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  Tom Hanley and Kieran Earls - Victory at the International Pairs

Tom Hanley finished eleventh with club colleague Mark Ryan at the 2015 International Pairs. A disappointing fourball round of 53 scuppered their chances, having trailed by just three overnight.  Tom was thirteenth with another club colleague Michael Darcy the previous year.

Kieran Earls finished fourth in the inaugural Galicia Open in 2012. Earls then placed second in the successive Catalan Opens of 2014 and 2015.  Kieran lost the 2014 play-off to Jordi Serra and was four strokes behind fellow Irish player Liam O'Donovan at Lleida the following year.

The Limerick Masters may not attract the country wide entries that were evident in the halycon days of the 1980s but it's still a prestigious title on the Irish Pitch and Putt circuit. The bond that existed between Kieran Earls (Parteen) and Tom Hanley (Bruff) stimulated by international trips abroad was strengthened by the marathon play-off they contested for that particular tournament in 2015. Eleven extra holes were needed before Kieran prevailed.

Earls and Hanley weren't regular pairs partners but a September 2016 foursomes round formulated a plan that led to international glory just two months later. Kieran Earls (Parteen) and Tom Hanley (Bruff) scored three under par at R.G.S.C on 11th September. That helped Limerick to joint sixth place in the All Ireland Inter-County championship but bigger challenges lay ahead.

In November 2016, Tom Hanley and Kieran Earls scored 138 to win the Catalan International Pairs at Sant Cebria. A crucial factor in that 24 under par aggregate return was a fabulous 42 in the opening round Greensomes. “We dovetailed very well and we fed off each other very well on Saturday,” recalls Tom Hanley. Four under par in the foursomes left Hanley and Earls on 92 at the end of the first day's play.

Past International Pairs tournaments have featured clashes between Irish and Catalan teams.  The 2016 event evolved into a match between two Irish teams. Dubliners Stephen Murray and Paul McGreal of the Old County club got pretty close at one stage on Sunday, having trailed by four overnight. “McGreal came out of the blocks very well and Murray got a ‘oner’ to get them back to one with six to play,” said Tom of the Old County men. “We won three of the last six to pull away.”

Kieran’s succinct reaction to their three shot success was, “European doubles champions! Over the moon and celebrating!” Tom identifies a critical moment in the win. “On the 10th hole on Sunday, I had to make a five-footer for par to stay one ahead and we birdied the next two.” Murray (the 2010 Irish Open runner-up) and McGreal eventually returned 45for the fourball. Their 141 aggregate left them two clear of the best Catalan pair - Carlos Perez and Sergi Andres.

Tom Hanley is an admirer of the Sant Cebria course, which replaced Lloret Papalus as the host for the International Pairs in 2016. “It was a fine course, probably the first Spanish course that I’ve played that is very similar to courses in Ireland.”

Earls and Hanley are not the first Irish team to win the International Pairs. Did they receive any counsel from Pacelli Darcy and Liam O’Donovan (as former winners in 2014)? “No, just a bit of slagging on the practice round,” laughs Tom. “We visited the bamboos a few times, out of bounds!”  They learned quickly and their 138 is the record low winning score at the International Pairs.

Haney, the 2015 Munster Gents Matchplay champion, isn’t shy about dishing out some guidance though! “I do remember giving one of the former winners a bit of advice going down the straight of the European Singles. He was taking in a bit of air!” That was a reference to his friend and regular Pitch and Putt traveling companion Liam O’Donovan. O'Donovan ultimately finished fifth at Sant Cebria alongside his long-time sidekick Pacelli Darcy, five adrift of their Co. Limerick neighbours.

One can never undervalue the significance of a good base on overseas Pitch and Putt trips. “We stayed in the H Top Calella Palace,” explains Tom. “It’s a five-minute drive from the course. I would highly recommend it to anyone playing in the Catalan Open next year.” The popular early season Open returns to Sant Cebria in 2017.  The Maresme county course previously hosted the event in 2010 along with the 2002 Catalonia v. Ireland encounter.

As befitting the social ethos of Pitch and Putt, Kieran and Tom enjoy the company of the Dutch and Catalan players on the international circuit. “The Catalans are very friendly and welcoming. The Dutch are like the Irish – like their few pints and always up for the craic!”

Tom Hanley anticipates being back to defend next year (a new host venue is being considered) and he and Earls plan to play in the new World Pairs. “I’m hoping to play the Catalan Open in Sant Cebria in April and going to try for the double - European and World Champions - in June.” As a former two-time Catalan Open runner-up, Kieran Earls will join him on that odyssey.