Barton Cup brilliance
Tense home leg against Ardee ends in glorious triumph
The return leg of the final of the Barton Cup was held earlier this month, the most prestigious golf competition in the province which has been run since 1905.
A total of 133 teams entered this year and now it was down to just two. Only 50 teams have ever won it and nobody has ever retained it.
Earlier rounds included victories over Courtown, Bunclody, The European, Callan, Charlesland and Killeen for Enniscorthy G.C.
The Slaneysiders had travelled to their opponents' course, Ardee in Louth, two weeks previously and came home losing 3-2. The first team to six wins would be declared the winner in this foursomes event.
It started with all the Enniscorthy contingent involved gathering early at the club in a hopeful and confident mood. Team managers Murt Mangan, Paul Connolly and Jason Rackard were doing the last of their pep talks, instilling confidence into the players and talking tactics.
The teams were picked and the playing order decided upon. Nothing was left to do now only start playing. The strategy decided upon was to pair the experienced and previous winners (in four of the teams) of this competition with the new recruits to the team, a mixture of wisdom and youth which proved to be a winning formula. The Morrissey brothers were paired together to make up the first team out and, boy, did they tear up the course.
Frankie and James Morrissey blew their opponents away with a resounding 8/6 victory and it wasn't too long until that news spread around the course and it inspired the team and surely deflated the opposition. Match score 3-3.
Paul Lynch and Liam Sheridan played a tight match and were three up by the eleventh, and young Sheridan finished the match on the 17th to win 2/1. Match score 4-3. Paul had a brilliant putt on the notorious eighth green, down the hill, about 20' long. It was a heartbreaker for the opposition.
Shane Fortune and Martin Sludds were always well in control of this one, four up after ten, and were done by the 15th, winning 4/3. Martin headed for a celebratory pint of Guinness and then brought it back out on to the course to watch the remaining teams coming in.
Now the huge expectant crowd were starting to get excited, as one more would do it. Match score 5-3.
At this point a draw was looking like a possibility and we could see our team out warming up and practising for this outcome on the second as we walked by.
Seventeen-year-old Paul Conroy was paired with the daddy of the team, Richard 'Butch' O'Connor. This match went to the wire, swinging from two up to two down before eventually finishing all square, with our lads winning the 18th. So to a tiebreaker on the par three first.
Meanwhile, our last pairing of Adam Jordan and Nicky Murphy, playing against Kevin Carry and Gerard Caffrey, were battling away in a match that saw them three down by the ninth hole, but they plugged away and dug deep to be evens after the 16th and down by one after the 17th.
With the proximity of the two holes, the crowd just didn't know where to look and which match to follow as both were of equal importance as one more victory would give Enniscorthy their third Barton Cup victory in ten years.
By the time Conroy and O'Connor were at the first green, Jordan and Murphy were teeing off at 18. Tensions were running high at this point and from my vantage point standing on the embankment at the first green I was able to see both games.
In front of me were four or five Ardee supporters wishing 'Butch's drive into the trees (in a good-natured way I might add). They didn't get their wish as 'Butch' landed it on the left edge of the green approximately 20' from the pin.
Ardee then drove and they did land into the trees; right call lads but for the wrong man! I have to say at this point that the Ardee supporters were brilliant, there was craic and banter going on all day both out on the course and in the clubhouse afterwards. Gentlemen all.
Getting out of the trees proved an arduous task. I think the first attempt was a mishit and the next was short of the green and then finally on in four. This left the baby-faced assassin Conroy with three putts to win the tournament, so the question was, will he lag it up for O'Connor to tap in or will he go for it?
As he was lining up his putt there was a roar of 'fore left' from an Ardee player driving from the 18th. Did this put our man off? No chance.
Why take two putts when one will do? Yes, he did it in one. Stand tall young Conroy, a hero for ever more. A 20-footer to wrap it all up.
Young lads have no fear. The cheers and invasion of the green had to be heard and seen to be believed. Match score 6-3.
Adam Jordan inexplicably was almost the first person to congratulate young Conroy. Usain Bolt wouldn't have reached there any quicker from the 18th tee-box. Nicky Murphy took a little longer to arrive!
