Munster completed an amazing comeback to win the Interprovincial Championship at Athenry on a dramatic final day.
“No way,” said Geoff Lenehan when told his par putt on 18 had clinched the title. His Munster teammates were smiling but they were not joking. Lenehan’s one-hole win against Alan Fahy ensured Munster had the six points necessary for a match victory over Leinster. That result pushed Munster ahead of Ulster, who had earlier beaten Connacht, and so, for the first time since 2014, Munster were crowned champions.
“That was unbelievable. I just can’t believe it,” said Munster captain Michael Coote. “We knew this morning after being down 3-1, we had a great team meeting before we went out. I told them, ‘Lads we did 6-1 yesterday in the singles [against Connacht]. I only want 5-2 today.’ And they pulled it off. What a team.”
For much of the afternoon a Leinster four-in-a-row looked the more likely outcome. After collecting three points from the foursomes, the reigning champions only needed three more to retain their crown. Ulster still had a say in the outcome provided they beat Connacht handsomely but the signs were pointing east.
“I was just happy to be playing,” said Lenehan, still shell-shocked by it all. On Wednesday he tweaked his left wrist and was unable to complete his match against Ulster’s Marc Norton, retiring injured after four holes.
The 30-year-old had to sit it out on Thursday as he contemplated returning home. Lenehan had even booked in with a specialist. Thankfully, for Munster, it was an appointment he did not fulfil, opting to take his chances in Athenry instead.
“I felt something was catching on my back swing,” Lenehan explained. “Yesterday morning it was still bad and I was querying whether to go home. I actually had a specialist booked today and then just yesterday afternoon I tried to hit some half shots and it felt okay. We checked it again later and cleared it for the foursomes and then during the foursomes we cleared it for the singles.”
It sure helped that Lenehan only had to play 13 holes in the morning session. Paired with Peter O’Keeffe, the Munster duo recorded an emphatic 7&5 win over Alan Fahy and Charlie Denvir. And yet at that stage, it was the only ray of light for Munster as Leinster had won the other three matches.
“I’m just amazed by these guys,” said team captain Coote. “We got caught the first day with the injury to Geoff and we came out lethargic the second day. Against Connacht in the singles, my God, we pulled the stops out.”
After losing to Ulster on the first day, Munster would have been out of the running had they gone down to Connacht. Holding a one-point lead from the foursomes, Munster were simply awesome in the singles, winning six of seven matches. Meanwhile Leinster’s defeat of Ulster meant that all four teams had a chance of taking the title.
Contemplating the various permutations was a headache. And as the key matches turned to face the back nine, hearts too began to throb.
For Munster, James Sugrue played a leading role at the top of the order. One down playing 15, he looked likely to lose the hole but sank a 20-footer from off the green to pinch it from Caolan Rafferty before closing out a crucial win on 18.
“James Sugrue had a huge win and next thing we got three in a row,” said the captain. “He turned the tide and then the whole thing turned in our favour.”
After Sugrue came Eanna Griffin, again sealing it on 18 against Robbie Cannon, while Peter O’Keeffe had by then beaten Jonathan Yates 3&2. Now attention turned to the back order. John Hickey was rock solid in the anchor leg, defeating Eugene Smith on 16, just before Lenehan struck.
“It was amazing when I hit my second shot to 18, it was all quiet and when my opponent hit in, the Ulster lads were roaring upstairs so I kind of had an inkling that something was going on,” said Lenehan.
Ulster roars greeted Alan Fahy’s neat approach because a win at the last for the Leinster man would have resulted in a halved match with Lenehan, leaving Ulster to take the spoils. When Fahy failed to convert for birdie from 15 feet, Ulster hopes abated. Lenehan holed from four feet and rapturous cheers rose from the Munster squad assembled beside the green
“We’ve had a few bad years,” said Lenehan. “The wounds are sore and to come back is great. There’s a lot of experience in our side. We’ve a good belief that we can do it and under pressure that we can win.”
Team captain Michael Coote paid tribute to the match-winner.
“To come back and do what he did was fantastic,” he said but it seemed like destiny that the Portmarnock player would find himself in that position.
“I holed the winning putt in our other two wins that I was involved in, 2014 and 2012,” said Lenehan. “I don’t know it falls to me. I’ve no idea but it’s great.”
Nails bitten to the quick, Munster, finally, were the ones celebrating after a rollercoaster finale to the Interprovincial Championship.
Men’s Interprovincial Championship
Friday 31 August
Athenry Golf Club
Day 3 Scores
Ulster 6.5 Connacht 4.5 (Ulster names first)
T McLarnon & M McClean beat D Kitt & A Hill 3&2; M McKinstry & M Norton beat A Gleeson & S Flanagan 2H; R Black & R Dutton beat J Lyons & TJ Ford 2&1; P Kerr & R Williamson lost to R Mullarney & J McDonnell 2&1; T McLarnon beat A Gleeson 2H
R Black lost to R Mullarney 6&5; P Kerr halved with D Kitt; M McClean beat J McDonnell 4&2; M McKinstry beat TJ Ford 3&2; R Dutton lost to S Flanagan 2&1; M Norton lost to J Lyons 5&3
Munster 6.5 Leinster 4.5 (Munster names first)
A McCormack & C Butler lost to C Rafferty & E Smith 4&3; J Sugrue & E Griffin lost to J Yates & R Brazill 3&2; G Lenehan & P O’Keeffe beat A Fahy & C Denvir 7&5; G O’Flaherty & J Hickey lost to R Cannon & R Moran 3&1; J Sugrue beat C Rafferty 2H; E Griffin beat R Cannon 1H; P O’Keeffe beat J Yates 4&3; A McCormack lost to R Brazill 3&2; G Lenehan beat A Fahy 1H; G O’Flaherty halved with R Moran; J Hickey beat E Smith 3&2