Irish Challenge and The South clash is a clanger for our elite amateurs

Ronan MacNamara
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Matthew McClean at the Irish Challenge (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Ballygunner will face Ballyhale Shamrocks on Sunday in the AIB All-Ireland Senior Club Hurling Championship semi-final at 3.30pm on Sunday in Croke Park in what is sure to be one of the games of the year with a touchy rivalry sizzling between the two sides. 

Throw in at GAA HQ will come half an hour after kick-off in Lusail, Qatar with the small matter of a World Cup final taking place between Argentina and France, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe. 

There is nothing the players of Argentina and France can do about this, it’s not their fault. FIFA had four years to pick a date and amongst all their other shortcomings, have managed to cock it right up, again by clashing it with one of the spectacles of the year. 

I kid of course! But the GAA should have been more prudent when scheduling this fixture on Sunday. It’s not just any game of ‘soccer’ as the ‘gah’ folk call it, it’s the World Cup final, the biggest game in all of sport – no it’s absolutely not the Super Bowl, grow up. 

The timing is really haphazard as it will surely diminish the attendance in Croker on Sunday. 

Personally, I was looking forward to the hurling and I am not an avid Club Championship watcher by any stretch of the imagination. No, my days of banging a rolled-up match programme and waving it angrily in the direction of the officials are strictly reserved for January-July. 

There can be no denying that the club championships have gone up a level in quality with the split season and Sunday’s game would have been an opportune time to bring fresh eyes to the club game in the GAA. 

Unfortunately, a lot of us even casual “soccer” fans feel like we are tied down by a law abiding contract that we must watch the World Cup final, as if the millions of people watching around the world and my pair of eyes are going to make the difference for Messi on Sunday. 

Such sporting clashes aren’t just reserved for team sports mind you; Irish golf has had a spanner thrown in the works as of Wednesday afternoon. 

The Challenge Tour released its 2023 schedule with the Irish Challenge set for the 27th-30th of July at a venue that is to be confirmed. 

Golf Ireland released its 2023 schedule just under a fortnight ago with the famed South of Ireland Amateur Championship pencilled in for 26th-30th of July… Could we get any more Irish? 

This is a muddle alright. The South of Ireland is arguably the biggest amateur competition in this country with Walker Cup players, Caolan Rafferty, James Sugrue and Conor Purcell lifting the trophy while Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell have also etched their names into the history of this championship. 

Many of Ireland’s elite amateurs will have targeted a win in the South this year as well as potentially securing a Golf Ireland invite to the Irish Challenge – choosing between the two wasn’t on their minds and shouldn’t be an option! 

Will Hugh Foley get the chance to defend the title he won so brilliantly against Peter O’Keeffe? Or will he try his hand against the pros like he did at last year’s Irish Challenge? 

Wake Forest’s Mark Power played Walker Cup in 2021 and seems destined to turn professional in the next twelve months, he also competed in the Irish Challenge last year.

Matthew McClean and Robert Moran both have professional careers in their sights and I am sure their performances in last year’s Irish Challenge at the K Club – where both made the cut and McClean came 40th – would have given them the encouragement and belief that they could make the step up to the pro ranks and hold their own. 

The elite amateurs who have eyes on turning professional can’t be blamed for skipping the South if they earn invites to the Irish Challenge as it would be a great opportunity to tee it up in a pro event and gain some valuable experience. 

On the other hand, the South faces the possibility of a diminished field but can those elite panellists who are hunting Walker Cup berths afford to swerve the Lahinch date? A big win looks great on the CV anytime, but it would stand out more in a Walker Cup year, particularly given the stacked Irish contingent who feel they can make the GB&I team at St Andrews. 

The South could potentially be without McClean, Foley, Power and Moran. That’s the cream of the crop potentially missing from arguably our biggest event.

On a personal level, while I might not be an avid club GAA watcher, I’m an avid amateur golf watcher and would encourage absolutely everyone to head out to Lahinch, Rosses Point, The Island, Mullingar, Malone, Portrush, Woodbrook and Connemara etc in 2023 to watch the best men and women showcase their talents. 

I feel the amateur game needs to be promoted as much as possible and the more eyes we can have on the best players in this country, the better. Some of the best golf I have seen this year has come on the amateur circuit. 

The matchplays of the West and Irish Close will live long in my memory, the nail-biting finishes at the North and Irish Amateur were tantalising. Some of the best golf under pressure was played on the fairways of Baltray in both the men’s and women’s competitions while Beth Coulter won all around her. 

I think our national championships should be given priority in the golfing calendar and it’s a pity that when genuine opportunities to shine are few and far between, that two of the big ones for 2023 have managed to clash.

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