Back in 2005, we lost to Newlands, but it was so close we could taste it (and other such clichés). So, in 2009, when a good run started, expectations rose with every victory, until we found ourselves playing against Gowran Park in the semi final on August 1st. We thought we had the advantage with 3 matches at home. Not only that, we had Paul Dunne and Cian Madigan as our final pairing: Paul, 16, plays off +2 (and now plays for Ireland); Cian is younger still and has dropped from a 17 handicap to 8. That gave them a ‘combined’ handicap of 6. Unbeatable in this sort of competition – or so you’d think.
Neville, off 4, made up the middle pairing for Gowran Park, alongside a young one, named Rioch. And, no doubt, Neville would have offered his team mates some valuable insights because, like any course, there are things at Greystones that visitors simply don’t appreciate. For instance, after you play holes 2 and 3, you don’t really need your driver again until the 9th. And on 4 and 6, positioning off the tee is crucial. As for hole 5, an uphill par three of 100 metres, the high index does not reflect how difficult it really is – if I walk off it with a par, I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
'Home’ advantage can work against you, too, and this was evident on the par four 6th, our Index 3. It is a very gentle dogleg downhill (it’s on the back cover of my book) and you’re aiming left of the bunker on the corner. It’s not a difficult shot and there’s plenty of landing room before the bunker, but the impenetrable gorse on the left and right of the hole just sits in the back of your mind, waiting to make its presence felt when you stand on the tee.
So, when our three guys stepped onto the tee, I have no doubt that the first difficult tee shot would have been causing an increased heart rate. They knew the difficulties. In the first group, Daniel (aged 14) hit a good drive that caught up in the left rough on the hillside. His partner, Shane (another stalwart of the 2005 campaign, who didn’t lose until the final play-off), didn’t have the best stance and found the gorse, requiring Daniel to reload. Hole lost. In the second group, David knocked down his drive, leaving the ball 40 yards from the tee and almost in the gorse. In the third group, Cian’s ball took a nasty bounce and kicked deep into the gorse near the bunker.
His partner, Paul, donned his waterproofs and disappeared into the gorse – he even found the ball, but then had to go a long way back and down onto the 4th fairway to play the team’s third shot. From there it is totally blind.
I watched the match for the first nine holes and saw some great golf. It is always a pleasure watching someone as good as Paul Dunne. It is a beautiful swing and one that you want to imitate. His caddy was his dad, Collie – Shane’s partner in 2005 – and they work brilliantly as a team. Daniel O’Byrne, aged 14, may well follow in Paul’s footsteps – he certainly has the swing. I didn’t see many of young Cian’s or David’s shots, but judging by their stride they are full of enthusiasm for the game and the competitive element.
What about Gowran Park? Three perfect drives. It wasn’t a turning point in the match, but it showed that not knowing a course has its advantages. I’ll also mention that Neville, as the low handicap, had arranged the driving order so Rioch teed off on 6 – canny traitor that he is.
I take my hat off to Tom Kelly, the team manager. He went with youth in his team picks and several of the boys were young teens, whose handicaps had plummeted during the year. After so many wins they would undoubtedly have been bristling with confidence.After nine holes, we were 1 up in two matches, and level in the third. The news from Gowran Park had us 3 up in one and 3 down in the other. It was looking positive but certainly not comfortable.
If you haven’t already guessed, we ended up losing – by a score of 3 and 2. Close, but no cigar.
Losing is never easy, but it will stand to them. It was a great experience and they will improve even further on the back of the defeat. As for the rest of the team, it is never easy to come so far and not go all the way.
Thoughts of opportunities missed and mistakes made will dance around their heads for a few days yet. But as the low guys, they will have plenty more opportunities. Tom Kelly will be gutted. It’s his second year in charge and he did so well. The big question now, is, will he stay on next year.
Finally, to the members of the Gowran Park team, congratulations and best of luck in the final against Clontarf. Neville, I’ll deal with you later.
Shane O’Connor(3) & Daniel O’Byrne(17)
David Byrne(7) & Tom Hamilton(8)
Paul Dunne(+1) & Cian Madigan(17)
Subs: Niall Byrne(6) & John Darcy(9)
Subs: Niall Byrne(6) & John Darcy(9)
Kevin Condren(Scr) & Raymond Crotty(19)
Alan Condren(+1) & Shay Hamilton(16)
Subs: Fergie Wheeler(6) & Darragh Browne(9)
Team Manager: Tom Kelly
Team Assistant: Tony Bishop