Can anyone stop Warrenpoint in the AIG Barton Shield?
Bidding for their third title since 2016, the Co Down club are rarely bested once they reach this stage. Victory at Westport would be their eighth All Ireland in the combined foursomes format, a total unsurpassed since they made their breakthrough in 1987.
Limerick are tasked with trying to halt the Warrenpoint gallop in 2019. The Munster champions, chasing a rare Barton Shield-Senior Cup double, are no strangers to this stage although they have to go back as far as 1976 for their last win.
“Historically, we’ve always been strong in Senior Cup and Barton Shield but we haven’t won as many Irish titles as we should have won,” admits Juan Fitzgerald, Limerick team captain.
Defeat to Co Sligo in the 2006 final at Enniscrone is the closest Limerick have come to winning the Barton Shield since ’76. Winning finals is second nature to Warrenpoint at this stage. Colm Campbell, current Ireland international, has tasted victory four times. The 32 year old won his first at Rosslare in 2005.
“We have a good track record in Barton Shield,” Campbell notes. “Limerick are there on their own merits so they’re going to be a tough team. If we can get past Limerick, I’m going to predict it will probably be Dundalk in the final. It will be nice to get a go at Raff (Caolan Rafferty) and see what he’s made of.”
Campbell’s reference to his Ireland teammate, Caolan Rafferty, presupposes Dundalk can overcome Co Sligo in the second semi-final.
While Warrenpoint have the medals, Dundalk will be fired by the hurt of last year’s final defeat to Athenry. After winning their first Leinster title, the Co Louth club came up just short in their pursuit of a green pennant.
“Hopefully we can go one step further,” says Rafferty. “The club are mad for a pennant, as every club is. It’s been a long year so it would be nice to get a green pennant at the end of the year to celebrate.”
Dundalk only scraped through stroke play qualifying, making it with one shot to spare. Since then they have beaten Portmarnock, Carton House and The Island among others.
“We’ve knocked a few good teams out,” Rafferty reflects. “We have plenty of depth in our squad.”
As per last year, Rafferty partners Eoin Murphy while Josh Mackin, Ireland Boys international in 2019, has played alongside Aaron Grant. Brendan Lawlor, the number four player on the World Ranking for Golfers with Disability, is also in the squad.
Co Sligo have won the Barton Shield four times since 1995 although it is 13 years since their last success. The Ford brothers, TJ and Daniel, secured the Connacht title for Co Sligo when they prevailed at the first playoff hole against Galway in a nail–biting provincial final. Ruairi O’Connor, who holed the winning putt for the club’s 2016 Senior Cup victory at Carton House, partnered Thomas Finnegan in the top match.
Experience then is not a major concern for any side. This may prove to be the most competitive championship of the week.