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  Paul O'Brien - Ten years since he helped Ireland defeat Catalonia at Tralee

fippa.org was delighted to catch up with 2007 European Team championship victor and 2008 World Cup winner Paul O'Brien about Ireland versus Catalonia for the International Challenge Cup, which was played a decade ago at Tralee, Ireland

fippa.org: What are your memories of the 2011 match between Ireland and Catalonia in Tralee?

Paul O'Brien: My abiding memories of that time was that the match was played a year late to the Ash Cloud of 2010. Luckily, we got to play the match in Tralee in the preceding days of the Irish Open that was held in Deerpark. We had a very strong team at that time, I would imagine some players wanted another crack at Catalonia after they had beaten Ireland in the previous European Championships. Tracey McGrath was Captain of the team that year and she was a fine captain. I remember she gave each player a bar towel with our names on them as a memento which was a lovely touch. She is missed on the ladies’ circuit; she was an outstanding player and I would hope she might return to the ladies’ game in the future. Ireland always assemble very strong International Teams but at home, it would take a brilliant team to beat us. I know the scoreboard showed we won that match easily but a lot of those matches were tight and could have gone either way.

Did you get together as a team beforehand to prepare?

We practiced the day before the match itself. We all know each other as players but trying to gel players who are used to competing against one another is always difficult to do. I had been in Tralee a few times before the match itself to prepare and while the game was played in early April, Tim Scannell and his team had Tralee in great shape for that match. Niall Reynolds was team manager and I know I would have spoken to Niall before the match in terms of potential partnerships. He was a very competent manager who let the players just get on with their games, a man that is sorely missed by all within the game.

You had played the Catalans before (in 2007 Euros). How did the 2011 team compare?

The 2007 team was a different atmosphere whereby in my opinion there is a big difference between a challenge game and a European Final. That match in 2007 was extremely close. It was my first-time playing against Catalonia and they were the best putters I have seen. I loved the environment; it was boisterous and partisan but played in great spirit. In 2011, a few of the Irish team (John Walsh and Ray Murphy) were on the receiving end of a loss to Catalonia in the previous European Championships so were determined to gain revenge. I knew Tralee would suit us as the greens are raised and the Catalans aren’t used to that type of pitching. That said, they sent a very strong team over to play us, but we were too strong for them at the time.

What happened to yourself and Frank Dineen in the fourballs?

To be honest, we just played poorly, we missed too many putts early on and were punished. We did rally towards the latter part of the match, but it was too little too late. The Catalans (Daniel Giménez and Enric Sanz)  played very well that morning against us to be fair, but we didn’t help ourselves by making mistakes.

Your link-up with Bryan Delaney was much more successful?

Bryan had recently won the All Ireland Strokeplay in Tralee and to be fair he pitched unbelievably well, and we won very easily but that match was more down to the playing ability of Brian than anything else. If memory serves me right, we birdied the first 11 holes, the majority of them were down to Brian’s tee shots and I just knocked in close putts. The Catalans (Marc Lloret & Marçal Moré) had no answer to us in that game, but Brian showed that day how good he really is and was to become in the years ahead.

Your overall opinion of international Pitch and Putt?

I have always enjoyed playing Internationally. I have met and made great friends through this side of the game. I have been part of great teams, who luckily for me, won big tournaments and I was always proud to have played a small part in those teams. When times change for us all, I would be hoping to play the Catalan and Dutch Opens as I have yet to play in them and I think it is a great chance for clubs to take a group of players to these type of events as there are an array of prizes available and they are good socially also.

You haven’t played for Ireland since. Is it an ambition to get back on the team?

Yes! In 2013, I changed jobs that had to curtail my involvement in the game because I was working away from home. I returned home properly in 2017 but I then injured my back playing in the County Matchplay, and I found it very hard to play after that. I suppose my technique doesn’t help a bad back! Once my surgery was successful, I wanted to get back playing to see if I can still compete. I have always loved to play Pitch & Putt for Ireland. Only a unique group of players have achieved it and I think I still have the game in me to get back to competing for places on the team.

How are you coping with the current enforced inactivity?

I have found it hard, no doubt about it. I am one of the luckier ones in terms as I am still working, albeit from home. I do some maintenance work with my club Lakeside and this has really been of benefit to me as it gets me out of the house, and I love helping on the course. The plus side of it, is that I get to spend a lot of time with my family and am not as busy as I normally would be outside of work so that has been a very positive thing.

Have you any tips about how Pitch and Putt players generally could cope the lockdown?

We have a small community within the game where most people know each other and always feed ideas to each other. One of the things I would like to see if people could assist in the development of their clubs’ facilities. We have so much expertise within the game in the likes of Brian Webster, Ger O’Connor, Paudie and Gary O’Sullivan to name but a few who are more than obliging in assisting clubs with their development. People may have some extra time on their hands, and I would be positive in saying that there is always work to do on your local course. Getting out and doing a bit of work in the fresh air, once one is socially distanced from others, has been of huge help to me personally. Clubs need help whether it's on committee or assisting on the course but if you have time, your club is more than willing to accept your help.