Jimmy Bruen Shield 2008 & 2010

Jimmy Bruen Success for Clontarf 

On the morning of September 20th 2008, a golfing format widely regarded as arguably the most demanding in the game, confronted very different groups of players on either side of the Atlantic.  One involved the opposing European and American teams in the Ryder Cup matches, 3,600 miles away at Valhalla, Kentucky.  The other had Clontarf facing the home club, Monkstown, for the Jimmy Bruen Shield.

Launched in 1978 when the late Paddy Harrington, Padraig’s father, led Stackstown to the inaugural victory in Galway, the tournament took its name from one of the most distinguished players of all time, in these islands.  As it happened, Jimmy Bruen had died only six years previously at the cruelly young age of 52.  Now, his name would live on, not only through his stunning championship achievements, but through the exploits of more modest club players in foursomes combat. 

When Bruen was at the height of his powers, just before the outbreak of World War II, the legendary scribe, Henry Longhurst, rated him among the best six players in the world, professional or amateur.  And a year later, when playing in an exhibition at Clontarf with fellow amateur Gerry Owens against professionals Harry Bradshaw and Paddy Mahon, Bruen’s 68 in the morning and 69 in the afternoon completed the best 36 of the day.  Against this background, to win a trophy presented in his memory, became a significant distinction for any club.  To win it twice in three years, as Clontarf would do in 2008 and 2010, was something of truly remarkable merit. 

By a fortuitous twist of fate, Brian Looby was officially involved in both these achievements.  Having been manager of the 2008 team, he attended the 2010 national finals as Club Captain and because of a pre-arranged holiday, had to suffer the agonies of leaving Castlebar before the trophy was secured, waiting anxiously to be informed later of the triumphant news by mobile phone.

Looby recalled: “First of all, I was lucky to have as my assistant manager for the 2008 campaign, Brendan Foy, whose jovial attitude had a wonderfully relaxing effect on the players.” Both men, along with team co-ordinator, Turlough Considine, suspected that something special could be happening when they led one of the strokeplay qualifiers of the Metropolitan Section at Corrstown by six strokes from Westmanstown.  That was Sunday, June 15th when the difficulty of a strong, demanding course was heightened by wild, testing winds.  Clontarf’s optimism was based on the splendid balance of a side which included promising young players of between nine and 11 handicap who looked certain to be down to six or seven by the time the year was out.  In the event, the omens continued to look good in the matchplay play-off at the same venue the following week when Clontarf beat Westmanstown 4-1.

Then, in the Provincial quarter-finals on July 5th at Hollystown, they beat Howth by 3 to 1; went on to overcome Callan by the same margin in the semi-finals at Delgany on August 2nd and followed this by a 4-1 win over Castlewarden in the Provincial final.  “We arranged for our pro, Eamonn Brady, to give talks to the players and he did a wonderful job,” said the manager.  “He effectively fine-tuned our preparations to perfection. Apart from going out and playing with the squad members, he would later sit them down and explain the psychology of matchplay.  How to control your emotions through breathing.  I thought this was especially beneficial to the younger players in the side who were aware of Eamonn’s achievements in amateur ranks as a two-time winner of the West of Ireland Championship.”

As the campaign progressed, Looby and his colleagues became increasingly confident that it was going to take a really strong team to deprive Clontarf of the ultimate prize.  But nothing was taken for granted.  “One of our members, Gerry O’Leary, happened to be the brother-in-law of Hilary Madden, the secretary/manager of Monkstown GC,” added Looby.  “Though there was widespread rain throughout the country at the time, he assured us that the course was playable and that we’d be welcome.

So, as part of their build-up for the national finals, the team travelled on a fact-finding mission to Monkstown, who were playing hosts to the Cups and Shields to mark the club’s centenary celebrations. Out on the course after breakfast, the first thing the players took in was the large, undulating greens, very different from Malahide Road.  On further investigation, however, they were satisfied that Monkstown presented no challenge they couldn’t handle. Meanwhile, important homework was done regarding out-of-bounds areas and the correct strategy regarding approach-shots to greens, notably the least dangerous areas in which to miss them.  On the long trip home, the mood was decidedly buoyant.

When they returned to Monkstown on Wednesday, September 17th, there was an understandably heightened focus in the team: relaxed and confident, but unquestionably different. Out of the blue, they encountered the first serious problem of the campaign before the semi-final match against Co. Cavan. Michael Fahy reported to team manager Looby that he was in trouble.  He had fallen victim to an attack of the dreaded shanks.   As Looby recalled: “It would have been too much of a risk to put him out.  And it also meant having to tell his partner, Sean Stone, that he, too, would be out of the side.  Fortunately, Mick was the sort of guy who would be totally up front with you and Sean also handled the situation really well.”

