McNamara in unique double bid
RORY McNamara has a double chance of All-Ireland glory in the Bulmers GUI Cups and Shields finals at Castlebar this week as he chases silverware with two different clubs.
The 21-year-old plus-two handicap is a member of both Headfort and County Sligo and has helped them to their respective Leinster Irish Senior Cup and Connacht Barton Shield final victories.
Now the former Leinster Youths winner and Irish Youths finalist is set for a busy week in Castlebar as the annual GUI festival of golf gets under way today.
It's an unusual position for McNamara.
What are the odds against starting out in two different competitions with two different clubs and both of them qualifying for the Cups and Shields semi-finals?
Firstly, how is it possible? Well, McNamara, who lives in Kells in Co Meath, plays out of Headfort, but was born in Sligo and his family are all from Connacht.
He has thus been a dual member of County Sligo and Headfort for years, and won a Fred Daly (U-18) national title with the Rosses Point club.
Three years ago he decided to split his top-level commitments, playing Barton Shield with County Sligo and Senior Cup with Headfort.
"It was a bit awkward at first, but everybody came to terms with it and Headfort accepted it.
"I know I could have a lot of golf to play this week, but I'm ready for it," he said.
McNamara's situation is permitted by the GUI once a player has been a fee-paying member of a club for at least two years and is not 'cup tied' by playing in an earlier round of a competition.
Thus, McNamara, a Boys and Youths international, who played for the senior team against the Metropolitan Golf Association of New York (MGA) last year, can perform for County Sligo and Headfort this week.
County Sligo and Bandon are the only two of 18 clubs represented in Castlebar who can lift two titles.
The former are in the Barton Shield and Pierce Purcell Shield, while surprise packets Bandon qualified in the Senior Cup and Barton Shield.
The culmination of the GUI's five top inter-club events begins today at the course dubbed 'The Augusta of Connacht' after the quality and speed of the greens impressed at the Connacht finals last month.
Over 20,000 golfers from clubs all over the country set out at the start of the year in search of success and coveted pennants for their clubs.
Now it's down to the elite few who have carved their way through daunting provincial campaigns.
This is the chance for the handicap golfer to shine in team competition with the honour of the club at stake.
There's nothing like it in Europe, or indeed, anywhere else in the world, so, let the action begin at centenary club Castlebar!
Clubs and honours
Irish Senior Cup
(Five singles match play)
County Sligo 3 (1996, 1997, 2007), Bandon 0, Kilkenny 0, Lurgan 0
County Sligo and Kilkenny are favourites to meet in the final. Three-time Irish champion Eddie Power is on the Cats team and was part of their 2009 Barton Shield-winning team.
Bandon and Lurgan will be hoping to cause an upset. The Cork club have father and son Donie and Brendan O'Donovan in their panel. Dad Donie was on the 1978 team that won the Munster final of the Barton Shield.
Lurgan have former Glenavon Irish League player Gary Clarke in their team. He clinched Lurgan's first Ulster Senior Cup final win over Ardglass.
(Two foursomes pairings)
Galway 4 (1957, 1972, 1999, 2007), Headfort 0, Dunmurry 0, Bandon 0
Galway, backboned by former international Joe Lyons and stalwart Eddie McCormack, won the Senior Cup last year.
They are up against a young Headfort team whose oldest member is Rory McNamara (21).
In the other semi-final Dunmurry's Darren Crowe, the 2006 North of Ireland champion and his brother Stephen will do all they can to bring a first Barton Shield back to their club, but Bandon won't roll over.
Irish Junior Cup
(Five singles match play)
East Cork 0, Naas 0, Portumna 0, Banbridge 1 (2006)
It's all pretty wide open here, with Banbridge the only club to have won the competition.
East Cork and Naas will bring strong support in their bid for national glory. Portumna made their mark on the national scene with a victory in the Irish Mixed Foursomes All-Ireland final last year.
Jimmy Bruen Shield
(Five foursomes pairings)
Tandragee 0, Swinford 0, Carrick-on-Suir 0, Clontarf 1 (2008)
Tandragee feature some young talent, including strapping six foot tall 14-year-old Stefan Greenberg and 15-year-old Ross Dutton, who each played their part in the club's first Ulster GUI Bruen Shield pennant.
Swinford will be tough, as they looked very impressive in defeating Athenry in the Connacht final, and they know the Castlebar course very well.
Clontarf, winners two years ago, will come with confidence high to face the Munster champions Carrick-on-Suir.
Interesting to note that former Dublin star of the 1970s, Bobby Doyle, is chasing another All-Ireland, this time in the small-ball game with Clontarf.
Pierce Purcell Shield
(Five foursomes pairings)
County Sligo 0, Curragh 0, Nenagh 3 (1989, 1991, 1998), Lisburn 0
The Curragh, founded in 1883, is the oldest golf club in the country, but it's new territory now as they seek their first Pierce Purcell Shield title.
They won't find it easy against a County Sligo team which includes the Rosses Point men's club captain Pat Forkan.
Also on the County Sligo squad is Gerry McManus, who was non-playing captain of the club side which won the Irish Senior Cup in 1996 and '97.
Nenagh are always competitive, but Lisburn won't be a pushover in the other semi-final.
Cups and shields schedule
Barton Shield semi-finals: 10.30 Galway v Headfort; 10.50 Dunmurry v Bandon.
Junior Cup semi-finals: 11.10 East Cork v Naas; 12.0 Portumna v Banbridge.
Pierce Purcell Shield semi-finals: 8.0 Co Sligo v Curraghl; 8.50 Nenagh v Lisburn.
Junior Cup final: 11.0.
Barton shield final: 12.0.
Senior Cup semi-finals: 8.30 Bandon v Co Sligo; 9.20 Kilkenny v Lurgan.
Pierce Purcell Shield final: 10.30.
Jimmy Bruen Shield semi-finals: 12.0 Tandragee v Swinford; 12.50 Carrick-on-Suir v Clontarf.
Senior Cup final: 9.0.
Jimmy Bruen Shield final: 10.30.