Last Sunday saw a unique situation for Collinstown’s Player of Year competition. Never before had 4 senior players qualified for the semi-finals. It was probably no coincidence that these same 4 players were on the Westmeath Inter-County team of 2013 and also members of the Collinstown team that won bronze at the National Club Championships this year. No there is no doubt that all 4 of these players hit a rich vein of form in the 2013 season. As such this made predictions for the outcome of this event, an impossibility – thus I stayed away from doing that!!
The opening semi-final was between this year’s county team captain Michael Buckley and the ever-consistent John Browne. These two players have and many ding-dong battles in the past, and both knew that this match would not be won cheaply. Browne started off pitching extremely well but failed to convert some early chances. Even still he held a one hole advantage after 7 holes. Browne then found top gear though and rattled off six birdies on the trot to go 6 up after 13. Mick was never going to give it up that easy though and started making birdies himself. The opening 18 holes finished with Browne still 5 ahead after shooting 10 under par for the round. Both men swapped birdies for fun in the opening 9 holes of the second round but Buckley could not make any inroads on the lead. Eventually Browne closed out the match on the 11th hole to qualify for the final.
The second semi-final pitted the man whose form exploded in the second half of the season, Alan Hanlon against the course specialist and defending champion Liam Buckley. Again this was a match of the highest standard. Hanlon exploded into an early lead pitching close on several of the opening holes. An 8 under par opening 18 holes gave the Dublin born man a 4 hole advantage. He held onto this for the opening 7 holes of the second round but the Buckley onslaught was still to come. Liam birdied 7 of the next 9 holes in a valiant attempt to rescue the match. Alas it was in vein though as Hanlon matched almost everything he did. Alan eventually followed Liam’s birdie putt in on the 16th to win by a 3&2 margin.
So that left it a Browne V Hanlon final. It promised to be a cracker and it did not disappoint. Hanlon again stormed away at the start winning the opening 2 holes. However Browne put an immediate stop to this by nearly holing from the tee-box on the third. Browne also won the 6th to tie-up the match at all square. Browne stitched the 9th and Hanlon was extremely unlucky not to do the same as his shot bounced off the flag to 10 feet away. Hanlon missed the putt giving Browne a one hole advantage after 9. A good birdie on 14 turned this into two holes up. But then Hanlon kicked into overdrive. A run of 11 under par for the next 14 holes turned his two hole deficit into a 4 hole advantage with just 8 to play. In this spell Hanlon had holes-in-one on the 7th and 10th.
And yet Browne was not beaten. Birdies on the 11th and 13th took the match back to just two in it. Browne missed a decent chance on 14 to get it back to one and knew that he might regret that one. Hanlon made a superb birdie on 15 (his 4th birdie of the day on this difficult hole) to go dormie 3 up with 3 to go. Browne made birdie on 16 though to reduce the deficit and when he pitched to two feet on 17, again Hanlon was asked the question. But again this great man of pitch and putt had the answer. He pitched inside Browne’s ball to leave himself the easy task of rolling in the winning putt. Hanlon’s total of 15 under par for the final to win by a margin of 2&1 showed the level of pitch and putt that both men produced in this classic final.
Alan as always was very humble but articulate in his speech. He had high praise for the Buckley brothers for setting the bar so high in Collinstown and he had equally high praise for the level of pitch and putt that Browne is producing these days. He explained that it was this high level in Collinstown that helped him in his rebuilding of his own game. He praised the course and committee and showed genuine joy in once again winning this prestigious cup.