For the most part, the conditions had been horrendous – gale-force winds and savage rain squalls which would have been enough to derail Tiger Woods.
Except this time, as opposed to the JP McManus Invitational two years ago, Tiger Woods wasn’t at Adare, and neither were 48 of the world’s top-50 players. A modest field for a modest event had to battle with the elements as well as a penal golf course, and the results weren’t pretty.
By last Sunday evening, only three players were under par, and over the four rounds, only a handful had managed to break 70. The galleries, which had braved the wind and rain, had come in the hope of witnessing birdies and eagles, but instead they had to watch middle-ranking European pros hacking it out of the dense rough and then putting for pars and bogeys.
Yet, despite the attractions of soccer’s FA Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester United on the Saturday, and of a bumper Gaelic football Sunday, the spectators still streamed into Adare with the numbers swelling to nearly 25,000 for the final round.
And no, it wasn’t an exercise in masochism. There was a reason, and his name is Padraig Harrington. No Irish player had won the Irish Open since John O’Leary in 1982, and with Harrington in contention, golf fans would have gladly turned up to watch the denouement on a pitch and putt course with a hurricane blowing.
Harrington wasn’t engaging in any blarney when he insisted that the Irish Open was fifth in his personal pecking order after the four major championships. If he managed to win his coveted national title, the achievement would be up there alongside his Ryder Cup and World Cup triumphs.
In the past, he had been runner-up twice, but against the backdrop of so many of Europe’s leading lights voting with their feet and staying away, this time he was the overwhelming favorite. In his career, Harrington has become used to dealing with expectation, but this was different.
So, when he went into Sunday’s final round three strokes ahead of Bradley Dredge and Simon Wakefield – not exactly names which trip off the tongue – the tournament was Harrington’s to lose. Or, putting it less politely, if he lost, he would never be forgiven.
By the turn, he was four clear. Now, surely the affable Dubliner, who has had 30 second-place finishes in his career, couldn’t contrive to blow this one. But as feeling of tension became more and more palpable, so Harrington’s game stalled.
Heading for the 18th tee, a tough par-five with water all down one side, the shift had been so dramatic that Dredge was now level. Both players finished with pars, and where once it seemed that Harrington was going to turn the event’s final hour into a victory procession, now we had a play-off.
This most certainly wasn’t in the script, but someone was smiling on Harrington as Dredge hit his third shot onto a muddy bank just above the water at the 18th. Even if Ireland’s first champion in 25 years had stumbled over the line, it didn’t really matter. John O’Leary watched the presentation, no doubt pleased that his dubious record had finally gone.
Significantly, Harrington believed that being able to deal with the pressure of a charged final day would in the end help him in his quest for a major title. “Because I’m so emotionally involved in the Irish Open, it’s perfect preparation for a major. I can’t ever see myself wanting to win a major more than I wanted to win this one.”
It was the shot in the arm Irish golf needed, and it was the shot in the arm the Irish Open needed. The event will return to Adare next year, and hopefully both the elements and the field will be better. One thing is for sure, Padraig Harrington will be back to defend his title.
Mayo lose abysmally
TO query if inter-county GAA managers have a fair bit on their plates at this time of year is like wondering if Bertie Ahern has anything in his diary for Thursday. Okay, a lot of the hard slog has been done in the dark evenings of winter, but come May, a manager earns his corn. Better make that, earns his out-of-pocket, fully-receipted expenses.
Heading into the summer, whether it be into the heart of the provincial championship action, the back door to the qualifiers, or the basement of the Tommy Murphy Cup, these are stressful days.
Watching a manager prowl the sideline as his best-laid plans come undone can be a painful business. You sometimes question whether he or his players feel the disappointment more.
At least, John O’Mahony has been through the hoop with Leitrim, Mayo and Galway. Bar Mick O’Dwyer, who long ago succumbed to the drug of planning, plotting and selecting, O’Mahony knows what is needed to be a successful manager probably better than anyone else currently on the circuit.
A shrewd tactician, as well as a strong motivator, O’Mahony went into last Sunday’s Connacht championship game against Galway knowing it wasn’t going to be easy. But also knowing that his team, Mayo, were well capable of consigning their bitter rivals to the qualifiers.
Even if they had crashed and burned in last year’s All Ireland final, Mayo had the talent, if maybe not the self-belief, to have captured the Sam Maguire. The way they swept Dublin aside in the semi-final was a fitting example of their ability to their many armchair critics.
On the back of a difficult league campaign, and with a couple of senior players missing from the starting line-up, O’Mahony and his charges were bound to be up against it, but no one, least of all the manager, was prepared for what was to follow.
In truth, Galway didn’t even have to be that good to win comfortably by seven points. Once Cormac Bane cut through for two first-half goals, they never looked in danger of losing their grip on the game. Meanwhile, Mayo were abysmal.
Able only to score a mere two points from play, they slumped to their heaviest championship defeat to Galway since the 1995 Connacht final. “There was only one team in it, and it wasn’t us,” said a dejected O’Mahony. “We just didn’t perform, and we have to work out why, and where we go from here. I know we’ll get a lot of negative reaction, but it won’t change our plans. We’ve got to think of the qualifiers, and we’ve got to find a way out of it.”
At the end of it all, O’Mahony looked wearier than some of his players; however, if they now have a few days to reflect, by the time some of you read this, their coach will probably know whether the Mayo voters have elected him as a TD for the county.
Not content simply to direct the football team, O’Mahony is also a Fine Gael candidate in the general election. By the end of this week, he might have just aged a bit.
ANOTHER well-known manager, Paidi O Se, who has toiled in the past with his native Kerry and with Westmeath, took Clare to Dungarvan for a Munster championship game with Waterford, and he left as the center of attention. For the wrong reasons.
Waterford hadn’t won a championship match for 19 years, and even if Clare were hardly going to be contenders for silverware come the autumn, this was a game they were strongly tipped to win. Next up, would be Kerry in the semi-final.
However, they failed as Waterford produced an impressive second-half display. So, the question was, with Clare destined to battle for minor honors in the Tommy Murphy Cup, would O Se stay or the helm, or would he quit?
Not surprisingly, O Se wasn’t forthcoming on his short-term future, and if anything, the speculation about his relationship with Clare shouldn’t have held center stage in the aftermath of what was a red-letter day for Waterford.
Their celebrations were as intense as if they’d won the Munster title itself. Admittedly, their performance wasn’t a thing of beauty especially during the first half, but Ger Power’s goal, and a fine individual display by Gary Hurney was enough to upset the odds and to end those 19 years of disappointment.