Butler's moment of magic ends Athenry double dream
THE double dream of Athenry died yesterday -- but Warrenpoint's treble hopes are still very much alive after an exciting opening day in the GUI-Chartis Insurance Cups and Shields finals at Castlerock.
Team sport is the format this week, but the key matches in the Barton Shield and Irish Junior Cup semi-finals hinged on moments of inspiration from individuals. Tramore's Chris Butler was the hero as the Waterford club's Barton Shield representatives ground their way to a semi-final victory over Athenry by two holes.
In the Junior Cup, two teenagers did a man's job in great style. First, 17-year-old Sean Lane claimed a vital point for Mitchelstown as they ousted Ballina, and then 16-year-old Michael McSherry brought Lurgan through a hard-fought contest with County Meath with a dramatic victory on the first tie-hole.
That sets up the first two finals, with Tramore playing Warrenpoint in the Barton Shield decider and Mitchelstown -- who have never won any national pennant -- playing Lurgan with the Junior Cup at stake.
For Butler and the other members of Tramore, the chance to play in a national final is the culmination of a long campaign that began with regular squad sessions in January.
"We just put a huge effort in as we got to so many semi-finals and finals in Munster and we kept getting beaten. But here we are now in the All-Ireland final and hopefully we can go on from here," he said.
Butler -- a grandson of former Tramore professional Christy Butler and son of Paddy, who played on the Tramore team which won a Senior Cup/Barton Shield double in 1992 -- came to the fore just at the right time.
The 35-year-old two-handicap produced a touch of magic on the par-three 16th, when he and foursomes partner Declan King most needed it against Athenry's Mark King and Michael Lane.
The Tramore duo were one-up after 15 holes, when Butler played a superb sand shot 35 yards from the flag. The ball came out to pin high and rolled off the bank to within two feet and King duly holed the putt for a two-hole lead.
They halved the 17th and 18th -- Butler produced a superb wedge shot from an uphill lie in the rough on a huge mound 90 yards from the green. Once his ball landed on the putting surface 25 feet from the hole, the Tramore lads were set for a safe half in four to clinch the win.
Playing behind them, Alan Thomas and David Kiely were all square playing the 18th against Conor Waters and David Byrne, but their match was not required to finish out once Butler and King got the two-hole result.
Warrenpoint's strong team of Paul Reavey and Stephen Coulter and Ryan Gribben and Colm Campbell were too good for Enniscorthy in the other semi-final. Each pairing won their match by three holes for a six-holes verdict.
The Junior Cup format of five singles matches is tailor-made for drama and it was duly provided in the Lurgan v County Meath semi-final. McSherry was Lurgan's last hope on the final hole with the contest poised at 2-2. He didn't look favourite -- he was one down to Michael Gaynor after three-putting the 17th.
Gaynor was at the back of the two-tier green in two, while the Lurgan boy wedged from the rough to lie 15 feet from the hole in three. The County Meath man's first putt rolled seven feet past; McSherry then holed for a par four -- and Gaynor's par attempt just missed the hole. All level and to the 19th, which the teenager won with a par.
Lurgan's David Magee didn't get a chance to rest up for today's final afterwards. A soccer player with Irish League side Glenavon, he had to go training last night, but will be ready for golf action against Mitchelstown.
Warrenpoint are chasing a Barton Shield/Senior Cup/Jimmy Bruen Shield hat-trick, but Athenry now pin their hopes on a national pennant with their Pierce Purcell Shield team.
All-Ireland senior hurling winners Brendan Lynskey and Martin Naughton are on the Athenry side that plays Woodstock, as are twins Shane and David Donohue, who have won All-Ireland club medals.
In the other Pierce Purcell semi-final, Corrstown play Letterkenny.