De La Salle College Waterford

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De La Salle College win Historic All Ireland Golf Double

Another chapter in the colleges sporting history was written in Lucan Golf club when both the senior matchplay team and the junior strokeplay team were both successful in the pursuit of achieving All Ireland glory.

First up on a cold and windy Tuesday were the senior matchplay squad of Jack Hearn (0), Andrew Mulhall (1), Charlie Dawson (4), Ryan O’Connor (4) and Dara Phelan (4) with squad members Tom Crotty (5) and Sean O’Keeffe (4) caddying for Jack and Ryan. With 2 internationals in the team (Jack and Andrew) there was a quiet confidence in the camp.

After playing the course in practice on the Monday the course was presented in pristine condition. With manicured narrow fairways lined with an abundance of trees driving accuracy was going to be essential. However the real fun was on the greens, as it was hard to believe that any golf had been played on the course over the winter as they were flawless and lightning fast.

After a short delay for frost the green keepers got to work, cut and rolled the greens with the aim of getting them to a reading of 12 on the stipmeter.

The Deise lads’ opponents in the morning semi-final were Presentation College Athenry, the winners in 2016 with four of last year’s winning team. The Waterford lads quickly got into their stride and it became evident from an early stage that Athenry were going to be unable to repeat last year’s feat. It seemed even the weather was determined to play a part as within the space of half an hour hailstones, rain and snow fell onto the course. Early in the back nine Charlie Dawson put the first point on the board for De La Salle with a 7 and 6 win over James O’Connor, who had holed the winning putt in the 2016 final. One point quickly became two when Jack Hearn won game one on a 4 and 3 score. Over the whole year Jack has led the team from the front and was asked to lay down a marker which he certainly did. With an early lunch in sight Andrew Mulhall clinched the all-important third point with a 3 and 1 win. Ryan and Dara were called in with both players dormie in their matches and about to clinch a win each, which would have been an accurate reflection of the golf they had played.

Over lunch the team were able to monitor the live scoring on and it was no surprise when Blackrock College emerged victorious by a convincing margin.

Blackrock College sprung a surprise in the final by adjusting their team with the aim of strengthening their tail by targeting wins in matches 4 and 5. The D4 school brought some colour to the finals by togging out their caddies in white boiler suits as they do in Augusta for the Masters.

In the final after 6 holes three of the matches were all square but significantly Andrew was 3 up in game 2 and Charlie was 2 up in game 3. Boosted by this strong position the knock-on effect throughout the team was evident. Blows were traded and taken with holes been won and lost. The Waterford school’s position got stronger as they hit the back 9 nine and it became evident that if Blackrock were going to win they would need wins in games 1, 4 and 5 as Andrew and Charlie were in total control of their matches and were both up by 4 holes with 6 to play. Andrew struck the first blow with a 5 and 4 win from game 2 after playing flawless golf. To get a point on the board so early was a great motivator for the team.

Game one went Blackrock’s way when Robert Abernethy won 3 and 2. Jack was 1 up through 7 but lost 2 holes to be one down on the 12th tee. The pivotal moment came when Jacks booming drive got stuck up in a tree just 30 yards from the green. This gave the Blackrock player the breathing space and he then went on to close out the match on the 16th. This continued a remarkably couple of weeks for the Dublin youngster who got to the last 16 of the West of Ireland and in the process had knocked out leading qualifier Conor O’Rourke (+4) on a 3 and 2 score line.

Charlie Dawson was next in with the second point with a 3 and 2 win in game 3. Over the course of his two matches Charlie was never behind which speaks volume to the quality of golf he played.

As in all matches there is a pivotal match were all the drama seems to come. This final was to be no different. Blackrock had targeted this match as they moved their playing captain James Cronin (2) to match 4 after he had played in match 2 in the semi-final. All square after 4 Ryan’s drive on the 5th got caught by the stiff northerly wind and passed through the trees and across the out of bounds line only to hit a metal pole in the fence which saw it rebound and trickle back across the white line to be in play. Upon walking up to where their balls had come to rest the Blackrock playing captain accidently stood on his own ball and in the process, after much debate with the GUI official, incurred a one shot penalty. Ryan chopped his ball out sideways from the trees and went on to half the hole to remain all square when it had seemed certain he was going to lose the hole.

