Crowe swoops to stay in hunt

Charlie Mulqueen, Rosses Point

Through to the morning semi-finals are 20-year-old Brian McElhinney from the North West club in Donegal; Mark Ryan, 23, of Grange; Alan Dowling of Hermitage, the old man of the quartet at 32, and another 22-year-old, Darren Crowe from Dunmurry.

Crowe is the only survivor to have played senior golf for Ireland but in truth the destination of the title is wide open.

Yesterday’s play took place in cool, overcast conditions and saw the elimination of the last of 10 Swedes who began the championship on Friday.

Eighteen-year-old Steven Jeppesen was conquered in rather unlikely fashion by the redheaded Crowe who looked to be on his way out when he stood two down with two to play.

But he won the 17th with par when the Swede hooked his drive into a ditch, pitched to two feet for a birdie on the 18th and got home on the 19th where Jeppesen pulled his drive into the left hand bunker and eventually failed from eight feet for a saving par.

Clearly encouraged by this escape, Crowe was in great fettle in the afternoon as he raced into a five-hole lead after nine against Mullingar’s Des Morgan. There was never any doubt as to the outcome and Crowe, who finished second in last year’s East of Ireland and reached the semi-finals of the Close at Rosses Point in 2001, now looks a decent bet for the big breakthrough.

Indeed, once he completes his finance studies at Queens University in a couple of months, he may well improve sufficiently to make a significant mark for himself in the amateur game.

Crowe now meets Alan Dowling who has yet to play for Leinster but is a regular performer in the major championships. He has a Midland Scratch Cup win at Carlow to his credit along with a victory in the Luxembourg Championship. Dowling set himself a target of reaching the last 16 but has done a whole lot better.

He was in terrific form when disposing of John Morris in the third round while his match with teenager Robbie McCarthy was a close affair through the opening holes. But Dowling went two up at the turn and then more or less clinched the issue with a win in par at the 10th followed by a monster 70-foot birdie putt on the 11th.

Brian McElhinney has emerged from relative anonymity in recent times. A former winner of the Connacht Boys, he picked up the Connacht Youths Championship at Connemara a couple of weeks ago.

The air in this part of the world seems to appeal to him for he is now celebrating making the cut in the West for the first time in three attempts. He showed his class in yesterday’s quarter-final against Frank O’Donoghue with sparkling birdies at the fourth and fifth and another at the long 12th where he reached the green with a drive and four iron. He duly cruised home by five and four.

Plus one handicapper Ryan took the major decision last month to quit his job as a financier with Goodbodys Stockbrokers to play golf full-time. He already has a decent pedigree in the game having won the Irish Youths in 2001 while he partnered Connemara’s Derek McNamara to victory in the Belgian Nations Cup last year.

He also reached the semi-finals of the South at Lahinch where he went down to eventual winner Colm Moriarty.

“I like the outdoors, the office life was not for me,” smiled Ryan, explaining why he gave up such a fine job. “The big hurdle for me was to survive the qualifying rounds. Once I did that, I felt I could go all the way. I like this course.”

It certainly looked that way as he saw off Trevor Spence without undue difficulty after a series of one-sided quarter-finals that didn’t exactly set the blood racing.

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