Muskerry make the almost familiar trip back to Carton House next week with high hopes of creating history with their AIG Barton Shield Team. Having beaten four teams in South Munster, they racked up another two wins at the Munster finals stage to book their place in the national finals. Now they are just two matches away from back to back wins in one of golf’s most prestigious national competitions. They head off to Carton House with a settled team featuring just one change from last year. The experienced John Waldron has stepped down and that has given an opportunity to someone else to step up and join the winning team. That opportunity fell to Shane Whooley and the rookie has excelled all year long. Whooley started the year playing off 2, but had several impressive performances in the early season to drop down to 1. One of those performances was in the Lee Valley Senior Scratch Cup where he made the 36 hole cut and went on to finish 6th in a field of top quality golfers including several internationals. The Lee Valley Senior Scratch Cup was won by another Muskerry Man who has also had a very impressive season. Dave O’Donovan finished four shots ahead of the field in Lee Valley to record his biggest win in several years and that marked the start of a run of very good form for the popular golfer.
Pairings are always one of the most crucial part of foursomes golf and Muskerry seem to have excelled again with their selection. O’Donovan is again partnered by Niall Gorey and while the pair are often entertaining to watch (in more ways than one), their matchplay record has been outstanding. Although individual form might vary, once together they always seem to excel and their ability to battle through to the end is a hallmark of their game. Newcomer Whooley is partnered by Daniel Hallissey who has a chance to win his fourth national title. Although the youngest (marginally he says) Daniel is delighted with the way that Shane Whooley has slotted into the team, taking over from John Waldron as Hallissey’s foursomes partner. Daniel was part of the double winning team in 2007 that scooped the Junior Cup and Bruen pennants.
“Shane has fitted in great” according to Daniel, “I have known him for the bones of fifteen or sixteen years having gone to the same primary and secondary school. Pairing up has not been difficult and the first weekend was great experience for us. We had every type of match imaginable and we were tested, winning well and winning tight. The match against Monkstown was the making of us as a pairing, Shane played great when under the gun and we drew great confidence from this match. This match really gelled the pairing and over the weekend, I relied on Shane and Shane relied on me. It helps that we are both aggressive so in terms of shot choice generally we have the same ideas.” And it’s not just the golfers that make the decisions as Hallissey continued: “My caddy Tom Purcell helps us out immensely, he can temper the aggressiveness when required. I would say we wouldn’t have performed at the same level without him. He helps out with the group on every hole and he can draw on the experience of all-Ireland success from 2007 Bruen too.”
As for Shane, he comes across as a cool customer when it comes to competitive golf at the highest level: “I don’t think there’s any real pressure being the “new boy”. If anything it’s probably a bit of the opposite, at least it was at the start of the campaign. I think it has allowed me to play with a bit more freedom, and just go out and enjoy myself. I think it has perhaps been a strange kind of advantage for us in a way. I was away from the game for 8 or 9 years, and have really fallen back in love with it again over the last 2 years. I know Davey and Daniel for many years from growing up playing in Muskerry. I think I only met Niall Gorey for the first time probably last year but I feel like I’ve known him an awful lot longer than that though. He’s really helped my transition into the team, and always has a few pearls of wisdom to impart on us, he’s seen it all.”
Far from being over-awed by the step-up onto the team, Whooley has enjoyed every minute and is looking forward to the challenge ahead: “We’ve been on a great run so far this year, it’s been thoroughly enjoyable, and a great learning experience for me. I think I’ve really grown as a golfer this season, and a lot of that is down to the experiences gained playing on this team. I would love nothing more than to go on now and win the All-Ireland again this year. I have a gold medal for being part of the panel last year, but it would be that much sweeter to go out and win it again this year.”
History in the Making
Although Muskerry have done the hard part in making it to the final four (from over 400 entrants), Winning back to back titles is a tough task. In the past 60 years only two clubs have won in succession, with Co Sligo winning three years in a row from 1995-1997. That said, Muskerry have done the hard part, they’ve qualified into All-Ireland semi-finals from over 400 entrants, and now they are two matches away from another title. Winning the Barton Shield is a big task and Cork clubs have won it on nine occasions in the 95 years that the competition has been held. In fact you have to go back almost 80 years to find the only occasion when a Cork club won back to back titles, that honour went to Cork when they won in 1937 and 1938.
Although the youngest on the team, Daniel Hallissey is aiming for his fourth national title, he loves the inter-club side of golf and he knows the importance of the national finals: “When we won in 2007 it was my first campaign, it was almost a feeling of ‘this can happen every year’; I was really sheltered in that team being one of the youngest. The more the years pass, the more I appreciate those medals. What means a lot about the Barton last year is what it meant to the other three players. They had played the highest level of golf for decades between them without a national pennant, and we all were bitterly disappointed when we lost out in the Senior Cup in 2011 in Castlerock. To see how much last year’s win meant to Davy, Wally and Gorey was a great buzz. And it was a fantastic feeling to bring a senior pennant back to Muskerry for the first time in 61 years.”
“In any sport, to represent and play for your club with your mates is the highlight of anyone’s career” added Hallissey, “I imagine it’s very similar to the GAA, you hear inter county players like Henry Shefflin with 9 All-Ireland medals talking about how special it was to win with his club last year. Golf can be a highly individual sport, you play for yourself 50 weeks of the year. But then every year the AIG Cups & Shields give us the opportunity to play and experience golf within a team environment. It’s a very different feeling and is enormous fun. Trust me, there is no better feeling of playing for you club with your mates, winning is just the icing on the cake.”
Cork Clubs Barton Shield Roll of Honour