Leinster champions Dundalk will meet Connacht’s Athenry in the final of the AIG Barton Shield on Friday after both teams ran out comfortable winners in their respective semi-finals at Thurles.
Aaron Grant and Conor Curran were 5 hole winners over Kinsale’s Gary Ward and Keith Fitzpatrick while Ireland internationals Caolan Rafferty and Eoin Murphy had too much for Cathal Butler and Eric Rumley, winning by the same margin.
“We just went out and said do what we have been doing for the last number of years. We have come close and won nothing but this year we got over the line (in Leinster) and have been playing really good golf” said Rafferty afterwards
“We gel really well as a team which is needed to get to these levels. We are so comfortable playing with each other, especially myself and Eoin. Hopefully we keep going and do what we have been doing, playing our own game which is the big thing. It is very hard to do in foursomes at times. We were a bit slow starting off.”
The Dundalk pair are good friends, with Murphy caddying for Rafferty at Lahinch in August where the Louthman won the South of Ireland Championship. While they won well in the end, they struggled early on.
“We struggled for the first six holes” said Murphy. we couldn’t get any putts to go in and then got a good break on seven to get up and down. Then we kicked on, two nice birdies on eight and nine to get comfortable and then it was just a matter of hitting fairways and greens and keeping it tidy from there on in.”
The friendship shared by Rafferty and Murphy keeps them focussed on the course as Rafferty explained.
“For foursomes golf you do need it. It’s a hard game to gel at the best of times but if you are playing for your best mate it’s so easy to do it; a laugh and a joke and you can slag each other at times when you know it is appropriate. You know it is a bit of craic at the end of the day as well”.
Athenry progressed at the expense of County Down side Clandeboye, seeing off the Ulster team by 7 holes.
Without their teenage star David Kitt, who is representing Ireland at the Youth Olympics in Argentina this week, it was his former foursomes partner Allan Hill paired with Darren Leufer that help close out their 2 hole win after Joe Bernie Jnr and Louis O’Hara won the top match by 5 holes.
“I’m feeling delighted, we came out here today with a job to do, I think we played pretty well it was kind of a scrambling round, it wasn’t the best but we got the job done. Darren had a few nice putts on the way in [which] helped us” said Hill afterwards.
“It’s tricky out there, you have to be hitting a lot of fairways and a lot of greens as well, you just take what you can get really – keep the pars on the scorecard and take your chances when you can really”.
It’s the club’s third time to get to this stage of the competition since 2011, while Hill and Leufer have already won an all-Ireland title for their club, winning the Fred Daly Trophy in 2017.
“It’s great to back” beamed Hill. “There’s been a lot of hard work from the lads on the squad. It’s a great achievement for us and hopefully we can do well for the club tomorrow.
Hill and Leufer take on Rafferty and Murphy in Friday’s final, something Hill relishes.
“I know the two lads well, we get on great – it would be a great match and great scoring so I look forward to it.”
In the AIG Pierce Purcell Shield, Athlone served up a stunning comeback after being 4-1 down early on to beat Ballyclare in the first semi final.
With the opening four matches shared, the drama was to come to a head on the 19th hole of the final match as Declan Corcoran and Paul Burke held their nerve to book the Roscommon side’s place in the final.
Team Captain John Burns was thrilled with the win.
“It was a great bit of drama, two [matches] on 18 and one on 19, you can’t get any closer. They played great golf in the last nine, they came back and played the shots that needed to be played at the right time. I’m delighted for them especially a few of the lads – we’ve been called the ‘ageless team’ up to now because they are all nearly in their 70s. “
Burns, who has been to the all-Ireland finals before is looking forward to the final.
“I got a Jimmy Bruen team to the All Irelands in Royal Tara three or four years ago and we were beaten in the semi-finals but we’ve got into the final and they are all in great shape. We’re going out to win it and we want to win it.”
They will face the challenge of local side Nenagh who overcame Kildare’s Newbridge by four matches to one.
Paddy Peters, Team Captain spoke afterwards.
“It was a good win. I am very happy. We were a bit apprehensive coming in here. Little things go wrong on every team and we had problems coming in — I won’t go into it — but it righted itself today.
Being close neighbours to Thurles, Nenagh enjoyed additional practice rounds at the venue.
“We are neighbours here and Thurles Golf Club has been very good to us. They put a few lads together and invited us over for a practice match, which was a great help. And they gave us information about the places to come in from and how to play the course”.
First off on Friday are the semi-finals of the AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield where Lisburn play Kinsale and Hermitage take on Tuam. The matches get underway at 8.30am in the Bruen with the Barton Shield final off at 10.15am and the Purcell final at 10.35am.