13-year-old Julia Currie was the heroine as Royal Portrush prevailed over Tralee in a thrilling contest at the AIG Cups and Shields Women’s Junior Cup Final in Knightsbrook, while a blend of youth and experience saw Castle take the honours over Cork Men’s Junior Cup.
Portrush captain Shauna Park stayed faithful to the order that had comprehensively beaten Castlebar in the semi-final, while Tralee captain Kathleen Finnegan brought Sarah Fitzgerald in for Catherine McCarthy in the anchor position of an otherwise unchanged lineup.
15-year-old Poppy Hastings led out the Portrush side against Emma Leahy, 14-year-old Ella Proctor was next up and she took on Lucy Grattan, and 13-year-old Currie faced Emma Morrisey in match number three, with Deirdre Bones against Ella Moynihan in the fourth and Siobhan McHugh taking on the aforementioned Fitzgerald in the final match.
Though Fitzgerald would take an early lead in match number five and consolidate her advantage, the first four matches were balanced on a knife-edge throughout.
Hastings held a narrow advantage on the back-nine and made it to the 17th tee two holes to the good and though Leahy put the pressure on by hitting a great shot into the par-five, Hastings replied by sticking it to five feet and when Leahy’s putt slid by, Hastings had two putts to put the opening point on the board and duly obliged.
Simultaneously, in the second match, Ella Proctor had pulled clear and won the 16th to close out Grattan 3&2, leaving the Antrim club one point from victory.
Currie and Morrissey arrived at the 16th all-square, but a clinical two-putt par was enough to give Currie the advantage, and after holing a pressure-filled eight-footer to halve the 17th, she stood on the 18th tee knowing that one good swing would probably win it.
Pulling a hybrid for the daunting tee shot over water, Currie caught it a little heavy and dropped her head as the ball splashed short in the water. Morrissey played safe and left herself a long-range birdie putt, only for Currie to reload and hit it laser-straight at the hole, eventually coming to a rest five feet past. When Morrissey’s undulating putt came up short and her second slid by the hole, Currie stepped up and, holding her nerve like a seasoned pro, buried the putt for an incredible match-winning-bogey.
Emotions ran high as she first embraced elder sister and caddy Olivia, before tearfully hugging team captain Shauna Kelly.
Speaking afterwards, Kelly’s emotional rollercoaster of a day had taken its toll. “That was the tensest, tensest four hours of my life and I never want to go through that again,” she said, “I didn’t enjoy any of the golf whatsoever, but it’s absolutely fantastic and you can see what it means to everybody. We’re absolutely thrilled and I can’t even put it into words.
“These matches, I mean, a one-up felt like a three-up today and hanging onto a one-up felt like a really good result, and a one-down felt like you were two or three down.”
Asked about Currie’s winning putt, Kelly replied “you could see the emotion in the hug at the end, she was absolutely past herself. It was tremendous, if you were writing a story, you couldn’t write this.”
Currie herself was understandably beaming by the time she’d hugged her teammates and family, and spoke with a composure that belied her age. “I chunked the first one a little bit,” she said when asked about the shot at the last “and she hit a good shot over there [points to where Morrissey’s ball had ended] and I just thought I’d better go for it here because I’m not leaving any regrets here. Hybrid again, and I hit it straight at the pin.”
Standing over the five-footer, Currie backed off before resettling and she admitted that she wasn’t confident of the line. “The line [on the ball] wasn’t lined up properly, I didnn’t want to go for it because I wasn’t confident, so I stepped back off it and talked to my sister who was caddying for me and then I just went for it. It was pretty much straight – well, left edge. I didn’t actually lift my head and then it swirled around the cup and Olivia shouted to me “you’ve just won the All-Ireland final!”
While all this was going on, at the other side of the course Castle and Cork were trading blows in the early stages of the Men’s Junior Cup Final.
Glorious sunshine accompanied the players as they made their way off the first tee and the action wasn’t long heating up either. Castle elected to go with the same line-up that had overcome fellow Munster side Castletroy in the semi-finals, as did their opponents, and with good reason as the quality of play was excellent throughout.
