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Into the West for the first major of the season

It’s youth to the fore in the quarter finals

They’re 17, 20 and 22-years old and with respect to more seasoned players like Colm Campbell, Des Morgan or Dan Holland or newcomers to top level such as Jonathan Yates, Caolan Rafferty or Cathal Butler, they will be worth watching at Rosses Point today.

Kevin Le Blanc, the former Junior Open champion from The Island, is gunning to become the youngest West of Ireland champion since Rory McIlroy won aged 16 a decade ago.

He now faces Co Sligo’s Stephen Brady — aka the giant-killer following his win over champion Jack Hume last year.

The local man gave repeat performance yesterday when he saw off North of Ireland champion and Irish international John Ross Galbraith 3 and 2 before beating Rathmore’s Ben Best 2 and 1.

The strong man in the bottom half of the draw remains 20-year defending champion Dermot McElroy from Ballymena, who is trying to become the first player since his Rory McIlroy in 2006 to retain the title.

Many fancied Stuart Grehan chances too but he couldn’t add the West to his East and South of Ireland win.

Having won in the morning, the Tullamore star was undone by County Sligo’s 20 year old “great white hope”, Sean Flanagan who dreams of following in the footsteps of illustrious former champions like McIlroy.

After leading the qualifying for the second year in a row — something McIlroy never achieved in his four appearances in the event — Flanagan can’t help dreaming of seeing his name in gold letters on the board in the foyer of the club.

It’s something that 2005 and 2006 winner McIlroy himself mentioned in a private video message sent to the members yesterday, apologising for missing the traditional dinner for champions of the previous decades and recalling his “very fond memories of the West and of County Sligo.

Focussing will be a challenge for Flanagan, who now faces a tough third round clash with Royal Dublin’s Richard Knightly, a former South of Ireland semi-finalist, with the winner to face Des Morgan or international Colm Campbell in a top half that also features the dangerous Castle man Daniel Holland.

Casual followers may spot a surprise winner in Naas Jonathan Yates, who has worked harder than ever on his game in recent months and now faces Kilkenny’s Harry Duggan for a place in the quarter-finals with Dundalk’s Caolan Rafferty once again involved in the latter stages of a championship following a 19th hole comeback win against Portmarnock’s James Fox.

Rafferty now faces Whitehead’s Matthew Kane, who also came back from an early deficit to beat former South of Ireland champion Stuart Bleakley 4 and 3.


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