Irish Curtis Cup trio primed for GB&I challenge against USA
Opportunity knocks for Irish women's golf as the 39th staging of the Curtis Cup takes place at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club in Enniskerry from Friday to Sunday.
This biennial match between GB & Ireland and the USA was first played in 1932 at Wentworth, and for only the second time in the Cup's history, Ireland is the host.
Twenty years ago, Ita Butler (née Burke) captained GB&I to victory at Killarney, but on that occasion, no Irish player made the team.
This time it's all so different.
The world No3 Leona Maguire, playing for the third time since she made her debut as a 15-year-old alongside twin sister Lisa in 2010, is joined by Irish Ladies Close champion Olivia Mehaffey and captain's pick Maria Dunne as the home representatives.
Their inclusion, especially that of Skerries GC member Dunne, who is a career amateur, can help showcase the best of the ILGU on and off the course on the international stage.
Dunne, 32, has earned her place on the team by rigorous dedication.
A Leinster Ladies champion in 2002 at age 19, she suffered serious disc problems in her back in 2008, and was not fully fit again until 2011.
At that stage, her coach Roger Yates, who also coaches Dunne's Curtis Cup teammate, Meghan McLaren, asked her about her future goals and if she was prepared to work hard to achieve them.
The answer was 'yes' and two years ago, the Curtis Cup became an ambition for the Irish international after a second place finish in the South American championship.
The journey has meant sacrifice and sheer repetitive hard work on body conditioning and fitness, and practice and improvement in all areas of her game.
It helps that she works full-time at the Kinsealy Grange Golf Centre in Portmarnock, while her husband Bryan, a farmer, knows how seriously Dunne takes her golf.
Five days before their wedding two years ago, she had a chance to win the Titelist Scratch Cup Series, but had to play in Royal Portrush to clinch the title.
Wedding preparations were put on hold while Dunne went North and duly clinched the title.
"I couldn't have achieved what I have done so far without Bryan's support and the flexibility of my employers," she said.
Dunne, Maguire, Mehaffey and five English players - Alice Hewson, Bronte Law, Meghan MacLaren, Rochelle Morris, and Charlotte Thomas - know they face a daunting challenge against the strong USA team.
So what's new?
The American women have traditionally enjoyed a high level of supremacy in the contest, winning 28, losing just seven, and featuring in three halved matches.
This year they bring a team led by the 2015 US Women's Amateur champion Hannah O'Sullivan, 18, the new world No1 who has knocked Leona Maguire off the top place in the rankings.
O'Sullivan also has the distinction of having won a professional event, taking the Gateway Classic title on the Symetra Tour last year.
Four of the Americans are in the World's top 10, and all are in the top 30 of the rankings. On the plus side, the match-play format of foursomes and fourballs on Friday and Saturday, and eight singles matches on Sunday - added to home advantage - can offset the American strength.
It's not as if the GB&I team are short of talent or titles.
Maguire, 21, has been a trophy-winning phenomenon since she and twin sister Lisa began taking the Irish women's golf scene by storm from the age of 11.
Mehaffey, 18, has already won the Irish Close championship, the Irish Open stroke-play title, and the Welsh Women's Open Stroke Play this year.
World No4 Bronte Law makes her third Curtis Cup appearance since her debut on the winning team at Nairn in 2012.
The second captain's pick, Charlotte Thomas, Surrey-born but based in Australia, played in the 2014 match in Saint Louis and won the inaugural Annika Invitational at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China.
Meghan MacLaren is a British and Irish stroke play champion.
Alice Hewson has won twice since starting at Clemson University in South Carolina last year.
Rochelle Morris will surely win a big title soon after runner-up finishes in the English Women's Amateur Championship and the English Women's Open Stroke Play Championship.
The captain, Elaine Farquharson-Black is confident despite the inclusion of five rookies.
Maguire, Law, and Thomas bring Curtis Cup experience to the squad while the other five have performed regularly in international events.
GB& Ireland (name, club, age): Maria Dunne, Skerries, 32; Alice Hewson, Berkhamsted, 18; Bronte Law, Bramhall 21; Meghan MacLaren, Wellingborough, 21; Leona Maguire, Slieve Russell, 21; Olivia Mehaffey, Royal County Down Ladies, 18; Rochelle Morris, Woodsome Hall, 20; Charlotte Thomas, Moonah Links, Australia, 23.
Captain: Elaine Farquharson-Black. Manager: Helen Hewlett.
USA: Sierra Brooks, 17, Sorrento, Florida, 17; Mariel Galdiano, 17, Pearl City, Hawaii, 17; Andrea Lee, of Hermosa Beach, Calif, 17; Mika Liu, Beverly Hills, Calif, 17; Hannah O'Sullivan, Chandler, Ariz, 18; Bailey Tardy, 19, of Peachtree Corners, Georgia 19; Monica Vaughn, 21, of Reedsport, Ore, 21; Bethany Wu, Diamond Bar, Calif, 19.
Captain: Robin Burke.
Venue: Dun Laoghaire GC.
Thursday, June 9: Team practice and opening ceremony.
Friday, June 10: Three foursomes and three fourball matches.
Saturday, June 11: Three foursomes and three fourball matches.
Sunday, June 12: Eight singles matches and closing ceremony.
Irish Curtis Cup players up to 2014
Lillian Behan 1986; Ita Butler (Burke) 1996.
Alison Coffey 2002; Claire Coughlan 2004-06 (two series).
Tara Delaney 2006; Claire Dowling (Hourihane) 1984-92 (five series).
Philomena Garvey 1948-60 (six series); Martina Gillen 2006.
Tricia Mangan 2006; Maureen Madill 1980; Lisa Maguire 2010. Leona Maguire 2010-2012 (two series); Stephanie Meadow 2012-2014 (two series); Mary McKenna 1970-86 (nine series); Danielle McVeigh 2010.
Suzanne O'Brien 2000.
Eileen Rose Power (McDaid) 1994.
Clarrie Reddan (Tiernan) 1938-48 (two series); Claire Robinson (Nesbitt) 1980.
Pat Walker 1934-38 (three series).
IRISH CURTIS CUP CAPTAINS
Mary McKenna 2008-2010; Ada O'Sullivan 2004-06; Claire Dowling (Hourihane) 2000; Maire O'Donnell 1982; Ita Butler (Burke) 1996; Dorothy 'Baba' Beck (Pym) 1954.