Athenry are a bridge too far in Shield fi­nal

AIG BAR­TON SHIELD

The Argus - - SPORT -

A BEAU­TI­FULLY bright and crisp Sun­day morn­ing in Mill Road saw the Dun­dalk and Ra­toath Un­der-13 teams warm up pur­pose­fully in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a very com­pet­i­tive bout of rugby.

Ra­toath ar­rived buoy­ant on the back of a first-round win in the NE Le­in­ster League, while Dun­dalk were con­scious that they needed a vic­tory, hav­ing gone down to Na­van away from home in their last match.

The young Sharks started strongly, keep­ing the vis­i­tors pinned down in their own half for the first ten min­utes. How­ever, an open­ing score proved elu­sive, de­spite their best ef­forts and Ra­toath be­gan to find their groove. A li­ne­out ball on the Dun­dalk ten-yard line put the home team un­der pres­sure and the vis­i­tors took full ad­van­tage, scor­ing an im­pres­sive team try un­der the posts in the 12th minute. A failed at­tempt at the con­ver­sion saw them with a 5-0 lead which they man­aged to sus­tain un­til half-time, de­spite mount­ing Dun­dalk pres­sure.

Dun­dalk, aided by a strong breeze, started the sec­ond half with re­newed de­ter­mi­na­tion and they were re­warded five min­utes in when fly-half Daire Thomas placed an ac­cu­rate cross­field kick into the path of winger Justin Cooney who duly touched down, bring­ing the sides level.

Ra­toath upped their game once again and sev­eral ef­fec­tive scrums brought them into a po­si­tion that al­lowed their big num­ber 8 to thun­der his way un­der the posts. A suc­cess­ful con­ver­sion then brought the score to 12-5 in favour of the vis­i­tors.

The home side made some changes, with Enda Doo­ley and Alan King tak­ing to the field. Dun­dalk had to dig deep and in­spi­ra­tion came in the form of a timely in­ter­cep­tion by winger To­mas Quinn who broke three tack­les and scored un­der the posts, al­low­ing for a straight­for­ward con­ver­sion by full-back Cor­mac McKe­own. The sides were level once more with five min­utes re­main­ing.

How­ever, lady luck favoured the vis­i­tors on this oc­ca­sion. Con­tin­u­ous pres­sure and a cou­ple of for­tu­nate breaks saw Ra­toath camped on the home side’s try line for what seemed an eter­nity. De­spite heroic de­fen­sive ef­forts, the win­ning try was awarded, fol­lowed by the fi­nal whis­tle.

No doubt the Dun­dalk squad, coaches and play­ers alike will take many pos­i­tives from the game, as well as recog­nis­ing the ar­eas that need work as they re­turn to the train­ing field in prepa­ra­tion for their next fix­ture which is away to Ath­boy/North Meath.

DUN­DALK: Mark Red­mond, Cathal Walsh, Brian Malone; Tom Holmes, Ai­dan Crilly; Adam Pren­der­gast, Max Ward, Carl Mee­gan; Tony McDon­nell, Daire Thomas; To­mas Quinn, James Cor­co­ran, Finn Cum­misky, Justin Cooney; Cor­mac McKe­own. SUBS: Enda Doo­ley, Alan King. 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.

‘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 if 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. 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, 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 in the top match - a lead that Beirne and O’Hara would never re­lin­quish.

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 one back on the ninth thanks to a mag­nif­i­cent ap­proach 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 lon­grange 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, how­ever a bril­liant 20 foot birdie from Mur­phy on the 11th got them back to all square. But in the top match Grant and Cur­ran were now 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.

The 16th proved to be de­ci­sive. 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.

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.

In the top match, Grant and Cur­ran got off to a nervy start but were 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 Mur-

Pic­tures: Pat Cash­man

Dun­dalk GC mem­bers (left to right) Eoin Mur­phy, Aaron Grant, Caolan Raf­ferty at Thurles last week.

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