The upshot was that Dave Collins and Philip Duffy came into the side at number four, and as things turned out, their match was called in after Clontarf had won the top three matches.  Meanwhile, with the semi-finals in progress, Batt Murphy, the seasoned and highly-respected professional at Monkstown, was asked to take the afflicted Fahy under his wing. Which he did. And after making a critical swing adjustment, he told the player to head off and hit some balls and to come back in an hour.  Fahy duly did as instructed and when he returned to Murphy, the shanks had disappeared.

Semi-final results (Clontarf 4 Co Cavan 1): Mark Brennan and Niall Lyons bt Conor O’Reilly and Sean O’Donnell 3 and 1; Conor Harrington and Tim O’Connell bt John Crotty and Philip McMahon 4 and 3; Michael Kellett and Neal O’Flynn bt Padraig McEntee and Patrick Lyons at 20th; Dave Collins and Philip Duffy halved with Ed O’Hanlon and Ruari Dunne; Stephen Kealy and Tony Stanley halved with Tim Fitzpatrick and Ed Kellett.  

Highlight of the other semi-final was the performance at number two of the Monkstown pair, Nick Hayes and Carl Toal, who won their match by a whopping 8 and 6 in a 4-1 victory over Strandhill.  Which gave Looby an idea. 

With Fahy playing well again, it made sense to recall himself and Stone for the final, a move which their semi-final replacements, Collins and Duffy, accepted graciously in the interests of the team.  And by way of emphasising the management’s confidence in their ability, Fahy and Stone were placed at number two in the expectation that they would be facing the Monkstown hotshots. And so it happened.  And they proceeded to whip the home pair by 3 and 1. Brilliant.

“I have to admit to a certain anxiety as I stood beside the first tee waiting for Mick (Fahy) to hit,” said Looby. “But I needn’t have worried. He played great.  In fact we won the first hole, a daunting par-three (203 yards) in four of the first five matches.  Which perfectly fitted the strategy to lead with our strength from the top, in the hope that their dominance would strengthen the resolve of those further down the order.  Create momentum, if you like.  Anyway, it worked superbly.” Then there was the tremendous Club support which travelled south, including President, Tony Wall, Captain, Martin Cahill, and Lady Captain, Cecily Weymes. And back at the Club, members were kept informed of developments throughout the day, from match progress-reports posted on the Internet by the GUI.

First to post a winning point was the number-four pairing of Michael Kellett and Neal O’Flynn, who secured victory as early as the 13th green. Before long, an unstoppable, winning surge had engulfed the opposition.  Final results (Clontarf 4 Monkstown 1): Brennan and Lyons bt Ken Tracy and Donal McCarthy 2 holes; Michael Fahy and Sean Stone bt Nick Hayes and Carl Toal 3 and 1; Harrington and O’Connell halved with Denis Day and John Barry; Kellett and O’Flynn bt John Tobin and Niall Kennedy 6 and 5; Kealy and Stanley halved with Dave O’Leary and Mark Hickey. 

The Irish Independent report highlighted Clontarf’s “shining young guns” in a reference to the five team-members aged under 21. “Neal O’Flynn (15) belied his tender years with an excellent display alongside Michael Kellett,” observed Liam Kelly.  He went on: “Michael Fahy and Sean Stone saved themselves from losing a hole against Mick Hayes and Carl Toal when they were two up after 15.  Stone, who plays left-handed but putts right-handed, holed a crucial eight-footer after Fahy’s deft bunker shot on the par-three 16th.  Mark Brennan and 16-year-old Niall Lyons were coolness personified in the top match which they clinched on the 18th.”

In The Irish Times. Paul Gallagher also wrote glowingly about the top pairing, noting that Lyons’ “swinging par-saving putt from 20 feet at the 16th to get back to all-square was a pivotal moment in the match.” And he went on to quote the then fifth-year student at St Paul’s as saying: “Once it came off the putter face I knew it was in the hole.” Lyons added: “This is by far the biggest think I played in, my first all-Ireland.  When we pulled into the car-park at the start of the week, it felt like an Irish Open to me with the GUI truck, banners and the huge support.  It’s been an amazing experience.”

Jimmy Bruen Shield Winners 2008

Back Row L-R: Turlough Considine, Frank Kellett, Sean Stone, Philip Duffy, Michael Fahy, Niall Lyons, Tony Stanley, Sean Quinn, Tim O'Connell, Dave Collins, Mark Brennan, Stephen Kealy, Conor Harrington and Tommy McCarthy.

