaly/Westmeath Independent Sports Star of the week in June 1980 after her feat in winning the National Ladies Matchplay Championship in Cork.
Beaten in the final of this event for the previous two years, the Clara lady made it third time lucky and at the same time, achieved the grand slam of winning every national and provincial title available to her. Three up after nine in the final at St. Anne’s, Margaret was hit by a birdie barrage from 17-year old Cork player Rosalind O’Sullivan (St Finbarrs) who was two up at halfway.
Favourite after beating local player Marie Allen in the semi-finals, Margaret bounced back in front early in the second round and steadily drew away to win 5&4. Rosalind had beaten St. Finbarrs club-mate Phil O’Sullivan (no relation) in the last four.
10 years later Geraldine Ward captured three of the first four holes in the 1990 final against Kilbeggan’s Rose McCormack, who had defeated Margaret in the earlier rounds. She bunkered her pitch on the 5th in Athgarvan to give one back and Rose reduced the margin to the minimum with a birdie at the next. Pitching beautifully, Ger was controlling the match but superb twos on the 12th and 13th kept Rose in touch. The first 18 was completed with Geraldine four under par and one up.
Rose battled gamely on but Geraldine was not to be denied her first crown as Mrs. Ward and her fourth in all. A half in threes on the 48 metre 17th gave the Portmarnock player a 2&1 verdict.
Encouraged by a big local following and her biggest fans, son Patrick and daughter Laura, Bridie Kelly (Athgarvan) became the first-ever National Intermediate Matchplay Champion. Bridie’s final opponent was Margaret Foley, the high-pitching Dublin girl and sometime foursomes partner of the late Eamonn Birchall. Steadier pitching saw Bridie three up after 18. Margaret rallied briefly but Bridie scored a 5&3 victory.
Informed opinion early on in the Junior Championship was suggesting a final meeting between Teresa Conway (Lakewood) and Marie Caden (Shandon). The pair duly justified this confidence, winning the right to play-off for the first-ever National Ladies Junior Matchplay title.
On a high from winning the Munster Junior Strokeplay just weeks before, the Lakewood youngster led by two after eighteen and maintained a firm grip on proceedings. Teresa was an eventual 3&2 victor over 1989 Shandon Open winner Marie Caden, who was coached by legendary mentor Willie Parker.
Ger Ward looked set to win her eighth title when she stood two up with five to play in the 2000 Penfold Commando National Ladies Matchplay final at Seapoint. That would have enabled the Portmarnock star to tie the all-time record (held by Cork legend Clare Keating who won eight Matchplay Championships between 1963 and 1977).
Geraldine's Royal Meath opponent, Ann Hall rolled-in a long birdie putt at the 32nd to reduce her arrears and squared the match at the 34th when Geraldine pulled her tee-shot well left of the green. Ann immediately capitalised by pitching to within two feet of the 35th to jump into the lead. Ann then produced a marvellous pitch to the 63 metre home hole to clinch a two up win and add the 2000 Matchplay championship to the All-Ireland Strokeplay Championship she won at Navan in 1993.
It proved to be an easy 12th semi-final win for Ger Ward, by 9&8 over Breda Lonergan as the Portmarnock star reached the 2010 final on a wet Monday in Cashel. It proved very tight in the other last-four match at Larkspur Park. The closest tussle of the weekend saw the lead change hands throughout. Margaret Hogan was ahead early on but Chrissie Byrne took over, only to be pegged back to level with three to play. Chrissie won the 34th but Margaret canned a raker at the last to send the match into extra holes. Chrissie went through at the 37th to face Ger for the second time in a final.
Chrissie led by one after nine holes in the decider. Ger levelled and took the lead only for Chrissie to square matters by the 18th.Ger moved two clear after 27 holes only for Chrissie to level the match with wins at the 29th and 31st holes.
The 2010 Leinster Strokeplay and Irish Open winner from St. Bridget’s closed out the match by claiming the 34th and 35th holes to clinch a 2&1 verdict.
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