Kinsale had no template for success so they created their own

​​​​​​Kinsale GC made history in 2018 by winning their first GUI pennant and although it has taken time, their All-Ireland breakthrough is no accident

  • 07 November 2018

Picture: Paul Shanahan celebrates holing the winning putt for Kinsale in the All-Ireland Final of the AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield | Cashman Photography

In Kinsale Golf Club, the junior programme has been taking shape for a decade and more but it is only this year that something tangible has been achieved. This season has been laden with trinkets - medals, pennants, trophies - and their summer collection shall winter well on the walls inside the clubhouse.

Cabinet displays stand statuesque, a permanent reminder of these glory days. They shed light on the club and the journey taken. Ger Cullinane, Kinsale's juvenile officer since 2004, flicked a switch 14 years ago, turning the club on to the possibilities of developing their own player pathway and the gains that could come from investment in juniors.

Competitive by nature, Cullinane had his Eureka moment playing an inter-club match against rivals with as many players under 40 as they had over. In other words, all of them.

Says Cullinane, "I looked at other clubs around Cork and thought: If they can produce golfers, why couldn't we?"

Seed sown, he proceeded to canvas the club for support. Coach Ian Stafford was integral, one of the vital cogs, and once they had imprimatur from the management committee, wheels were in motion.

Summer camps opened the door for players as young as seven. Turning 10, membership openings became available but you had to take five lessons with Stafford before gaining access to the course.
Junior competitions, previously unheard of, were soon regular fixtures and once your handicap dropped to 16, there was a spot for you in all fields provided an adult member marked the card. Kinsale, to the members' immense credit, did not place restrictions on prizes the way so many clubs do. Captain's and President's prizes apart, a youngster could win any competition and not just a junior category. And members had the foresight to recognise how valuable it was to have such capable young fellas in their ranks.

"Structures are the big thing," Cullinane believes. "It's amazing what structures can do."

Gerry Waldron has now joined with Cullinane to make the juvenile position a joint role. Coach Stafford has also worked tirelessly and under his watch, a raft of players have come through and not just those talented enough to make it in any game. As proud as the club are to see John Murphy wearing the green of Ireland and Cathal Butler in the line for Munster, the same satisfaction comes from watching others max out their potential at different levels.

"I get as much of a kick out of the Jimmy Bruen and lads at that handicap," says Cullinane, who has spent time managing the low men in Senior Cup and Barton Shield these past two years.

In the AIG Barton Shield this year, Cullinane guided a team of Butler (21), Eric Rumley (20), Keith Fitzpatrick (26) and Gary Ward (21) to Munster success - the club's first provincial title - which meant that after 106 years of golf in Kinsale, the club finally had a pennant to their name. Three days later, they added a second.

Their victory in the AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield provided a stage for players like Rhys Reynolds, James Walsh, Robert Walsh, Keith Webb and John Whyte to shine. They too have emerged from within. Little wonder the club travelled in numbers to support both teams at this year's All-Ireland Finals in Thurles.

John Murphy, now an undisputed star on the international stage following a season in which he won the St Andrews Links Trophy and represented Ireland at the World Amateur Team Championship, was one player who could not be there. By the time Thurles rolled around, he was back in Louisville, Kentucky to resume the life he leads as a college golfer in the US. Although not there in person his spirit still ran through the team.

His clubmates gathered in Thurles the Wednesday night (3 October) before their semi-final match with Dundalk and when they looked at their phones they had an unexpected delivery. For each of six players, Murphy had composed a lengthy WhatsApp message detailing their various strengths; great shots they had played and would play the following day.

"I got an essay from him," Cathal Butler reveals. "He's some man."

For all that Murphy wished it, Kinsale could not will it but their defeat to Dundalk did not really detract from what had been achieved. It definitely did not dampen the club's enthusiasm. On Saturday Kinsale were back in Thurles for the final of the AIG Jimmy Bruen Shield, some 200 supporters congregating to witness scenes so much sweeter.

"There was massive euphoria within the club," says Cullinane reflecting on that final success against Hermitage in which Paul Shanahan holed the winning putt at the conclusion of a heart-stopping encounter. Shanahan struck the decisive blow on the 19th to tilt the balance 3-2 in Kinsale's favour.

Team manager John O'Neill captured the mood: "I am delighted for all the fellas here and those who came before us and those who will come after us. Hopefully, that has blown the door open now for Kinsale to come through in everything else."

With so many fine players among their ranks, it seems unlikely Kinsale will have to wait so long again. Either way, the sparkle from 2018 will never wane.