Fields of Athenry not ly­ing low but rid­ing high

Bar­ton Shield vic­tory over Dun­dalk is based on work put in with ju­nior sec­tion

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - John O’Sul­li­van at Thurles GC

Ser­e­naded first by The Fields of Athenry and then swal­lowed in the em­brace of friends and fam­ily, the Athenry golfers and their cad­dies, who won the Bar­ton Shield for the first time in the club’s his­tory, paused briefly to douse each other in cham­pagne be­fore a voice from the en­tourage pleaded with them not to waste the good stuff.

The ex­u­ber­ance was un­der­stand­able. Teenagers Dar­ren Leufer (16) and Boys in­ter­na­tional Al­lan Hill (18) had helped the club to win the Fred Daly Tro­phy last year but this was a first men’s na­tional pen­nant at the AIG All Ire­land Cup and Shields.

It was achieved against a back­drop of for­mi­da­ble op­po­nents in Dun­dalk and with­out their best player, David Kitt, cur­rently rep­re­sent­ing Ire­land in Buenos Aires at the Youth Olympics; he re­ceived the first phone call from the edge of the 18th green.

The gen­e­sis of Athenry’s suc­cess came in the top match where Joe Bernie Jnr and Louis O’Hara, four up and strid­ing down the 18th fair­way when Dun­dalk fi­nally ran out of holes, as Hill and Leufer’s half on the 17th ef­fec­tively ended the con­test.

Lost for words

Athenry team cap­tain Michael Lane ad­mit­ted: “Ab­so­lutely thrilled, I’m lost for words to be hon­est. It’s our first time ever win­ning a men’s se­nior event. I said ear­lier on that 20 years ago we couldn’t even field a Bar­ton Shield team, now we have top play­ers and that’s a tes­ta­ment to the ju­nior con­venors over the years and the likes of De­clan Cun­ning­ham and Sean Whe­lan and the work they have put in with the ju­niors.

“Joe Bernie Jnr, no more than my­self, is not a young man and he bat­tled and bat­tled there and he did the busi­ness. It’s bril­liant. The ball doesn’t know what size you are or what age you are. They are a credit to their fam­i­lies and the club.”

It wasn’t a facile vic­tory as Dun­dalk’s Ir­ish in­ter­na­tional Caolan Raf­ferty and Eoin Mur­phy kept plug­ging away but just couldn’t es­cape the clutches of Hill and Leufer suf­fi­ciently to claw back the deficit in the top match.

Hill said: “We went three down af­ter five holes but we stuck in there and tried to get a few holes back. We got back to all square af­ter nine and one up af­ter 10. That was the turn­ing point and then they came back at us with birdies at 15th and 16th but we put in a solid fin­ish and made par to win (the match over­all).”

If Athenry’s win was un­der­pinned by youth then Ne­nagh’s vic­tory over Athlone in the day’s other fi­nal, the Pierce Pur­cell Shield, em­phat­i­cally proved that age is not a bar­rier to suc­cess. There were five old age pen­sion­ers in the Ne­nagh team, in­clud­ing two – Packie Ryan and Toddy Ho­gan – in their 70s. It’s the sec­ond time they have won this na­tional ti­tle in two years, and the eighth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory by a Mun­ster club.

Old age pen­sion

Team cap­tain Paddy Pe­ters summed up the win. “To win an All Ire­land no mat­ter what your sport is, it’s fan­tas­tic for the club. Five of the team are draw­ing the old age pen­sion. It’s our fifth Pierce Pur­cell. Thurles were more than good to us. They in­vited us over for a prac­tice and it was a hell of a match, the hard­est we had.

“We have a great win­ter league go­ing with as many as 150 play­ing in it, all match­play. Your throat could be cut in it, it’s so com­pet­i­tive. A lot of our achieve­ments in match­play come from that.”

Her­mitage and Kin­sale came through two tightly con­tested Jimmy Bruen semi-fi­nals.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: PAT CASHMAN

Athenry’s Louis O’Hara plays from a bunker on the 10th dur­ing his club’s Bar­ton Shield Fi­nal vic­tory.

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