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Meet Jack McDonnell: The late bloomer enjoying a breakthrough year

by Ronan MacNamara

It’s been a breakthrough year for Meath’s Jack McDonnell who despite being a late bloomer has gone on to win the Dundalk Scratch Cup and play a crucial role in Ireland’s first Home Internationals win since 2017.

Golf wasn’t the 26-year-old’s first love. A keen footballer and soccer player for his native Ratoath he won numerous underage titles in GAA and played in the Premier Division of the Dublin District Schoolboys League until he eventually took up the game of golf when he was in secondary school.

McDonnell, who works in Citibank as a Client Executive still takes a huge interest in his local club Ratoath who are going for their third consecutive Meath Senior Football Championship title under the stewardship of former Royals sharp shooter, Brian Farrell.

“I was a late developer in golf,” he said. “I was more into the football and GAA.

“I started playing golf at around 14 and I was only a casual golfer then we got to a Leinster U15 final for Forest Little. I didn’t really play boys championships until I was 17 when I got down low enough but that first year was all missed cuts then I started to make cuts the following year,” he added.

While he didn’t catch the eye as a teenager like some of his peers, McDonnell began to realise some of his potential when he went to Maynooth University and plied his trade alongside some of the elite amateurs in Ireland at the time, which he said brought his game on leaps and bounds.

“I didn’t really kick on until I went to college in Maynooth.

“I was never on the full scholarship, I went in there when the likes of Robin Dawson, Sean Flanagan and Ronan Mullarney were there so I always competed with or against them which always helped.

“I had the membership to Carton House which was great, I went to the range most days and played the course most days, getting that experience was the main thing.”

The Forest Little player has enjoyed an excellent season, winning the Dundalk Scratch Cup, beating local favourite Caolan Rafferty in a playoff to take the title before making his Home Internationals debut for Ireland in England.

Winning a Scratch Cup is always an honour and McDonnell was proud to win one of the standout Scratch Cups in the country, despite being heavily outnumbered in more ways than one!

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Jack McDonnell by Golffile

“It was an interesting one, there was probably 40 or 50 Dundalk people walking down the fairway and it was just me against 50 others and when I holed the putt to win you could see them all just turn around and walk straight back up the fairway.

“Caolan was a good loser to put it that way, he wasn’t too disappointed he’s won it three times so I guess it was just my time. I’ve won plenty of scratch cups over the years but that was probably one of the premium scratch cups so that was great and there are some nice names on the trophy too,” he added.

McDonnell got the call to represent Ireland at the Home Internationals last month and despite not being able to win a championship this season, he feels his call up was recognition of the consistency he had shown in his performances.

“I was on the cusp of that team over the last few years and when you get to my age you feel like you have to win to get on that team which I hadn’t done, so to get on without winning showed the consistency I had throughout the year.

“I was surprised enough but people had been saying I would get it but you’re never sure until the call comes and it was a big rush with only a week in between the call and heading off, I never thought of what it means I never thought of winning or losing.

“The whole experience was just massive, you’re treated like God for the week, you don’t have to lift a finger, you go to the airport handed your boarding pass you’re gone, you land and they take the bags for you, the manager gets the rental car and you’re fed perfectly when you get there, steak dinners and whatever you want.”

His mother is from Mayo and his Dad from Roscommon so they live in Roscommon and he has been playing for Connacht for the last six years, debuting at Fota Island

Despite being born and bred in Meath and playing his golf in Forest Little and Laytown and Bettystown, McDonnell has forged a strong friendship with Rosses Point’s TJ Ford having played alongside him for Connacht at the Interpros over the last six years.

McDonnell is eligible to represent the west due to his mother and father living in Roscommon so the pairing with Ford at the Home Internationals made perfect sense and it came to fruition when they edged past their Scottish opponents thanks to some late birdies to tip the scale in their favour on the opening day of the Homes.

Making his debut alongside his friend the pair lost to Wales in their match on the second day before McDonnell picked up a crucial point in the singles against England on the final day as Ireland mounted a comeback after the morning foursomes.

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Jack O'Donnell by Golffile

The competition was played out to a dramatic climax, which almost saw Scotland snatch victory from Ireland despite not being involved in the match.

Tensions were at an all-time high on the 18th green as Liam Nolan secured the crucial point to give Ireland the title, but they were made to sweat as Nolan’s opponent saw a 15-footer to give England the win and Scotland the title slip by on the edge.

“I’m good mates with TJ. We play together for Connacht in the Interpros and we have similar games, we are both solid but that was our downfall in a way.

We would be very much par golfers but when you’re playing the Homes against the top lads abroad you need to be throwing in birdies. We got a few coming in against Scotland but the next day against Wales we never got any putts we were flat so it cost us. For both of us it was our first time playing so we didn’t know what to expect.

“Liam hit a great putt and left it on the edge from fifteen feet and then we were standing on the back of the green and then up on the bank with the Scottish team and we were all thinking your man is going to hole this and it was the easiest fifteen-footer you could wish for, straight enough up the hill and yeah, we were all kind of shook when it didn’t go in.

“We waited until the Scottish lads got off the hill and went back to the clubhouse and then we started celebrating, a few of them said they would rather we won it than England,” he added.

McDonnell is looking to finish a great season on a high by lifting the biggest trophy of them all, the Flogas Irish Amateur Open next week at the European Club in Wicklow. He feels being a member of ‘the tightest golf course in Ireland’ in Forest Little has him ideally prepared for the tough test awaiting at the Pat Ruddy designed links track.

“This year more than ever I’ve gotten more support in Forest Little, they are good supporters. I get texts from the Captain and a few of the members so that’s nice.

“It’s the tightest golf course in Ireland, the clue is in the name it’s cut out of a forest, it’s short but extremely tight.

“My driving never lets me down but after that it’s a different game, but driving is the main thing.

“If there was a tournament I would have picked to win at the start of the year it would be this one and being at the European Club is extra special.

“The course is so demanding off the tee which helps me and you have to go out there and grind out a score.

“I feel good heading to the Irish Amateur I like that grinding golf course so it doesn’t really matter how much links golf you play when it turns into a grind so I’m hoping it is blustery.

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Jack McDonnell by Golffile

“It’s been difficult this year I was a member in Laytown and Bettystown until this year so I used to prepare for links out there and I haven’t had that this year which has been my downfall as I haven’t played links golf that well. We’ve had three on the links the North, South and West and I haven’t played as well out there as I have on parkland so I must try get some practice in.

“Pat Ruddy always has it in great nick and it’s so tough off the tee and given the fact it’s in October you don’t know what weather you’re going to get so it could be even more demanding with the winds up and the rain coming in off the coast.

“It’s hard no matter what way you play it, I think seven to eleven is the hardest stretch so you need to start well and hang on around the turn.

“The last three holes can be tough depending on what way the wind is, but I can’t wait for it,” he added.

A late developer by his own admission, McDonnell has done everything but win one of the championships this season with three top-10s at the West, the Connacht and the Irish Men’s Close championship, and having made his breakthrough on the international front and with a Scratch Cup added to his CV he will head to Brittas Bay as one of the major players at the Flogas Irish Amateur Championship next week.

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