Dundalk’s Barton Shield bid comes up just short
Dundalk Golf Club’s bid for All-Ireland glory came up agonisingly short when their senior panel was beaten by Athenry in the final of the AIG Barton Shield at Thurles on Friday.
Athenry won by three holes in a match that was in the balance until the 34th hole of what proved to be an epic encounter. The Galway side were deserving winners on a day when Dundalk’s normally laser-sharp driving deserted them.
Alan McCabe, who is joint manager of the Dundalk senior panel along with John Conlon, said they had no excuses.
“Athenry were deserving winners. They played very solid golf in both matches and unfortunately we were struggling to find fairways and hit greens in regulation. Nonetheless, we showed great character in taking the match right down to the wire and we will learn a lot from the experience.
“This was Athenry’s third visit in seven years to the All-Ireland Finals of the Barton Shield and only the first time they had made the final so it’s not an easy thing to win.
“It is disappointing to have come so close and failed but it has been a great campaign. Myself and John have been looking after the senior panel for the past three years and we have made progress every year to the point where this year we won the Leinster Barton Shield for the first time, reached the semi-finals of the Senior Cup in Leinster and the All-Ireland Final of the Barton Shield.
“We have a strong panel of dedicated players, a good team of caddies and also enjoy tremendous support from the club. It was a great source of encouragement to ourselves and the players that so many travelled down to Thurles from Dundalk.
“As a club and a senior panel we are making progress in the right direction and there is no reason that the lads can’t get back at the All-Ireland stage next year and hopefully go one better,” said McCabe.
The Barton Shield is a foursomes competition played off scratch with each club fielding two pairings and the match being decided by the aggregate hole score.
In Friday’s final, Aaron Grant and Conor Curran lost by four holes to Joe Beirne Jnr and Louis O’Hara in the top match while Caolan Rafferty and Eoin Murphy were one up with one to play against Darren Leufer and Allan Hill when Dundalk finally ran out of holes.
And yet, after five holes of the final, it looked as though Dundalk were well on their way to bridging the 14-year gap to their last, and only, national pennant. At that stage Grant and Curran were all square while Rafferty and Murphy were three up having won the third, fourth and fifth.
Indeed Curran and Grant were unlucky not be ahead as, after winning the second, they had lost the par three third to a par having seen Curran’s tee shot pitch on the green and then spin back into the water hazard at the front. At the next hole Curran hit a superb approach shot to within two feet for birdie but Athenry halved the hole when O’Hara drained a 30ft downhill putt.
It was on the 404 yard par four sixth hole that Dundalk’s aura of invincibility began to crack. Aaron Grant’s booming drive landed exactly where he wanted it but the ball kept skipping though the rough until it came to rest at the butt of a tree forcing Curran to play out left-handed.
With Athenry having failed to find the green in two, Grant then saw his delicate pitch from inside 100 yards end up in the massive front bunker. When Curran failed to find the green and Grant narrowly missed holing the resultant chip, Athenry found themselves in front for the first time in the top match.
It was a lead that Beirne and O’Hara would never relinquish as the Dundalk pairing failed to find a fairway for the rest of the round. It is testimony to the recovery skills of Grant and Curran that this match was still in the balance as they walked off the 15th green after Grant had sunk a testy four foot par putt to reduce the deficit to two.
Dundalk had lost the seventh to go two down after Curran’s drive found the trees on the right but they pulled a hole back on the ninth thanks to a magnificent approach from the top of a bank by Grant. Curran then saw his six foot putt for a win on 10 lip out and Beirne had to sink a six foot putt on 11 for a half after Grant’s long-range birdie putt had come to rest on the edge of the hole.
After 11 holes the overall match was delicately poised for while Grant and Curran were one down, Rafferty and Murphy were all square having gone from three up to one down in the space of five holes.
Their three hole winning run had come to an end on the infamous sixth when Murphy missed his par putt and they then lost the next when Hill drained a 20ft birdie putt. The par-five eighth looked be heading Dundalk’s way when Athenry lost their ball with their second shot but Murphy found the water guarding the green with Dundalk’s third and Hill then knocked in another excellent putt to win the hole with a bogey.
Failure to recover from a wayward drive on 10 saw the Dundalk pairing fall one behind but a brilliant 20 foot birdie putt from Murphy on the 11th got them back to all square and left it all to play for in the overall match with 14 holes to go.
But in the top match Grant and Curran quickly found themselves three down after losing the 12th and 13th when they failed to find both greens in regulation while behind them Rafferty and Murphy lost the par three 14th to a par after failing to find the green from the tee.
That left Dundalk trailing by four holes overall with eight holes to play but both pairings won the par four 15th hole with Grant sinking a knee-jerking four foot putt for par while Rafferty drained a 15ft birdie putt to reduce the overall deficit to two holes with six to play.
The 16th proved to be deciding hole. Shooting to a back pin, Athenry’s approach shot found the front part of the green while Curran, playing out of the trees on the left, saw the collar hold up his low running chip. Grant’s long birdie putt from just off the front of the green stopped two feet from the pin but O’Hara won the hole for Athenry when he drained another monster putt, this time holing from almost 40 feet.
That left the Grant and Curran trailing by three with two to play and when they failed to find the 17th green in three after another visit to the trees they were four down as they teed off on the 18th.
Behind them, Murphy and Rafferty had edged ahead when Murphy sank a birdie putt on 16 to put them one up in their match and reduce the overall deficit to three holes with three to play. But, Rafferty’s long drive on 17 was blocked out by a tree on the right forcing Murphy to lay up short of the green. Although Rafferty chipped to within six feet, the Athenry pairing secured their par to halve the hole and seal their first ever senior pennant.
In Thursday morning’s semi-final Dundalk had a comprehensive win over Kinsale, beating the Munster champions by ten holes with both pairings winning their respective matches by five holes.
In the top match, Grant and Curran got off to a nervy start but they still managed to win the opening hole and they went three up after winning the fourth in par and the sixth with birdie. They were pegged back when they lost the seventh but a great birdie putt from Curran saw them win the eighth after Kinsale had lost a ball off the tee.
Wins at 10 and 11 moved them to five up and although Kinsale won the 12th with a par, the Dundalk pairing took the 14th in par to move five up with four play.
Behind them Rafferty and Murphy were always in control and, after halving the first six holes, they finally nudged in front when Rafferty made a great up and down out of a bunker to win the seventh hole in par. They then proceeded to win the next four holes to go five up and halves on 12 and 13 closed out the match.
The Captain of Dundalk Golf Club, Gerry Byrne, paid tribute to the team. “Everybody in Dundalk Golf Club would like to congratulate the Senior Panel on a great campaign. It was tough to come up short in our quest for the club’s second ever national pennant but we did make a major breakthrough earlier in the year when we won the Leinster Barton Shield title for our first senior pennant. I have no doubt that we will learn from this experience and come back stronger next year.”