Birdie blitz keeps Dermot McElroy on track to retain West

It takes blood, sweat and tears to win a championship, and holder Dermot McElroy saw all three, both literally and metaphorically, as he battled his way into the semi-finals of the Radisson Blu sponsored West of Ireland Amateur Open at County Sligo.
Birdie blitz keeps Dermot McElroy on track to retain West

The 22-year old from Ballymena birdied five holes in a row from the 12th to beat Kinsale’s Cathal Butler 3 and 2 in the last 16 before being forced to finish birdie-birdie to beat the ultra-talented 17-year old Kevin LeBlanc by two holes in the afternoon.

As Colm Campbell ended the dream of Co Sligo’s Sean Flanagan to set up a meeting with Castle’s Daniel Holland today, McElroy now face the talented Naas ball-striker Jonathan Yates as he bids to become the first player to retain “the West” since Rory McIlroy in 2006.

The McElroy-Le Blanc clash was a humdinger worthy of the final itself as the youngster from The Island refused to go away, even when clearly in shock after drawing blood when he hit a middle-aged Donegal man full on the head with his approach to the 11th.

The match was level at that stage but a clearly shocked Le Blanc hit a poor chip to 30 feet as an ambulance was called. He somehow pulled himself together to hole the putt and halve the hole but he wasn’t quite himself on the next and McElroy birdied to go ahead and never relinquished that lead.

Still, the holder needed to display some impressive short game skills to keep his nose in front, pitching into the bank when short sided at the 16th and holing the seven foot putt to go up the 17th with the slimmest of leads.

When he hit a 220-yard two iron into base of the hill at the 17th that rolled back to finish two feet from the flagstick, he looked home and dry. But LeBlanc holed an unlikely 50 footer across the famous green for a half in birdie to take the match up the last.

He missed a 20 footer for birdie there, however, and McElroy cruelly holed from 10 feet for a two-hole win that was as exciting as it was entertaining.

The victor had nothing but praise for teenager Le Blanc, who had eased past County Sligo’s Stephen Brady by 7 and 6 in the morning.

“He’s a very, very good player, very talented,” McElroy said generously. “He didn’t really hit a bad shot. A super player with a lot of potential and a very good temperament. He will be winning these here with ease in the future.”

McElroy faces 22-year old UCD student Yates in the semifinals — his roommate last night — following the Naas man’s 6 and 5 demolition of Whitehead’s Matthew Kane.

“This is more of a surprise to other people that it is to me because I have had a few runs,” said Yates, who lose to Paul Dunne in the 2013 Irish Close semi-finals. “I have won four college events and the Midland Scratch Cup in the last year, so it has been coming.”

He faces a very tough match with former East of Ireland winner Campbell, who aced the fourth from 178 yards in the morning, but had to birdie the last from 20 feet to beat Des Morgan by one hole, Campbell was playing so well that he also parred the ninth and birdied the 13th and 16th to play the four par-threes in just eight strokes.

In the afternoon, he was in equally devastating form as he went four up after six holes and then made no mistakes to hold off a courageous fightback from Co Sligo’s Flanagan, winning on the 16th to set up a semi-final match with 26-year old Holland from Castle.

A former Mullingar Scratch Trophy winner and Leinster Interprovincial, Holland came with low expectations but after 2 and 1 wins over Aaron Grant and Gavin Fitzmaurice, he said: “I can do it here. It’s in me.”

Third round:

S Flanagan (Co Sligo) bt R Knightly (The Royal Dublin) 2/1; C Campbell (Warrenpoint) bt D Morgan (New Forest) 1 hole; G Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick) bt T Coffey (Slieve Russell) 3/2; D Holland (Castle) bt A Grant (Dundalk) 2/1; K Le Blanc (Island) bt S Brady (Co Sligo) 7/6; D McElroy (Ballymena) bt C Butler (Kinsale) 3/2; J Yates (Naas) bt H Duggan (Kilkenny) 5/4; M Kane (Whitehead) bt C Rafferty (Dundalk) 3/2.

Quarter-finals:

C Campbell bt S Flanagan 3/2; D Holland bt G Fitzmaurice 2/1; D McElroy bt K Le Blanc 2 holes; J Yates bt M Kane 6/5.

Today semi-finals:

8am Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) v Daniel Holland (Castle); 8.15am Dermot McElroy (Ballymena) v Jonathan Yates (Naas).

Final in afternoon.

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