It’s 22 years since Gary O’Flaherty made his Munster debut, as a 17 year old he was thrown into a cauldron dominated by career long elite amateurs. And O’Flaherty survived. Now making his 20th appearance on the Munster team, Gary is looking for his sixth win in Blue. Back in 1996 he pitched up at Mount Juliet for his first outing as Munster tried to retain their title. Munster did just that, and went to Ballybunion a year later to help Munster win the three in a row. It was a big event for O’Flaherty, there was no under 16 or under 18 interpro’s back then and he was teeing it up with the elite amateurs from across the country. “I was in awe of the guys there that week” said Gary when recalling that week. “I played two singles matches and won both against Colin McElderry and Kevin Flanagan. I remember watching Eddie Power and Dennis O’Sullivan play, and I tried to copy their games. Not the longest hitters, but very straight and did very little wrong. I played foursomes the following year in Ballybunion with Tom Cleary and we won 5.5 out of 6 points.” O’Flaherty had two caps to his name, along with two wins. As the years went on, there was not matching the two from two success rate and it would be ten years before Munster would win again. That came in Co Louth under John Carroll’s watch.
Two more wins followed in 2012 and 2014 when Phil Cooney managed the team. Having placed in twenty appearances in twenty two years, Gary has seen the best golfers from Munster and Ireland at the annual shoot-out. “There were so many really super players on the team over the years” recounted O’Flaherty. “Graham Spring, Pat Murray, Jnr Morris, Eddie Power, Seamus Power to name a few. My best memory of a match was with Pat Murray against Rory McIlroy & Johnny Caldwell in Ballyliffin. We were one under for 9 holes and 4 down! Our team talk on 10th tee was to basically try and avoid the humiliating dog license – a 7/6 loss. But we rallied to be 1 up with 4 to play, when they went birdie, birdie, eagle, par to halve the match. I think it’s probably Rory’s best half point ever.”
Munster are going to Athenry with an experienced team. James Sugrue and Peter O’Keeffe will lead the team having qualified from the Munster Order of Merit. Both Sugrue and O’Keeffe have played very well over the past three months, getting to the final stages of the South of Ireland and the Irish Close. O’Keeffe is ranked inside the top 100 amateurs in the world, and retained his Kerry Scratch Cup title in Tralee earlier this year. Sugrue had several notable performances recently, including a 64 in Baltray in Open qualifying and a 66 in the first round of the South. He also made it through to the last 32 in the British Amateur. Team Captain Michael Coote is in charge for the first time. The Tralee man was a selector during Phil Cooney’s term as Captain and Coote appointed Fota’s George Mellerick along with John McHenry as his selectors. The other key member of the backroom team is Fred Twomey, the Munster Provincial Coach. They had six golfers to pick, and along with Flaherty they went with Eanna Griffin, Andrew McCormack and Geoff Lenehan from the 2017 team. All four were well placed on the order of merit and deserving of their places on the Munster team. John Hickey and Cathal Butler make their return to the team having missed out last year. Both made the team in 2016 and both have been playing well this year. Like O’Keeffe and Sugrue, their current form is very positive, they also made the matchplay stages of the South of Ireland and the Irish Close. Holders Leinster are hoping to record a fourth successive win having seen off all challengers since 2015 in Rosapena. The 2018 team sees a few changes with West of Ireland winner Rob Brazill and Munster Strokeplay champion Alan Fahy earning caps alongside Robert Moran. West winner Colan Rafferty, Close winner Robbie Cannon and two time Irish Boys winner Mark Power lead the Leinster side.
For O’Flaherty, his passion for golf is still very much alive. Working for Puma Cobra Golf, he’s involved with PGA Professionals on a daily basis, covering Ireland for the fast growing golf brand. On the course he’s still every bit as competitive, and he currently plays off an impressive handicap of +3. He retained the Lee Valley Senior Scratch Cup earlier this year, leading the event from start to finish to claim the title for the third time. Although Cork had little luck in the Cups and Shields this year, O’Flaherty continued playing to his high level and he reached the final 16 in the South of Ireland in Lahinch. While golf is ultimately an individual game, Gary still loves the team events and playing for Munster is still something he really looks forward to. “Definitely! I love competing against the best guys in the country. It’s a great event and it’s only right the date has been changed to include the best of the best from each province. I’m really looking forward to Athenry. We have a great team, capable of beating anyone. And the spirit in the Munster camp is always brilliant!
US Return for Murphy
One obvious omission from the Munster team is John Murphy who’s back in the US. After a whirlwind summer in Cork, John Murphy returned to college in Louisville on Friday. It’s probably unfair to say it was a summer in Cork as Murphy did a fair bit of travelling in the two months. France, Scotland twice and Germany all ended up on a packed agenda for the Kinsale man as an amazing summer of golf unfolded before him. His playoff win at the Old Course in the St Andrews Links Trophy was the catalyst that set his summer alight. Despite being 18th on the reserve list just two weeks before the British Amateur, Murphy made the start list. After some hectic travel planning he went on to shoot rounds of 74 and 69 to finish in the top 15, comfortable qualifying for the top 64 matchplay. He went on to have three fine wins in the second stage, reaching the quarter final where he faced Robin Dawson. The Waterford man got the upper hand, but Murphy had done enough to gain selection on the six man Irish team to play in the European Team Championships. From there he had some impressive performances in Berlin, finishing as top Irish golfer in the Strokeplay and winning three matches in the matchplay stage. Another solid performance followed in the AIG Irish Close, and although he exited after the first matchplay round, it proved that Murphy’s game was in good order. Despite the fact he missed 12 of the 16 qualifying events, Murphy was fourth in Order of Merit. The final piece of Murphy’s summer jigsaw came two weeks ago when he was picked for the three-man Irish team to play in the World Amateur Team Championships in Carton House at the end of the month.
Another absentee from the Munster team is Tramore’s Robin Dawson. The Maynooth graduate unsurprisingly topped the Munster Order of Merit. A win at the Flogas Irish Open in Royal County Down, and the runner-up spot at the Amateur Championship virtually guaranteed him top spot. Dawson, currently ranked 7th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings is unable to play however as he’ll be playing in the Scottish Strokeplay at Gleneagles. He’s joining Murphy a week later as the Munster duo aim to do well at the World Amateur Team Championships in Carton House.
The Interprovincial Championship takes place in Athenry Golf Club, starting on 29th August. Munster Senior Interprovincial Team 2018: Cathal Butler (Kinsale), Eanna Griffin (Waterford), John Hickey (Cork), Geoff Lenehan (Waterville/Portmarnock), Andrew McCormack (Castletroy), Gary O’Flaherty (Cork), Peter O’Keeffe (Douglas), James Sugrue (Mallow). Non-Travelling Reserve: Anthony McDaid (Palmerstown Stud). Captain: Michael Coote. Selectors: George Mellerick & John McHenry. Coach: Fred Twomey.