The withdrawal of favourite Gary Hurley and Irish Close champion John Ross Galbraith has come as a major disappointment to organisers of the Clare Coast Hotels South of Ireland at Lahinch, which begins this morning.
Hurley was 10/1 to claim the title but informed organisers yesterday he would not be playing due to exhaustion.
His absence and that of several others come as a huge blow to an event struggling for a high-class field for some years.
The decision of the talented 21-year-old West Waterford golfer is understandable as he has been competing on a weekly basis since emerging as the only amateur to make the cut in the Irish Open at Fota Island over a month ago.
This non-stop activity, much of it outside of the country, culminated in Hurley’s contribution of 5½ points from a possible six as he spearheaded Munster’s triumph in the Interprovincial Championship that ended at The Island on Thursday.
He had been favoured by the bookmakers to meet either Lahinch specialist and 2012 champion Pat Murray of Limerick or North of Ireland champion Chris Selfridge in Wednesday’s final.
The higher handicap brigade go into action today with much of the focus on Kilkenny man Paul O’Hara who pulled off a series of shock results last year before losing the final at the 19th to Simon Ward, now a professional.
O’Hara plays Paul Fitzgerald of Craddockstown, with the winner going forward to meet former finalist Michael O’Kelly of Limerick in tomorrow’s second round.
Today’s line-up also includes Joe Lyons of Galway, who enjoyed a successful interpro week with Connacht, and the 1987 champion Barry Reddan.
Two other veterans, Arthur Pierse and Eddie Power (whose son Mark is in the first round draw) go into action in the first quarter tomorrow.
Hurley’s absence should help the cause of two other stars of Munster’s interpro success, Geoff Lenehan and John Hickey, as well as Leinster’s Conor O’Rourke.
Three champions of the recent past, Robbie Cannon (Balbriggan), 2009; John Greene (Portmarnock), 2010 and Stephen Walsh (Portmarnock), 2011, are in the second quarter with Ulster interpro Colin Fairweather (Knock), a semi-finalist in 2012, and Leinster’s Daniel Holland.
Galbraith’s withdrawal may enhance the prospects of a quartet of Connacht interpros — Stephen Healy (beaten finalist two years ago), Sean Flanagan, Steffan O’Hara and Alex Gleeson (a semi-finalist in 2013) — in the third quarter where Shane Lowry’s brother Alan will garner attention.
Pat Murray and Chris Selfridge are the men to watch in the bottom quarter although this section is especially unpredictable, given the presence of Murray’s close friend Gary O’Flaherty, winner of each of his three singles in the interpros, and another highly rated Ulster golfer, Tiarnan McLarnan (Massereene).
The potential is there for five days of fascinating golf over the Lahinch links in its usual immaculate condition, with plenty of run on the ball after all the dry weather.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved