Ruby Anniversary of the first international match - Mick Forrest reflects
"They wouldn't pick a captain so they decided to give each of us a piece of paper to write down who we thought should be captain but you couldn't put your own name down," is Mick Forrest's 40 year old memory of how the Irish captain was to be selected for the inaugural Pitch and Putt encounter with England at Ierne.
"Andy Dempsey came over to me and he said not to bother writing anything down. We've had a chat among ourselves and we want you to be the captain," Forrest recollects.
"That was one of the nicest things that happened to me in Pitch and Putt - to be selected by your own team. And I was always captain after that." Mick Forrest proudly led Ireland into combat against England in that historic first-ever international Pitch and Putt match, which was played at Ierne on Sunday, June 7th 1981. And the Co. Cork native was Ireland's skipper in the ensuing games against the English, at Nuneaton in 1982, St. Anne's (Cork) in 1983 and at Coventry in 1984.
"They were golfers (one of them a two handicapper) and got ready by playing shorter holes, Par 3," recalls Mick of the England team. That England team fought hard on the hard on the day but the superiority of the Irish players at the Pitch and Putt discipline was evident in the eventual 12-0 scoreline in favour of the home side, at the famed north Dublin city course.
"Fantastic - a great character and a great player," says Forrest of his foursomes partner, Gus Carolan. Forrest and Carolan beat John Breen and Ian Bennett by 3&2 in the alternate shot format. Forrest was a 4&3 victor over Cliff Morgan in his singles match.
There were no specific published selection criteria for that all-conquering Irish side. "They put their heads together and decided who they thought were the best," explains Forrest, who was one of five existing (as at the time of the match) Irish individual champions. Two more of the team would become Irish champions in the future while Sean Breen was one of the most prolific winners at open tournaments across the country for decades. Breen was Ireland team manager at the 2006 World Cup.
Forrest describes the background to Pitch and Putt's first-ever international match. "There was a chap called Michael Devane from Little Island, (Co. Cork). He lived in Coventry at the time and was involved in Par 3. There was some contact between him and his brother here in Ireland and that was what how it materialised that four of us (Forrest, 1979 Irish Matchplay champion Kevin McDonnell and his 1980 successor Michael Collins along with Leinster champion Feichin Morgan) were invited to play in the English Midlands Par 3 championship at the St. Mary's course in Coventry." Talks at that 1980 Midlands event led to the landmark 1981 showdown at Ierne.
In a nod to the eventual EPPA/FIPPA rules, Forrest remembers that for that tournament, "We brought three clubs actually, a 9-iron too, because some of the holes were 120 yards. Michael Collins was runner-up."
Although there was no team manager per se in 1981, "Birchall was the man in charge," recalls Mick of the late Eamonn Birchall, who would go on to manage the Ireland team at the 2010 European Team championship. The team didn't meet in advance to prepare but they all knew each other very well from the circuit.
"Two great characters, the Lord have mercy on them," says Mick of a couple of colleagues on that 1981 team, who have passed to their eternal reward. Joe Fitzgerald (RIP) was Irish Matchplay champion in 1977 and 1981 and 1982 National Strokeplay kingpin. The late Jack McCormack won the All Ireland Strokeplay championship in 1985.
Mick, who still plays Pitch and Putt at Rocklodge with is great friend T.J. O'Riordan, is in good spirits (despite Covid-19 restrictions) and hopes to travel (with his wife Kathleen) to the USA in September to visit his family (three daughters and two sons) who all live Stateside.