John Gough admitted the disappointment of England failing to retain the Home Internationals crown can be tempered by the fact a team of rookies can only get better and has the mindset to come back fighting.
On a thrilling final day of golf action featuring the four home nations at Hankley Common Golf Club ,England followed up a win over Wales and defeat to Scotland by drawing the final match of the series 7.5-7.5 against Ireland.
That halved match allowed the Irish to win the title for the 19th time in their history having beaten both Scotland and Wales on the opening two days.
However, the drama went all the way to the wire.
England, Scotland and Ireland started the day knowing they had a chance to be victorious.
In the end, it all came down to the final putt of the final match on the final day.
Lancashire’s Callan Barrow watched his tricky 15-foot birdie putt for a halved game slip agonisingly wide of the hole.
Had that dropped then England – managed by team captain Gareth Jenkins – would have beaten Ireland, all three contending nations would have been locked together on match points and Scotland would have won the title on countback!
For English Amateur champion Gough, the week was bitter-sweet.
He went through the event unbeaten claiming five and a half points from six but is the ultimate team player and came to Hankley craving only an England win.
However, he remains convinced that a team featuring 11 newcomers to the Home Internationals’ stage can only draw from the tough experience of not bringing home the silverware.
He said: “I’m disappointed not to win the trophy this week, but as Gareth said to us after the dust settled we had 11 first time players and things can only go up from here.
“Team morale is as good as it’s ever been if not better and it’s only upwards from here.”
There was certainly evidence of that spirit in the morning foursomes against Ireland.
Still sore from being outplayed by Scotland on Thursday, England raced into a 4-1 lead against the Irish.
There were wins for the pairings of Gough and Olly Huggins, Sam Bairstow and Haider Hussain (pictured above) and Zach Chegwidden and Laird Shepherd.
Jack Dyer and Arron Edwards-Hill secured a halved match – Hill’s 45-foot putt on the 18th grazing the hole when it looked certain to drop for the win after Dyer had played a sensational seven iron from the rough and behind trees from 200 yards to set up the chance.
Jack Bigham and Josh Hill also supplied a half point to send England into lunch with a spring in their step.
The Irish, as expected, came out scrapping in the afternoon and the first match proved to be one of the best match play games ever to have graced the Home International stage.
Gough featured for England and was six under par to the turn – and still found himself one down to Robert Moran who had birdied seven of the opening nine holes!
The match ended in an honourable half on 18 with Moran firing a total of 10 birdies in his round to Gough’s seven as the pair both shot 64.
Gough added: “I have never played in a match like it – two players under 5 foot 6 as well! We played great golf.
“I was six under through nine and found myself one down which was a shock to the system.
“As sour as it is that we didn’t win the match it’s nice that neither of us won or lost that game. It deserved to be halved.”
Jack Dyer and Olly Huggins put points on the board for England as did Jack Bigham who continued to look at ease in the men’s set-up after stepping up from the boys’ squad.
Barrow showed his qualities too. Having been three down through 11 holes, he was just one down playing the last and battling away.
In the end, his birdie attempt on 18 snuck past the hole to bring the Irish joy and disappointment for both England and Scotland.
For team captain Jenkins there was frustration at not being able to make it a clean sweep for England teams at the 2021 Home Internationals staged by The R&A, but still plenty to take from the three days.
He confirmed: “My goodness what a great week of golf. To come down the last putt of the whole week summed it up.
“Not quite the week we were looking for but I think the boys have learned loads. It’s the first time they’ve experienced it and I think it’s been an eye-opener in a good way.
“We have coaching coming up now and it’s a great time to reset and think what we need to do to get better.
“Having said that I can’t fault their character and effort and the way they’ve approached this week. We just weren’t good enough this week.
“Credit to Scotland on Thursday and Ireland for their play this afternoon. Congratulations too to Ireland for winning the Home Internationals.”