Kevin LeBlanc looks to tame wild West of Ireland Amateur Open in Sligo

Defending champion Jack Hume is the bookies’ favourite and Rosses Point’s Gary McDermott the home hope but young Dubliner Kevin LeBlanc could surprise some in the Radisson Blu-sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo.

The domestic curtain-raiser is always eagerly awaited but with Walker Cup candidates Gary Hurley and Gavin Moynihan missing this year, the list of potential winners is as long as the approach to Rosses Point’s dreaded 17th.

Victory for 33-year-old McDermott would be the first by a Co Sligo member since Cecil Ewing in 1950 while Hume is well aware that the last man to retain the title was Rory McIlroy in 2006.

The weather and the unpredictability of matchplay points to a new name on the trophy and while you can make a case for familiar names such as Balbriggan’s Robbie Cannon, Muskerry’s Niall Gorey (the last two beaten finalists) or Stackstown’s Richard Bridges, a growing band of young guns as well as a strong local challenge points to a new name on the trophy.

The Island’s Le Blanc is a 33/1 shot with the bookies and the 16-year-old Dubliner is not only a proven winner as he showed when adding the Junior Open to back-to-back wins in the Irish U15 Boys Championship, he’s gone out of his way to gain experience.

Having represented Ireland in the Youth Olympics in China last August, he chased world ranking points early this year by entering major 72-hole strokeplay events in Marbella, Mallorca and Sardinia and climbed more than 1,000 places in the World Amateur Golf Rankings as a result.

Now he’s asked Rosses Point native Jude O’Reilly — a vastly experienced caddie who’s worked for the likes of Christy O’Connor Jnr, Darren Clarke, Massy Kuramoto, Shigeki Maruyama and Henrik Stenson — to tote his bag this week.

“I can only learn from somebody like Jude,” said plus two handicapper LeBlanc, who qualified but lost in the first round on his ‘West’ debut as a 14-year- old two years ago. “Hopefully he can help me and I hole a few putts. But even if I have a bad week, I’ll come away from it knowing more about that game, thanks to Jude. The wind and rain won’t bother me, that’s for sure.”

The leading 62 players after two rounds of strokeplay qualifying will win places in the first matchplay round on Sunday, where they will be joined by Hume and Galbraith, who’ve been given byes having just returned from international duty in Argentina.

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