Sport Golf

Monday 5 December 2016

First All Ireland mixed title for Greystones as husband and wife duo help club's dream come true

William S Callahan

Published 08/09/2016 | 02:30

Barry O’Leary (Greystones) gets out of some bunker trouble. Photo: Pat Cashman
Barry O’Leary (Greystones) gets out of some bunker trouble. Photo: Pat Cashman

Men and women don't usually get the chance to compete side by side, but the I Need Spain Irish Mixed Foursomes is a unique sporting environment.

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Since 1972, male and female golfers have been working together to get their hands on that precious green pennant. The Irish Mixed Foursomes is one of the most keenly contested inter-club competitions in the GUI calendar, so much so that no club has ever retained the title.

Greystones are presented with All-Ireland title. Photo: Pat Cashman
Greystones are presented with All-Ireland title. Photo: Pat Cashman

Dooks became the first club to win the All Ireland on home soil in 2015, marking a significant moment in the rich history of a special competition. This year's final at Shandon Park was no less significant for 2016 champions Greystones.

For the club it was their first time to win an All Ireland mixed title. And as husband and wife, Diarmaid McGabhann and Emma Hanley created their own unique record.

"I remember practicing in horrible conditions at Woodbrook on Good Friday, so it's been a long few months," said McGabhann in the aftermath of the 3.5-1-5 All Ireland victory over Gort in Saturday's final at Shandon Park.

"We've won all our matches this year and we did quite well last year, so it's been a great run."

Shane O’Connor and Polly O’Reilly celebrate win. Photo: Pat Cashman
Shane O’Connor and Polly O’Reilly celebrate win. Photo: Pat Cashman

Unbeaten throughout the campaign, their perfect record was in jeopardy during a tense semi-final against Doneraile. And it took until the final green for the husband and wife duo to continue their winning run.

"Yesterday [Friday's semi-final] was more emotional for us because we had to sink the last putt to get into the final," said Hanley, who has only returned to the game in the last two years.

"It's great fun, it's enjoyable. I've a busy work life so this is relaxing compared to that. You just have to get the ball in the hole, how more stressful could that be?"

On the course, Hanley has a reputation for being ice-cool.

David Byrne and Lisa Crokes of Greystones at Shandon Park. Photo: Pat Cashman
David Byrne and Lisa Crokes of Greystones at Shandon Park. Photo: Pat Cashman

"She's very good with me, she knows straight away if my head drops or if I'm a little bit annoyed. She's very good at reading my body language. She likes to keep it plain and simple. We're a really good combination, we never really get upset," said McGabhann, whose wife holed a crucial putt at the 11th during the final to seize control of their match.

Their subsequent victory was every bit as impressive as the 5&4 scoreline suggests, but it was clear that they were a team within a team.

"It's phenomenal," said McGabhann. "For an amateur golfer, it's the pinnacle for us. We really can't do any more than this. It's been a huge buzz, it's an enormous privilege to represent your club and do your team-mates proud."

In their push for All Ireland glory, no stone was left unturned. The squad made numerous trips to Shandon Park in advance of the All-Ireland series and once they checked into their hotel last Wednesday, their focus was on the big prize.

'In it to win it' had been their motto from the start of the season.

"Very few times in history do clubs get a chance to compete in an All-Ireland, let alone win one, so it's been absolutely fantastic," said Greystones club captain Tom Byrne.

For Emma Hanley, the team dynamic is what makes the Mixed event so special.

"It's really important that it's men and women. A lot of the focus goes on the men golfers, but it takes two to get the ball in the hole. And it is more about the team than anything else," said Hanley.

Choosing from a panel of 20, team manager Karen Purcell used seven different pairs over the course of the All-Ireland series.

Paying tribute to her squad, Purcell said: "We have 20 on the panel and all of those 20 players made their contribution throughout the campaign. People who won in Woodbrook weren't playing here today, but they were right by our sides and everyone was giving one thousand per cent. It was all about the team from start to finish.

Arriving at Shandon Park for Friday's semi-finals, a sign in the club caught Purcell's eye.

"You're never too old to make a new goal," were the words that captured her imagination.

A victory many months in the making; a dream finally come true.

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