Front Row L-R: Barry Moran (Bulmers), Aidan Foy (Vice-Captain), Tony Wall (President), Seamus Smith (Gen. Sec. GUI), Brian Looby (Co-Manager), Barry Doyle (President GUI), Martin Cahill (Captain), Brendan Foy (Co-Manager), Michael Kellett, and Neal O'Flynn.

 

With the Club having added another National Pennant to its only previous success in the Irish Mixed Foursomes of 1973, that fateful September Saturday ended for Clontarf with excited hugging and kissing tempered by relief and joy. The bold policy in selecting five young players for the National Finals had delivered a rich dividend.  Then, in times of quiet reflection during the ensuing months of winter, the thought occurred that these players might become a part of further successes down the road.  As things turned out, however, the trophy would be regained in 2010 with almost an entirely new team.  In fact only three of the 15 squad members from 2008 survived.  Among the newcomers was dancer, Paul O’Brien, who missed the first two rounds in Leinster because of commitments with Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance” troupe on tour. And after taking his place in the team, he completed his assignments unbeaten.

Then there was Bobby Doyle, the Dublin Gaelic Football legend from the 1970s along with two father-and-son combinations, Sean and Conor Stone and Paul and Stephen Kealy.  Team manager was Dave Dalton, whose father, Maurice, was a member of the Club’s ninth and last Barton Cup winning team of 1968.  And Dave’s able lieutenant was Liam O’Donohoe. 

In Metropolitan qualifying in the 2010 campaign, the Club had the considerable boost of having their strokeplay section on home terrain on Sunday, June 13th.  So it was somewhat ironic that the team should have been outscored by Portmarnock, who topped the group on 316 a sroke ahead of Clontarf on 317:  Skerries were third on 320.  When it came to matchplay a week later, however, Portmarnock were no match for the home side who swept through by 3½ to 1½.   And the same margin of victory was achieved in the play-offs at Forrest Little on July 18th, when Clontarf’s victims were a fancied line-up from Hollystown. 

Dun Laoghaire was the venue for the climactic Provincial stages in which Clontarf beat Killeen by 4-1 in the semi-finals and Gowran Park by 3-2 in the final.  Thoughts immediately turned to Castlebar, where the National Finals were scheduled for September 15th to 18th.  

When officials and supporting members from 18 competing  clubs converged on Castlebar GC, they were confronted by newly-laid greens which proved to be a formidable challenge, both for their pace and undulations.  They were certainly a far cry from familiar, long-established Irish venues, characterised by relatively flat and moderately-paced greens which could easily succumb to modern technology.  Castlebar confronted both of these problems by having Peter McEvoy, the former British Amateur Champion and Walker Cup captain, apply his architecturel skills to the course.

Their reward was 18 sand-based greens reconstructed to USGA specifications and seriously contoured to place an absolute premium on approach play and putting.  McEvoy also had the good sense to make the greens large enough to incorporate sufficient flat areas for a minimum of six pin placements.  As a consequence,  the Club soon became known as the "Augusta of the West" where treacherously quick downhill putts were very much a part of the overall challenge. In fact the greens represented the main defence of a par-71 parkland stretch with a decidedly moderate overall length of 6,458 yards.

With this is mind, Dave Dalton took the unusual step of arranging special putting sessions with Club Professional, Eamonn Brady, prior to heading west. "His advice was that the players should study each undulating putt from 360 degrees," said Dalton, keenly aware of the flat surfaces on home terrain.  Brady also made invaluable contributions to other aspects of the challenge, including matchplay strategy, as he had done during the 2008 campaign. 

As it happened, apart from fiendishly difficult greens,  Castlebar presented a less obvious but nonetheless intriguing problem. All five par-threes on the course are on even holes, second, sixth, 10th, 12th and 16th -  which meant that the same player would be hitting all of those tee-shots.  It also meant that if a manager opted for the more seasoned partner on these holes, his less experienced colleague faced was a nervy opening tee-shot down the par-four first, flanked by a menacing line of trees on the left. The situation was reminiscent of the 2004 Ryder Cup matches at Oakland Hills, where the par-threes on the South Course were the third, ninth, 13th and 17th - all odd numbers.  In the event, the Clontarf management handled this situation brilliantly.

