Slieve Russell master the challenge at Galway Bay

Lady captain Finola Doyle proves pivotal to Cavan club’s success

The golf course superintendent was out at 5.45am to make sure things were up to scratch and when he headed home around nine hours later everyone at Galway Bay Golf Resort had experienced the very best the course, designed by the late Christy O'Connor Junior, had to offer.

Damien Coleman is a former green-keeper for an Olympic games, and if he was able to prepare a course for some of the top professional golfers in the world in Rio, he knew he could provide the perfect platform here.

The 31-year-old Ennis native plays off five, he has been at Galway Bay since 2008 and formerly worked at Dromoland Castle and the K Club. But these weeks and have been some of the most testing of his career.

“We have been preparing properly for the last six to eight weeks. It’s great to have tournament experience from Rio. You learn about the logistical side of it and that helps when it comes to organising staff and getting things done in a short space of time,” said Coleman.

The course provided a resplendent setting for the fifth leg of Allianz/Irish Times Officers' Challenge on the second Tuesday in August.

Usually the wind and rain dominates the narrative when it comes to 18 holes on this superb links course but for once a summer afternoon lived up to its billing, the weather never deteriorated, and all 15 teams were able to focus on bringing their A game

But in the end it was a the team from Slieve Russell GC who did it best.

However as soon as the first groups arrived back into the clubhouse, shortly before 2pm, it was obvious that Galway Bay was proving very difficult to master for the western regional.

Galway Golf Club were first to conclude their scoring, and their team of John Whiriskey (president), Paddy Whelan (captain) and Olwyn Hanley (lady captain) knew they wouldn't be in the winners' enclosure.

“We had a great start but after that we decided it would be inappropriate to win, given that were local,” quipped Whelan.

But while the teams funnelled in and the day wore on, the general consensus was this pristine location had a very tough underbelly, and they wouldn’t be the only ones to fall short of the 80-point mark set by the winners from Cavan.

More wind

"We are used to more wind out here but any day at Galway Bay is always tough," said Galway Bay captain Sean Keenan (11).

Galway Bay's team also consisted of president John Costello (21) and lady captain Caitríona O'Regan (26). They scored 68 on the day and although Mr Keenan, acknowledged that they should have shot higher, the Roscommon native was thrilled with the success of their event.

“We did better on the back-nine than the front-nine – it took us a while to wake up this morning unfortunately,” said Mr Keenan. “The Par 3 13th was definitely one of the better holes for our team. We were all in there for par, two of us hit the green in one and the other ball was just slightly off.

“But it’s a massive privilege, hosting any event at national level and the regional finals are always great to have at Galway Bay. It’s an honour for the club, you get the captains and officers out from the other clubs and you get to see how good the place really is. We’re hosting the Connacht finals at the end of the week too. It’s a big week.”

The day was dominated by the Slieve Russell team of Brendan Nelligan (9), Finola Doyle (19) and George Donohoe (11). But their captain Mr Nelligan attributed the result to lady captain, Ms Doyle.

“It was a good day. Myself and John played last year and we scored 81 points in Portmarnock. We said coming up here that if we got something similar we wouldn’t be too far off,” said Nelligan.

“In fairness Finola was absolutely brilliant here today. She is a very good golfer and she was the main reason why we had that score that we had.”

Doyle, who is from Ballyjamesduff in Cavan, made one of the telling blows with a birdie on the Par 5 6th hole.

“It was a good day, if you had seen me playing golf on Sunday at the Captain’s Prize then you wouldn’t have let me play. But it went well,” said Ms Doyle.

“I was just driving the ball superbly and the guys were saying ‘Finola you play the club you played on the Par 3’ and it got me there.

“I played a very good hole. I’d a good drive, I played a good second, I followed that with a good chip on and the rest is history.”

Galway Bay was last in the schedule and after the drama of Portmarnock, Cork, Malone, and Mount Juliet, the five regional winners and three runners-up from each, join the respective hosts in the finals at the K Club on August 28th.

Allianz / Irish Times Officers' Challenge at Galway Bay Golf Club: Brendan Nelligan, Finola Doyle, George Donohoe (Slieve Russell) 80 points; Michael McMahon, Margaret McMahon, Gerry Broderick (Gort) 74 points; Joe Craddock, Mary Colleran, John Staunton (Ballinrobe) 74 points; John Gleeson, Jill O'Connor, Enda Bourke (Thurles) 71 points.