Drama was to come on the 10th, with the match still all square, Cronin’s drive saw him send his ball into a small cluster of trees just off the fairway. In attempting to get his ball back to the fairway his ball rebound back off a tree and narrowly missing his caddy, but unfortunately for him the ball hit his own golf bag for a penalty shot. Ryan took full advantage and won the hole to go 1 up. In the next 15 minutes 1 up quickly became 3 up when Ryan chipped in for birdie on the par 3 11th before winning the 12th with a par. Protecting his lead Ryan was still 2 ahead with 3 to play. With the large crowd following knowing that this was going to be the key match Ryan showed remarkable composure and hit a rescue to the long par 3 and saw his tee shot come to rest 15th foot from the pin, after his opponent’s ball had missed the green on the left. After Cronin had chipped to within 6ft and knowing that he had a putt to take the All Ireland Ryan sent a curling birdie putt to the bottom of the cup to win the game and match, sealing the Colleges third all Ireland success in 7 years. A relieved Dara, who had played great golf in both sessions, was called in from the 15th in game 5 to leave the overall score De La Salle 3½ -1½ Blackrock College.

In his acceptance speech team captain Pete Munroe paid special tribute to the squad who had targeted All Ireland glory back in September as their aim for the year. On this 50th Anniversary of the schools matchplay competition it was great to see Br Kilian, who has given so much to the College and been involved with the school golf team for close to 30 years, lift the All Ireland trophy as joint captain. Special praise also needs to be given to squad members Sean and Tom for their work and skills in caddying for the team in the finals. Such was the strength of this team that in any other year both of them would surely have been playing.

After the thrill of matchplay the attention then turned to the Junior team for their strokeplay final on the Wednesday morning. Representing De La Salle were Rory Milne(5), David Mahon(11) and Alex Browne(14). Back in October the team had got back onto the bus after playing in the qualifier in Clonmel on a cold wet day and when asked how they had done the replies were “brutal”, “terrible” and “never worse”. It was only over the PA system in the school the next day that the lads heard they had qualified for the Munster finals. After waiting until March to play the city school romped home in the final, courtesy of a net 60 from Alex. The team’s form over the first few weeks in April was good and both David and Alex had seen their handicap reduced from 12 and 15 respectively. Luckily the weather for the stroke play was kinder with only a slight wind present. This time with not knowing what the other teams were doing the lads played the course knowing every stroke saved could be the difference in the end.

Once the initial drives had been taken and all four provinces had their teams on the course a pattern began to emerge. By the half way stage there were only two players who were bettering their handicaps and indeed David was leading the field by 1 shot if it was a 9 hole competition. After nine holes David was four over but pars at the 10th and 11th was followed by a birdie at the 12th. At this stage it was realised that the double was on! Despite dropping a shot on the index one 14th which was now playing back into a rising wind, David continued to be in control and after paring the last, to sign for a nett 66 the extent of his score became evident when it emerged that no other player had managed to break 71 which was par for the course.

However one score in a team competition is of no use so the scores of either Alex or Rory were needed. Alex ended up signing for a net 73 which didn’t tell the story of his round as he doubled bogeyed the first and had triple bogeys at both the 8th and 15th, where his second shot hit a tree and ricochet out of bounds. Knowing he needed to back up David, Alex produced a string of pars when needed, to post the 5th best score of the twelve players. When the 2 cards were added together it gave De La Salle an overall score of 139 which was 5 shots ahead of Coleraine Grammar who had a score of 144.

The card that didn’t count was Rory’s, who after being 7 over through 6 had showed great maturity to then shoot seven consecutive pars before finishing with a remarkable bogey on the 18th that involved an unplayable ball in a hazard and then in a bunker before rolling in a great downhill putt for a 75. Rory was told on 18th(when his ball was in the hazard) that his score was probably going to needed, so after the penalty drop, to hit, without being able to know the exact distance, a blind shot over trees from beside the practice area to a small green protected by water was perhaps the best score on a hole over the course of the 2 days. As it turned out Rory’s score if needed would have been sufficient with David’s 66 to see the college win.

So after a remarkable 2 days in Dublin, team captain Pete Munroe was presented with a second All Ireland title for the school. After praising his young team, who are all under age next year again, the local clubs of Faithlegg, Waterford Castle and Tramore were recognised. It is these three clubs that have nurtured and encouraged the ten golfers who represented the school, Waterford and Munster to double All Ireland success. Without the work of these clubs and their junior committees this double success would not have been possible, so this success is also their success.