England quashed Irish hopes at the Home Internationals with a 10-5 victory over the home side at Lahinch.
The defending champions now play Scotland in a final day shootout where, following their 8.5-6.5 win over Wales, the Scots can take the trophy by beating England and vice versa.
Third is the best that Ireland can achieve should they defeat Wales in their final match but that will feel like scant consolation.
“This has not been the best birthday in the world,” admitted Ireland’s Ronan Mullarney on the day he turned 24.
Three down playing 15, Mullarney fought his way back to gain a half against Walker Cup player Harry Hall.
“I don’t like losing so I hung in there,” said the Galway man. “It would be nice if it is worth something but unfortunately not to be today. I don’t know what’s gone wrong. I think missing James Sugrue is a big, big loss. He’s one of the best amateurs in the world, never mind Ireland.”
Mallow’s James Sugrue had to sit out the second day because of a persistent back injury. The Amateur champion had tried to play through the pain barrier in foursomes against Scotland but only exacerbated the problem.
“I’m fighting a losing battle,” Sugrue revealed. “It’s even sore to touch.”
Down one of their talisman, Ireland struggled in foursomes against England. Malone’s Matthew McClean took Sugrue’s place alongside Rob Brazill. They were beaten 3&2 as England dominated the first session, taking a 4-1 lead into the afternoon.
Tiarnán McLarnon and Caolan Rafferty were the only Irish pair to score, winning 2&1 in game two while Colm Campbell and Tom McKibbin went the distance but failed to reel in their deficit at the last.
With seven points required from the singles, Ireland needed green colours on the board early. Conor Purcell and Caolan Rafferty duly delivered, taking down two of England’s big guns, Walker Cup players Tom Sloman and Tom Plumb, respectively.
England were strong through their middle order though and soon added three more points to their tally. Harry Hall, taking a three-hole lead on Mullarney at the 14th, looked likely to deliver the match-winning point.
Further down the order, there was a chink of light for Ireland as Sean Flanagan posted a 5&4 success. Mullarney rallied meanwhile, winning 15 in par, and at least kept alive the possibility of a tie. He birdied 17 and 18 to gain an unlikely half.
“It’s a pity that I’m producing my best golf when I’m down with a few to play,” Mullarney reflected ruefully.
Ireland then needed to win all three remaining matches. Holywood teenager Tom McKibbin gave his all but fell short on 18 when his birdie try slipped by. Matty Lamb’s one-hole win ensured England’s victory.
“I am loving Lahinch,” Lamb, 21, enthused. “This is my first senior Homes. He’s [McKibbin] pretty mature for his age. He has a good all-round game and not many weaknesses. He won three out of four on 12, 14 and 15 to go from two down to one up.”
After two victories, the reward for England is a shot at the triple crown though Scotland have the same prize in their sights.
“It’s a long time since we won it in 2012,” said Matt Clark, Scotland’s playing captain. “It was an amazing feeling to come off that final green to find out that you had won. I would like these boys, wherever you they go next, to experience it because it’s an amazing feeling to win something with your country’s badge on your chest.”
DRAW – Friday 13 September
0800 Ireland v Wales: Foursomes
Purcell & Egan v Chamberlain & Sanges; Rafferty & McLarnon v Hapgood & Davies; Mullarney & Flanagan v Jones & Bryant; Brazill & McClean v Roberts & Harman; Campbell & McKibbin v Trew & Froom
0845 England v Scotland: Foursomes
Sloman & Plumb v Euan McIntosh & Cantley; Jones & Burnage v Clark & Lumsden; Hall & Schmidt v Eric McIntosh & Howie; Lamb & Hutchinson v Wilson & McKinney; Gill & McMahon v Irvine & Easton
Stay ahead of the game. Subscribe to our newsletter to get the latest Irish Golfer news straight to your inbox!