Youthful Athenry storm to Barton Shield glory
Champagne corks popped as Athenry beat favourites Dundalk by three holes to clinch the AIG Barton Shield and their first senior men's All-Ireland pennant at Thurles.
Even without boys international David Kitt, who is at the Youth Olympics in Argentina, a mainly youthful Athenry quartet was simply too steady for an often wayward Dundalk at the tree-lined Tipperary gem.
Louis O'Hara and Joe Bernie Jnr beat Aaron Grant and Conor Curran by four holes, easing the pressure on 16-year-old Darren Leufer and 18-year-old boys international Allan Hill, who sealed victory for Athenry with a par on the 17th.
They were one down to international Caolan Rafferty and Eoin Murphy but having fought back from three down after five holes to be one up with seven to go, their rearguard action proved key.
Grant and Curran didn't hit a fairway between the fourth and the 13th and, when O'Hara rattled in a 35-footer for birdie at the 16th to put Athenry three up, Dundalk simply ran out of holes.
"It's fantastic for Athenry and Galway golf," said Athenry captain Michael Lane as supporters broke into the 'Fields of Athenry'.
"I said earlier on that 20 years ago we couldn't even field a Barton Shield team, now we have top players and that's a testament to the junior convenors over the years and the likes of [professionals] Declan Cunningham and Seán Whelan and the work they have put in with the juniors."
Nenagh crushed Athlone 4-1 to claim their fifth AIG Purcell Shield title since 1989 and their second in three years.
Convincing wins for Gerard Clifford and Tom Quinlisk and David Hickey and Martin Reddan left the Tipperary men just one point short of victory and James Reddan and Pat J Hogan delivered the decisive point with a 5&3 win over Paul Burke and Declan Corcoran in the bottom match.
"We play a lot of matchplay in our own club and that's the basis for all our teams," said Nenagh's delighted joint manager Paddy Peters following an eighth successive win for a Munster club in the greensomes competition.
"We have a great winter league going, all matchplay. Your throat could be cut in it, it's so competitive."
In the Jimmy Bruen Shield, Kinsale beat Lisburn 3.5-1.5 and will face Hermitage in today's final following the Dublin club's 3-2 win over Tuam where Richard Gladney and Louis Hemeryck came back from one down after 15 holes to win by two holes in the key match.
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