Golf

Ireland golfers to start favourites in Home International

Republic of Ireland's James Sugrue tees off the first during day one of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
Tony McGee

With three Walker Cup panellists and playing on home soil at Lahinch, Ireland must start favourites to win back the Raymond Trophy in the men's Home International this weekend, starting today.

Conor Purcell (Portmarnock), Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk) and James Sugrue (Mallow) have all battled their way into the Walker Cup selection for the upcoming test against the USA.

This trio have fond memories of Lahinch from their exploits at the South of Ireland Championship in recent years. Purcell won his first major championship at the South in 2016 while Sugrue succeeded him as champion in 2017 and, last year, Rafferty took the spoils.

Apart from that, Kinsale's John Murphy won the St Andrew's Links Trophy at the home of golf in 2018 while Dubliner Conor Purcell triumphed at the Australian Amateur Open in January this year.

New cap, Hollywood teenager Tom McKibbin, claimed the Peter McEvoy Trophy in April while Connemara's Luke O'Neill captured the German Boys' Championship in June so Ireland go out with a fine mixture of experienced and young talent that is sure to test the best that England, Scotland and Wales can offer.

As hosts, Ireland are bidding to win the title once more having triumphed at Royal Portrush in 2015 when the competition was last played in Ireland.

This time, the Irish seek to regain the Home International honours from England who emerged victorious at Conwy in Wales by just half-a-point, last year. Victory for England on the final day prevented an Irish five-in-a-row, the Irish having created their own piece of history, in 2018, by winning a fourth successive title.

Ireland's dominance at the Home Internationals in recent years reflects the quality of players coming through the GUI's coaching system. With six players currently inside the top 100 on the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Ireland's best players continue to maintain remarkably high standards. Within the last 12 months, Irish players have been victorious at some of the most prestigious events in the world.

Rob Brazill (22) from Naas is among four newcomers in the side. Like Colm Campbell, Brazill gained his cap automatically through the Bridgestone Order of Merit, which he won. Galway's Ronan Mullarney (23) also secured his place through the merit table.

Holywood's Tom McKibbin (16) is the youngest player selected. He has been promoted from the Boys' team after a year in which he has won the Peter McEvoy Trophy and the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley. Malone's Matthew McClean and Keith Egan from Carton House have also been selected for the first time following impressive seasons.

Sean Flanagan (Portmarnock) returns to the team having last played in the side at the 2016 Home Internationals.

Today, Ireland begin their bid to regain the honours as they play Scotland with defending champions England tussling with Wales.

The Irish team is: Rob Brazill (Naas), Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint), Keith Egan (Carton House), Sean Flanagan (Portmarnock), Matthew McClean (Malone), Tom McKibbin (Holywood), Tiarnán McLarnon (Massereene), Ronan Mullarney (Galway), Conor Purcell (Portmarnock), Caolan Rafferty (Dundalk), James Sugrue (Mallow).

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