Murphy and Russell hold firm to close out thrilling Barton Shield decider
Junior Cup victory represents first national title for crack Ballybunion schoolboys unit
Colm Murphy stood on the 18th tee at Royal Tara GC, driver in hand, in the top match of the Barton Shield final. Clandeboye’s fate lay in his hands and those of foursomes playing partner William Russell, literally.
In the previous two minutes he’d watched Russell hole a 15-foot putt for birdie on the 17th green. Their opponents, Co Sligo’s Gary McDermott and Steffan O’Hara, missed from 10-feet, thereby slipping six holes down.
Any adrenaline surge on the part of the Clandeboye pairing was quickly neutralised by the confirmation that Sligo’s Seán Flanagan and Declan Reidy had closed out the top match on the home green, winning by five holes.
The Barton Shield is compromised of two foursomes’ pairings with the winner decided by the aggregate holes won by a team. In effect, the Ulster champions were one ahead playing the last. A half would suffice.
Former Senior Cup winner Murphy had intimated before arriving at Royal Tara this would be his last appearance at this level.
He found the fairway. McDermott couldn’t replicate his accuracy and O’Hara was required to hook the second shot, the ball eventually coming to rest 35 yards left of the green.
The 18-year-old Russell nudged a glorious four-iron down to the neck of the green, four paces short of the apron. Short-sided and with the green running away from him, McDermott also had to fly a bunker and was unfortunate to catch the sand.
The handshakes followed three shots later, two struck by the Sligo pair as they conceded the hole, and the match.
Clandeboye thus claimed a fourth Barton Shield, Murphy tidying up his collection of bronze and silver medals in the competition with gold.
He admitted: “I’ve played in this a long time and William’s definitely the best partner I’ve had. He’s a fantastic golfer, brilliant to play with. We just gel.
“We get on very well together and we talk the same language. Now it’s onwards and upwards for William and finito for me.”
The end game doesn’t quite convey the full story. Murphy and Russell were two down after four but won six of the next eight holes.
Flanagan, a son of former Ireland team captain Dr Kevin Flanagan, and his partner, Sligo hurling goalkeeper Declan Reidy, deserve huge credit for the manner in which they forged their five-hole victory.
In the Junior Cup final, Ballybunion’s schoolboys beat Westport 4-1, their inaugural victory in the competition, and a first national pennant, since winning the Jimmy Bruen Shield in 1979.
The 16-year-old John Molyneaux Jnr, a pupil at St Benildus College in Dublin, once again showed his mettle in the top singles against Ronan Hehir. Two down after 13, he won 14 with a birdie, the 16th and 17th with pars and then finished on the home green by coaxing a 12-foot putt in for birdie.
Jason Lynch’s achievement of not losing a match throughout the campaign was equally laudable in a stunning performance from such a young team.
In the last six weeks, Ballybunion they have visited Royal Tara half a dozen times to practise and also took to the parkland layouts of Killarney, Killorglin and Newcastle West to fine tune their games.
In the Pierce Purcell final today Spanish Point, with just 179 members, will take on Claremorris, who won the Jimmy Bruen Shield last year.
In the Senior Cup, Co Sligo and Cork, will meet in the semi-finals, with both clubs smarting from their Barton Shield setbacks. Carton House and Rosapenna meet in the other semi-final.