For the third time (2008 and 2011) in the competitions history, Enniscorthy G.C. are the Barton Cup champions. It is worth noting that both Paul Lynch and Martin Sludds have been on all three teams. Not many players can say that.
Additionally, 'Butch' has also won three times too, twice as a manager and once as a player. Murt Mangan is the reverse of this and finally, Jim Delaney is a three-time winning manager. With a pedigree like that how were we ever going to lose?
Brian and Eddie Balfe, Eddie Doyle and Patsy Kavanagh were the team reserves.
So to the clubhouse and refreshments and just before the heavy rain that had been threatening for hours. The speeches soon followed, led by Leinster Branch G.U.I. Chairman John Ferriter who stated that this was indeed one of the largest attendances ever witnessed at a final.
He particularly picked out our greenkeeping team headed by P.J. Dempsey and said that the course and greens were in magnificent condition befitting any final. He also thanked E.G.C. for the courtesy and welcome extended to Ardee, accommodating them in any way that they could in their practising requirements.
Next up was our Captain, Jack Murphy. He congratulated both teams on a tremendous game of golf and asked both to give each other a round of applause. Jack said that it was an absolute honour to be Captain of this great club and to win two major titles in his year of office.
He was particularly pleased with the younger members of the team as through his work as Junior convenor at the club he had been training some of them for as much as twelve years and it was a great source of pride for him personally.
Team manager of Ardee, Eddie Burke, called our team a great bunch of players and said that it had been a long road since starting this competition many months ago. This was their first final and hard luck to all of his team and thanks to all their supporters.
Last up, to rapturous applause, was our team manager, Murt Mangan, who promised to keep his speech short and failed, pulling reams of paper from his back pocket with speech notes! Firstly he thanked the competition sponsor of 40 years, FBD Insurance, saying that these competitions just couldn't go ahead without sponsorship and that they keep golf going.
The greenkeeping team were thanked again for having the course in absolutely splendid condition. He went on to state that the quality of the local clubs in the Wexford area make the competition that much harder to win as the other clubs are at such a high standard.
This is not a competition that you cannot get better at as one progresses through the rounds. If you want to win it you have to be at the pinnacle of performance from the first round. He has no doubt that Ardee will win this cup some day such is the quality of their players and standard of golf.
The team sponsors were thanked for their contributions, namely Neville Conroy, club professional Stephen Fitzpatrick, Richard 'Butch' O'Connor and Liam Spratt. There were many other donors towards team expenses that wished to remain anonymous.
The management of the club were thanked for their support all year long and it was noted that their investment was about to be repaid with a good night's takings behind the bar! At this juncture the players were all called up where they each received a miniature version of the Barton Cup.
The management and team would like to thank all the members and friends who came out to support the team in such numbers and to the helpers and staff on and off the course that helped make the day run smoothly and without a hitch.
Both sets of players, caddies and team management were then treated to a sumptuous dinner in the clubhouse and then maybe, just maybe, a few pints were had. As word got out about this brilliant victory, many members who couldn't make it in during the day turned up at night for the celebrations and a right ould night was had. The huge cup was filled with a cocktail of spirits and duly passed around for all to share.
A mention too for our ladies' section members who reached the Midland District final against The Royal Curragh played in Tramore unfortunately on the same day and were unlucky to come back to the Barton Cup celebrations without the cup after going down 3-2. Wouldn't that have been some impressive haul for the year?
Enniscorthy Golf Club is the most successful club in the country for winning provincial and national honours, and that record is now enhanced with two extra cups proudly displayed in the clubhouse.
A special mention to Shane Fortune who was the only player to play for both teams, winning the Provincial Towns Challenge Cup two weeks before the Barton Cup. Not too many will have that on their golfing C.V.
Why not join the club and see for yourself what makes it so good? Junior coaching is top of the range, the facilities are brilliant, and the course has to be one of the best in the region as it has the strange ability to be a challenge for the expert and a pleasure for the novice golfer at the same time. Yes, we don't understand it either but that is the way it is!