In the opening match, Castle’s Jake Kinsella led at the turn and maintained his advantage to reach the penultimate hole two-up. After being forced to lay-up at the par-5 17th, and with opponent Leon Foley just short of the green in two, Kinsella played a sublime wedge into approximately five feet and when Foley was unable to get up-and-down, Kinsella’s putt was conceded to put Castle a point-to-the-good.
In the third match, David Lawley came flying from the traps and stormed into a healthy lead at the turn, extending it to six up with six to play. Though Jack O’Flynn managed to extend the match, with a birdie at the 13th, Lawley closed it out on the 14th to bring Castle to the edge of victory.
With Fergal Moran one-up on the 17th, Rory O’Brien one-up playing 16, and Ross Kinsella three up on 15, the winning point looked inevitable, but Frankie Walsh threw a dart at 17 to win the hole and leave he and Moran all-square on the 18th tee, meanwhile, the winning point would come on the 16th hole and it would come in rather unusual circumstances.
With Thomas Healy on the green and Ross Kinsella preparing to hit, a fox ran onto the green to inspect Healy’s ball only to have Kinsella’s land a little closer, causing the fox to lift Kinsella’s ball and dart back into the bushes. Together with Golf Ireland rules officials, they determined where the ball should be replaced and when Healy was unable to hole his putt, Kinsella rolled his in to seal victory.
Almost an hour after play had finished, the adrenalin was still running high for joint team managers Ross Cregan and James Hanby, and when asked if the emotions had subsided slightly, Cregan was quick to pour cold water on the notion. “Definitely not,” he said, “and won’t for a few days yet. The quality of play we saw today was incredible, and when you see the quality of the opposition in Castletroy this morning and Cork this afternoon was so high the level of golf that our lads played was second to none, so all credit to the lads and the way that James had prepared them.”
Hanby admitted that team selection was incredibly difficult. “We made two changes this morning from yesterday, and we weren’t exactly sure what we were going to do in the afternoon and could easily have brought another two guys in, and all ten guys played their part.”
Ross Kinsella, who secured the winning point despite his encounter with the fox, was understandably delighted to get the win. “I’ve played in it before and come close, and that was on the mind today and you’re kind of wondering how you’re gonna react if you get it over the line. I didn’t actually realise that I had a putt on 16 [to win the title] and I hit a 7-iron into about six feet and a fox ran onto the green and took my ball, and after a bit of deliberation with the officials they put it back close to the hole and my opponent – and it was a fantastic match with Tom from Cork – he didn’t get his putt but thankfully I did and I turned around and found out we’d won the match.”
It was a family affair for the Kinsella’s with Ross’ brother Jake winning the opening match, and their father David, who was the club professional in Castle for 50 years, was there to see them do it. And this win caps off a great All-Ireland series for the Rathfarnham club who won the Barton Shield a fortnight previous.
AIG Women’s Junior Cup Final
Royal Portrush 3.5 – 1.5 Tralee (Royal Portrush names first): Poppy Hastings beat Emma Leahy 2&1, Ella Proctor beat Lucy Grattan 3&2, Julia Currie beat Emma Morrissey 1UP, Deirdre Bones halved with Ella Moynihan, Siobhan McHugh lost to Sarah Fitzgerald 4&3
AIG Men’s Junior Cup Semi-Finals
Cork 4 – 1 Co. Sligo (Cork names first): Leon Foley halved with David McDermott, Frankie Walsh beat Daniel Flanagan 4&2, Jack O’Flynn beat Tom Flanagan 4&3, David Hickey halved with Christopher Longsworth, Thomas Healy beat John Paul Flanagan 5&4
Castletroy 1 – 4 Castle (Castletroy names first): Brendan Reidy lost to Jake Kinsella 1UP, Gary O’Keefe lost to Fergal Moran 5&4, Ronan O’Connor halved with David Lawley, James Scully lost to Rory O’Brien 1UP, Patrick Bermingham halved with Ross Kinsella
AIG Men’s Junior Cup Final
Cork 1 – 4 Castle (Cork names first): Leon Foley lost to Jake Kinsella 3&2, Frankie Walsh halved with Fergal Moran, Jack O’Flynn lost to David Lawley 5&4, David Hickey halved with Rory O’Brien, Thomas Healy lost to Ross Kinsella