New caps primed for Home Internationals at Lahinch

​​​​​​Ireland host the Home Internationals at Lahinch (11-13 September) hoping to repeat 1987 success at Co Clare links

  • 08 September 2019

Picture: Ireland's four new caps at the Home Internationals - Tom McKibbin, Robert Brazill, Keith Egan and Matthew McClean | Cashman Photography

By various routes, Ireland's newcomers have made their way to the Home Internationals at Lahinch.

Two years ago, Malone's Matthew McClean had fallen out of the world rankings. Teenager Tom McKibbin, then 14, had not even featured for Ireland Boys while Naas dynamo Rob Brazill was only beginning to compete seriously. Kildare native Keith Egan, completing his final year at Clayton State University, played only in the States that year -- out of sight and out of mind as regards international selection.

This week, all four players enjoy the same distinction. They are the new caps for Ireland at the Home Internationals.

"This is class," enthused Brazill, 22. "I cannot wait to get it going."

Egan, who played alongside him on the victorious Leinster team at this year's Interprovincial Championship, expressed similar sentiment.

"Around this time last year I found out the Home Internationals was going to be in Lahinch so I made a special effort to try and get here," Egan (26) revealed. "I'm delighted to be here more than anything."

For McClean, the journey has been especially satisfying.

"The last year and a half I've played golf full time so it's nice to see some reward for that," McClean stated. "One of my goals was to make the Ireland team last year and it didn't work out so it was my main goal this year. It's nice to get the call up."

Holywood hotshot Tom McKibbin (16) has been promoted from the Boys team for this week's matches. 

"It means a lot," said McKibbin. "It should be a really good week. I've been really looking forward to it these past few weeks. This has been a goal of mine this season. To be on the team is pretty special."

Ireland play Scotland first as the host side seek to reclaim top spot among the home nations. Last year England swept to victory on the final day, preventing a fifth successive win for the boys in green. 

Once play begins on Wednesday morning, each player's mission is to win as many points as possible. But to play on this stage has added significance first time around.

"Two years ago I would not have seen myself in this position, not at all," Brazill admitted. "I'm more focused about everything when it comes to golf. Three years ago, I made a conscious decision. Golf wasn't really number one, I preferred to be on a football pitch so I made a decision I might as well give golf a crack and see what happens."

Victory at the West of Ireland in 2018 gave Brazill impetus. Steady improvements since that breakthrough win have propelled him into the national team.

"The bad shots are so much better now," he suggested. "Two years ago I had a miss that could put me in a different county. Now I am a lot more controlled with what I'm doing. My putting has come on massively. It's all gotten better. I didn't put as much thought into my golf back then. I took it as more of a hobby but now I want to make it a career path."

Since his return from the United States in 2018, Keith Egan has successfully juggled sport and career. A gym manager and personal trainer, the 26 year old credits coach Gavin Lunny for the progression in his game.

"Attention to detail is massive with Gavin," Egan insisted. "Small things like how I approach practice. My setup. I work in the fitness industry. Even people who are in that industry need a coach too."

Egan initially joined Clayton State University, a Division 2 college in Atlanta, as a dual scholar, playing soccer and golf.. After graduation in 2017, Egan spent a further 12 months working in the States before returning home. This year he played a full season in Ireland for the first time since 2011.

"My main objective was to play more events," Egan recalled. "When I get time to practice, I make the most of my time. When I roll up to play in a lot of the championships, I'm a lot more confident in what I'm doing rather than anxious about my game."

Egan boasts a strong track record around Lahinch. A beaten semi-finalist at the South of Ireland in 2015, he reached the final day again this year, losing out to Sean Desmond in the decider. 

"I'm confident that I can win any match around here," he declared. "Main thing is to win my match against Scotland in the morning. Six points is the dream."

Like Egan, Matthew McClean's passage to this point has been far from straightforward. The 26 year old from Malone qualified as an optician four years ago but professional demands curtailed golfing ambitions.

"I lost my world ranking because I didn't play any competitive golf," McClean disclosed. "I had to do a year of professional exams and it was just too much work to play golf at any sort of competitive level so I just said I would take the two years out. I still played social golf. I came back at the start of last year."

McClean, a consistent performer this season, has worked diligently since devoting his full attention to the game: "I think my putting and short game is sharper because I'm doing more practice. I don't have as many misses. I've been working to have one shot, a fade. If I'm going to miss it, I know I'm going to miss it right. If you can take out the left side of the golf course, you've got one less thing to worry about."

A season that began with victory at the prestigious Peter McEvoy Trophy culminates with full international honours for Holywood's Tom McKibbin. The rising star of Irish golf earns his first Senior cap at Lahinch.

"I couldn't wait to come down and play with all the lads," McKibbin effused. "Yesterday [Monday] was my first time at Lahinch. I had never played it before. It was unbelievable. It's really spectacular. Some great tee shots and it's in phenomenal condition as well."

Paired with Colm Campbell (32) for Wednesday's foursomes encounter with Scotland, McKibbin's partner is twice his age. Not that it bothers him.

"It's been great playing with Collie," he maintained. "He's obviously played in a lot of these (Home Internationals) and won so it's great to have his experience there."

Should Ireland win the Home Internationals for the fifth time in six years on Friday, the week will feel complete.