Killorglin and Ballybunion put Kerry golf on national map
It's that time of the year again when we take a look back at the happenings on the fairways of Kerry and beyond and I have to say that 2013 was certainly one of the best golfing years for Kerry in quite a while and definitely since I began writing this column in 2002.
Beginning with the GUI Cups and Shields and the big story of the past year was the All-Ireland title successes for Killorglin in the Jimmy Bruen Shield and Ballybunion in the Irish Junior Cup.
The Killorglin club celebrated its 21st birthday in some style and with a bare panel of just sixteen players led by the management team of Jimmy Doona and Maurice Foley, they swept to an Irish title (their first-ever) that few would have predicted this time last year. Tandragee from Armagh were their opponents in the final at Royal Tara and club captain Joe Kennedy also had the honour of playing on the winning team.
Ballybunion, who last won a title in 1979, fielded a team of five players under the age of eighteen in the national final against Westport and came away with the Irish Junior Cup.
These youngsters, managed by John Maher and Eddie Stack, have played together at boys level for some time but they showed a maturity beyond their tender years en route to a famous victory and don't be surprised if they go on to do it in the Senior Cup a few years down the road.
In Barton Shield it was Doneraile who qualified in our area (West Munster) for the third year in a row but they came a cropper against West Waterford in the Munster semi-finals at Killarney, while in the Irish Senior Cup, Tralee made it through the qualifiers only to fall at the provincial semi-final stage also, against Cork Golf Club in Killarney.
Reigning All-Ireland champions Newcastlewest qualified in the Pierce Purcell Shield and made it to the provincial final in Bandon but lost to Spanish Point from Clare who went on to win the national title while in the Irish Mixed Foursomes,it was Newcastlewest who also qualified but lost the provincial semi-final to Adare Manor at Douglas.
So to summarise the Cups and Shields in West Munster, Kerry clubs qualified in tree of the six events resulting in two All-Ireland titles.
In the Munster Country Clubs Cup for Nine-hole courses, Ardfert and Ballyheigue reached the semi-final stage where they clashed with Ardfert going through, but they lost the final to Spanish Point.
In Junior golf Killarney qualified from West Munster in the Fred Daly and beat Tramore in the provincial semi-final but lost to Mallow in e final while in the Irish Junior Foursomes Ring of Kerry qualified and reached the Munster quarter finals where they fell to Skibbereen.
On the local scene, Kenmare's Pat Dwyer retired from the Munster Branch, Eric Brick from Dooks and Dan O'Sullivan from Ballybunion were joined on the Provincial Council by Tralee's Mick Coote, Ballyheigue won their third Dr Billy O'Sullivan Shield beating Kenmare in the final at Castleisland and Ardfert won their third Nines of Kerry Shield in a row and their seventh overall, beating Castlerosse in the final.
Castleisland won the John B. O'Shea Memorial Trophy while Ring of Kerry won the Kerry Shield for the first time and the afore-mentioned Pat Dwyer lifted the Kerry Federation's Captain's Prize with a magnificent 43 points at Castleisland.
Waterville's David Higgins will look back on the year with mixed feelings. Having won back his Tour card in November 2012 he didn't get off to the start he wanted and missed several cuts in the opening months of the 2013 season.
A highlight for him was, of course, his excellent second place finish in Italy but sadly it wasn't enough to save his card and he narrowly missed out, finishing 115th on the money list. A return to the dreaded Tour School last November ended unsuccessfully also but because of his finish on the money list he does qualify for a number of events for the 2014 season, which has already begun. David has started the season brightly with two decent enough finishes in his first two events. Hopefully he can maintain this momentum and regain his card at the end of the season.
In ladies golf it wasn't the greatest of seasons for club teams although Tralee did win a Munster title in the Intermediate Cup but lost the Irish semi-final to Belvoir Park from Belfast at Mullingar. Killarney reached the Munster finals in both the Senior Foursomes and Challenge Cup but lost to Lahinch and East Cork respectively.
However, there was good news on the individual front with the emergence of a number of very talented young girls. Killarney reached the Munster finals of the Inter-Club Under-19 Girls Championship with the likes Máiréad Martin, Nicola Rainsford, Valarie Clancy and Catriona Griffin to the fore and strong showings by Martin and Griffin at the Ladies Munster Championships at Dooks where Martin reached the final, saw the two Killarney girls selected for Munster in the Interprovincial matches.
Eibhlinn McCarthy from Killorglin is another exciting prospect and if you throw in the four or five top players at Tralee, who won national honours just two years ago, there is a very strong group of talented young Kerry golfers in place, ready to challenge for major honours in the coming years.
In boys golf there was really nothing exciting to report except that Killarney's John Kerrisk along with Jason Lynch and John Molyneux from Ballybunion have been called in to the Munster Boys Under 18 Training panel for the 2013/2014 winter season while Ring of Kerry's Joseph O'Neill is included in the Under 15 panel.