Meanwhile, the entire exercise prompted mixed emotions in Club Captain, Brian Looby.  “Inevitably, memories of Monkstown in 2008 came flooding back,” he recalled. “On this occasion, however, I was obviously taking more of a back seat.  Still, it was seriously nerve-wrecking, especially the way our fortunes fluctuated in Saturday’s final.  To be honest, I was expecting the  Stones to win early on.  Instead, their match went to the 20th.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  First, there was Friday’s semi-final battle with Carrick-on-Suir, in which Sean and Conor Stone were top of the order.  And in terms of generating momentum for those in their wake, they could hardly have done a better job in a 4 and 2 triumph.  The second pairing of Ray Maguire and Adam Burke also won, while down at number four, Paul O’Brien and the seasoned Tony Duffy were in the process of ensuring overall victory.  Semi-final results (Clontarf 3½ Carrick-on-Suir 1½): Sean Stone and Conor Stone bt Liam Daniels and Brian Conway 4 and 2; Ray Maguire and Adam Burke bt Paul Cooney and William O’Brien 2 and 1; Frank Kellett and Bobby Doyle lost to John Ryan and Johnny Quinn 6 and 4; Paul O’Brien and Tony Duffy bt Noel Drohan and Kevin Barry 2 holes; Paul McLoughlin and Paul Kealy halved with Michael Curran and David Tuohy.

Almost inevitably the Stones, who went through the entire campaign with only one defeat, became the story of the final in which the Club faced formidable opponents in Tandragee, who had beaten Swinford by 3½ to 1½ in the other semi-final. Significantly, the outstanding golf had been produced by the Northerners’ top pairing of Gordon Haire and Johnny Quinn.  Against this pair down the short, 194-yard 20th - by which stage the Club Captain was on the road back to Dublin - Sean Stone happened to miss the green, only for 15-year-old Conor to chip dead for a conceded win.  Almost simultaneously, the winning point came on the short 16th from the anchor pairing of Paul Kealy and Paul McLoughlin, son of our late Club President, Kevin McLoughlin.  And a fine dollop of icing was added to the victory cake, when a brilliant, closing putt by Tony Duffy earned himself and Paul O’Brien a halved match at number four.   

Final results (Clontarf 3½ Tandragee 1½): Sean Stone and Conor Stone bt Gordon Haire and Johnny Quinn at 20th; Dave Cameron and Mark O’Flynn lost to Stefan Greenberg and Mark Bannerman 3 and 2; Maguire and Burke bt Ryan Harpur and Warren Jardine 3 and 2; O’Brien and Duffy halved with Ross Dutton and Stefan McNeill; McLoughlin and Kealy bt Emmit Nixon and Jeff Forde 3 and 2.

Jimmy Bruen Shield Winners 2010 - Clontarf GC

Clontarf Golf Club, winners of the Jimmy Bruen Shield in 2010, back row left to right, Paul Keely, Paul O’Brien, Adam Burke, Ciaran O’Donohue, Tony Duffy, Dave Cameron, Mark O’Flynn, Alan Stone, Graham Fahy, Sean Stone, Frank Kellett, Ray Maguire, Stephen Kealy, Bobby Doyle. Front row left to right, Paul McLoughlin, Conor Stone, Dave Dalton (Manager), Frances Hand (Lady Captain), Kevin McLoughlin (President), Sean MacMahon (President, GUI), Antoinette Starken (Lady Captain, Castlebar Golf Club), Seamus Smith (General Secretary, GUI), Mick Byrne (Club Captain, Castlebar Golf Club), Marty Carlin, (Territory Manager, Bulmers), John Farragher (President, Castlebar Golf Club).

 

“Stone duo swing it for class Clontarf” was the heading on Liam Kelly’s report in the “Irish Independent.” He then proceeded to inform his readers that “The family that plays golf together, wins together", by way of emphasising the special nature of the team’s personnel.  “It’s hard enough for an individual to feature on an all-Ireland winning team, but for father and son pairings to succeed at the highest level of club amateur golf in this country is truly remarkable. Take a bow dad Sean and son Conor Stone.” Kelly went on to  point out that Alan Stone and Graham Fahy had also contributed to a splendid squad effort. “It’s fantastic. We waited over 90 years for one of these [National Cups and Shields] pennants and all of a sudden, just like a bus, two come along almost together,” remarked Dalton with a smile which lit up that particular area of Co Mayo.              

Duffy’s nerveless 12-footer on the last characterised a performance which was hailed, even by neutrals, as a triumph for Clontarf’s  handling of treacherous greens.  All of which proved the value of Eamonn Brady’s work with the players and the astute management of Dalton and O’Donohoe. As for the Club Captain: “After getting the Stones’ result by phone, I could head off on holiday a very happy man,” said Looby.  “And I remember thinking what an extraordinary achievement it was, for a Club our size, with limited practice facilities, to compete successfully at all-Ireland level.  And I would later discover the wonderful Club-spirit which these triumphs engendered.”

Just so.