One club is a monster with brilliant organisation, a huge panel of top players and a clear vision for the future. And yet it was the minnows from the north Antrim coast who made the AIG Men’s Senior Cup an enthralling contest at lovely Tramore.
Carton House beat Cushendall 4-1 at the hugely underrated Waterford parkland and while it was a memorable day for Colin Cunningham, who finally walked away with a gold medal from his 11th All Ireland final with his son John on his bag, Cushendall captured the spirit of the competition.
As playing captain David Burns explained, just making it out of Ulster North was a huge achievement, never mind beating Lee Valley and Athenry to make the final.
“We couldn’t be prouder, coming from Cushendall in North Antrim, it’s traditionally hurling country and if you’re not playing hurling you’re looked at funny,” Burns said. “But hopefully now it’s hurling and golf country. We come from a nine-hole course, it’s 4,600 yards, so the achievement is ridiculous really.
“We’re like family, but the golf today by Carton was absolutely incredible. It was a joy to watch at times and I hope they really enjoy the celebrations tonight because they deserve it, but we’re both coming off the course feeling like winners.”
Mark McCambridge, manager of Cushendall, put it in perspective.
“Our combined handicaps are minus seven and they were plus 18. Cathal MacCanna was our lowest handicapper at plus two but we then had two off one, a two and two threes. So to come out of Ulster was incredible for us. Every team we played, the handicap difference was incredible.
“We wanted to give the boys a better match today but we are a small club with around 500 members and only six Senior Cup players. Most of our players haven’t even got handicaps low enough to get into the Championships.”
What a contrast that was to Carton House, who have spent a decade working to help get their players playing at the highest level possible so they would find Inter-Club competition less stressful and claimed their second Senior Cup in three years.
“We have a panel of close to 20 and every year we try to add people,” said Carton House captain Brian Cunningham, who had the luxury of being able to rest Leinster interprovincial Marc Boucher in the final and bring in the vastly experienced Cunningham. “We add Fred Daly players to the panel every year and get them playing with the lads throughout the winter.
“We had two Fred Daly players here this week, John Cunningham and Calum Ward, who played Interpros for Leinster. Lots of guys, such as Aidan Dooley and Colin had previous All Ireland finals experience with other clubs but you need that too. One of our goals a number of years ago was to get them all playing championship golf. They are used to holing that putt under pressure or playing with a card in their hand.
“Now you look at the Order of Merit and you see seven, eight or nine from Carton House. We help them out in a very small way with a per diem and there is a bursary for four or five guys so once they are junior intermediate golfers, they get supported. So I’d love to extend that a little bit.”
Cunningham (50), whose son John was a sub and caddied for him on the day, was thrilled to play on a winning team in an All Ireland Final at the 11th attempt after previous appearances with Mullingar, Grange and Carton.
“I’m more than twice the age of most of the lads but it’s great to win,” said Cunningham, who like Paul O’Hanlon was 4-up when called in. “To be playing and to win a gold medal is unbelievable.”
AIG Men’s Senior Cup
Quarter-finals: Lee Valley 1.5 Cushendall 3.5; The Island 2 Athenry 3; Lahinch 1.5 Tandragee 3.5; Carton House 4 Naas 1.
Semi-Finals: Cushendall 3 Athenry 2 (Cushendall names first): R McCambridge lost to D Kitt 6&5, C McLaughlin bt A Gilligan 19th, C MacCanna lost to D Mooney 1 up, D Burns bt S O’Connell 19th, A McGregor bt J Bernie Jr. 3&2.
Tandragee 1 Carton House 4 (Tandragee names first): J Hewitt halved with D Flynn, J Stothers lost to M Boucher 1 up, W Small halved with K Egan, R Dutton lost to A Dooley 7&5, S Greenberg lost to P O’Hanlon 3&1
Final: Cushendall 1 Carton House 4 (Cushendall names first): MacCanna lost to A Dooley 4&3, McCambridge lost to Flynn 6&4, McLaughlin halved with C Cunningham, Burns lost to Egan 8&6, McGregor halved with P O’Hanlon.