Sligo set up final with Castle who have sights set on double

Sides show their mettle as they come through tough semi-finals in AIG Irish Senior Cup

He has heard it all before. Statements such as “It’s in the blood!” or “The apple didn’t fall far from the tree”.

Yet, as 19-year-old TJ Ford has discovered, he's the one hitting the shots these days. Anyone who witnessed his three-wood approach from the rough to the 18th which effectively ensured Co Sligo's win over Monkstown in the AIG Irish Senior Cup semi-final on the O'Meara Course will attest that he's doing a mighty good job of it.

One of those casting an admiring watching brief on his shot-making was the player's father, Tom, a mainstay of those Rosses Point teams which dominated the Senior Cup and Barton Shield competitions in the 1990s.

“He doesn’t force it on me, but any time you’re looking for advice or help he’s there,” said TJ of his dad’s influence.

New generation

Co Sligo’s new generation have pedigree. A hard-fought win over the Munster champions demonstrated grit and spirit, characteristics which were also exemplified by Castle, seeking a Senior Cup-Junior Cup double. They fought the good fight in the other semi-final against

Shandon

Park

with

Daniel Holland

, in the bottom singles, finally getting them over the line with a winning par on the par 4 18th for a 3-2 team win over the northerners.

For Ford, this was vindication for switching his sporting pursuits from rugby – he played for Connacht under-19s – to golf this year.

His win on the 18th over Martin Poucher provided the winning point required for Co Sligo, a 3½-1 ½ success, after David Brady and Mark Morrissey had earlier put points on the board. But it was that three-wood approach to the last which sealed the deal for Ford.

Ford, who had moved one up with a birdie on the par 3 16th, was blocked out by the large tree down the right of the 18th. With almost 250 yards left to the flag, he considered laying up with a four iron before opting for the more difficult play. He opened the face of the fairway wood, cut the ball around the tree using the greenside bunker as his line and watched until the ball thudded into the green. Two putts later he had won his match and secured the overall 3-2 win too.

Hard questions

Castle – winners of the Junior Cup on Thursday – have their sights set on a second green pennant but were forced to pull out the stops to overcome Shandon Park.

Alex Gleeson, the Irish Close champion, recovered from being two down on Stuart Bleakley to win four straight holes from the 15th to secure a two-hole win, while Jim Mulready was a 3 and 2 winner over former international Nicky Grant.

In the end, the hard questions were asked of Holland. In control for much of his match against Jonathan Gourley, Holland lost the 16th and 17th – where he got a "mud ball" which did, as he put it, "a U-turn in the air" and went out of bounds – to be level playing the 18th. With 205 yards to the pin and aware of the adrenaline flowing, Holland's four-iron approach was beautifully struck to the green. With Gourley failing to get up and down after over-shooting the green, two putts for par were sufficient to claim victory.

A member of the winning Senior Cup team in 2012, Holland said: “There’s a much bigger dream now. We’ve got the Junior Cup so we can have a massive day for the club [by adding the Senior Cup], we just have to perform. There’s no ‘i’ in team, we’ve got a great bunch of lads and we just play for each other.”

Nenagh lived up to their dream team status by defeating Castlebar 4-1 in the final.

"It's a great honour to win an All-Ireland title. We're very proud of our team and the effort they've put in over the last five or six months . . . . we have some good young players that are capable of moving on to Jimmy Bruen or maybe Junior Cup, Senior Cup in the years to come," said team captain Tony McCann.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times

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