A dominant performance from Castlebar saw them defeat Abbeyleix to capture the Pierce Purcell Shield as the September sun shone down on Knightsbrook.
Having advanced through quarter and semi-final stages without losing a match, the ten-man Castlebar side were hot favourites going into the final and didn’t disappoint as they extended their unbeaten streak to take top honours.
Castlebar team captain Shane Rice made one change from the side that defeated Lismore a day previous with Stephen Munnelly being brought in to replace Seamus Granahan, meaning that Johan Collins would play with his third different partner in as many days.
Despite retaining four of five pairings, Rice changed the order from the semi-final, sending Billy Evans and Ray Prendergast out first where they met Simon Walkin and Neil Condon. Then Sean Haugh alongside Senator Paddy Burke took on Martin Lawlor and Gavin Bonham, Tom Moylett and Declan Prendergast squared off against Mark Ring and Kevin Joyce, Tommy Lawless and Colin Dawson faced Anthony Collins and Pat O’Rourke, and Johan Collins and Stephen Munnelly versus Declan Clooney and Matt Thornton would be the final match.
In a similar vein to the previous rounds, Castlebar came racing from the blocks and took control in four of the five matches on the opening nine.
Burke and Haugh were first to register a point, securing a 4&3 win in the second match, with Lawless and Dawson soon to follow on a 5&4 scoreline. Despite a healthy lead in the third match, Moylett and Declan Prendergast found Joyce and Ring impossible to put away and it ended up being Evans and Ray Prendergast who would clinch the Shield victory on the final hole, with Prendergast holing a 15-footer when it looked as though Walkin and Condon would take the match to additional holes.
Afterwards, Rice spoke of the relief he was experiencing in the immediate aftermath. “I’m struggling to put it into words,” he said, “but I’m relieved. We’ve left a couple of All-Irelands behind us, especially 2019, and we’ve a lot of the same guys that played there on the team again this year.
“Myself and my vice-captain John Kelly started this process last October, believe it or not, looking at guys behind the scenes but not letting them know we were looking at them and we started setting up practice matches in March, went through a lot of practice matches, and we picked a squad where everybody knew their role in it, everybody was ready to win, and everybody was ready to step back and let someone else take their place if need be.”
It was no coincidence that the opening match proved the closest, as Prendergast and Evans pointed out after holing the winning putt. “I got no putt all day,” said Prendergast, “and I missed a few tiddlers out there, but we knew they’d go out strong number one so the captains decided to put us up there and hope we got their best pairing and we knew if we took them out then we’d be champions and that’s the way it fell. Luckily enough we were one-up playing 18 and to sink the winning putt….. We’re a few years waiting for this.”
When asked if they were aware of the importance of their tie as it transpired, Evans admitted that they hadn’t. “We had no clue,” he said, “I didn’t anyway. I didn’t even see the crowd that were coming with us.”
Prendergast, whose brother Declan and cousin Paddy Burke were also on the team, had the last word. “We knew we were in a dogfight today and those guys were two good golfers who hadn’t been past 14 all week, so we wanted to get them. And we did.”
Castlebar 4 – 1 Abbeyleix (Castlebar names first): Billy Evans and Ray Prendergast beat Simon Walkin and Neil Condon 1UP, Paddy Burke and Sean Haugh beat Martin Lawlor and Gavin Bonham 4&3, Tom Moylett and Declan Prendergast halved with Kevin Joyce and Mark Ring 5&4, Tommy Lawless and Colin Dawson beat Anthony Collins and Pat O’Rourke 5&4, Johan Collins and Stephen Munnelly halved with Declan Cooney and Matt Thornton