15 August 2023
~6 minutes read
A Slice of Life: Niall MacSweeney talks what it means to captain Ireland
By Daragh Small
It’s been another outstanding year but the wheel never stops turning and this weekend Niall MacSweeney goes to Malone to peruse over the AIG Irish Men’s Amateur Close field.
The Oranmore man only returned home late last weekend on the back of another inspiring performance at the R&A Home Internationals where Ireland were pipped by England in the final match.
Meanwhile, a trio were beginning their journey in another US Amateur as the rest of the contingent at home prepared for one of the biggest domestic events of the year.
“If you go down through history the Irish Close was probably one of our most prominent events for many years, there was a time when we didn’t actually have an Irish Amateur Open,” said MacSweeney.
“The best players through the history of Irish amateur golf have won the Irish Close. You know guys like McGinley and these, they have decorated careers post their amateur career but the stepping stone was winning the Irish Amateur Close.
“What a story Quentin Carew was when he was last man in qualifying and went the whole way and was a very deserving winner of the 2022 Close.”
This year the format has changed to 72 holes of stroke play, another intriguing subplot as Ireland’s elite take on one of the best parkland has to offer here.
Another of the top inland golf courses in Ireland is in Galway, where Athenry Golf Club boasts a mixture of parkland and heathland.
And it’s where MacSweeney spends much of his most precious time these days.
“My wife, Ciara, is a member here as is my youngest son, Eoghan,” said MacSweeney.
“At this stage when I’m not involved in events with Golf Ireland, just playing nine holes on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening with them probably gives me more enjoyment than I ever had on the course.”
MacSweeney grew up just over five miles away on the Coast Road between Oranmore and Galway City.
He went to school at St Joseph’s ‘The Bish’ in Galway and went with the general trend there, playing everything from hurling to rugby. He went on to represent Liam Mellows and Corinthians and soon followed his uncles into golf.
Athenry Golf Club relocated to Palmerstown near the town of Oranmore in 1977 and MacSweeney soon joined up with his father Dermot.
“Some of the members at the time encouraged my dad to join, so I tagged along,” said MacSweeney.
“My dad passed away a couple of years ago but he would have got a great buzz out of playing in the seniors. He spent over 20 years playing and involved in the senior golf here in the club and found a fantastic social engagement out of it.
“It’s been very important for me because it introduced me to golf originally. I went away for a couple of years and rejoined in the early 90s when I relocated work back to Galway.
“I’ve played competitive golf here. I have a lot of friends here. I have learned a lot about life here through being involved on committees for a long number of years and sometimes holding minor roles to some of the more prominent roles in the club, so it’s a huge part of my life.”
MacSweeney represented Athenry throughout the ranks, his face is a noticeable constant across the walls in the clubhouse with successful teams from over the years.
He was part of a victorious Junior Cup winning side in 2000, he later captained the Athenry team to win the club’s first Connacht Senior Cup title. Subsequently there were provincial honours and he began to get involved with Connacht underage sides and then the senior men’s team.
In 2011, MacSweeney managed the Connacht Men’s team to win their first interprovincial title in 28 years at County Sligo Golf Club. He worked his way up to the national setup and was appointed Ireland captain in 2022 for a three-year term.
MacSweeney, who is a Senior Financial Consultant specialising in Mortgages, knows he is lucky to have the flexibility afforded to him by Permanent TSB.
And along with Golf Ireland High-Performance Director, Neil Manchip, coach Michael Collins and selector John McKinstry, MacSweeney is in the thick of another busy campaign.
“Throughout any given season we will make it our business to travel to and watch as many tournaments as we can and that can be domestic or overseas,” said MacSweeney.
“We have a number of teams to select during the year that could be the Octagonal Invitational in January, the Euro Nations in April and then the big ones would be the European Team in July or Home Internationals in August and then later on, when it is being played, the World Amateur Team Championships for the Eisenhower.
“So there’s different teams, different numbers on each team it can vary from a three person team to a nine person team, there’s selection criteria involved.
“Then if it’s a judgement call we look and review player performances we look at the stats, look at what we actually saw in person and collectively we come to a decision and select what we believe to be the best team to represent Ireland in any given tournament at that time.”
The AIG Irish Men’s Amateur Close is another major week in the calendar and MacSweeney will travel to Malone with plenty to ponder over.
Last year Castleknock’s Carew provided the fairytale finish as he got the better of North and South of Ireland champion Hugh Foley to capture his first major win.
And while MacSweeney watches on, looking towards future Irish selections, he knows he is in a dream position witnessing the best amateur golfers around while wearing the Irish green.
“It was a fantastic honour for my family and for my club to get the captaincy,” said MacSweeney.
“It was also kind of an acknowledgement of work done over the previous years that people could see the interest that I had and the ability to do the job.
“But to captain your country at any level is an incredible honour and one that I don’t take lightly. It brings a lot of responsibility with it as well because you do have an influence over player career paths and that type of thing, you do have to make very difficult calls at times.
“It is a fantastic honour and I’ve another year or more to go yet in the role but I can tell you now, looking back in 20 years’ time it’s something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”