Winter prep pays off as Kearney leaps to within two on EuroPro

Niall Kearney is just two back and relishing the opportunity to contend first time out this season after he posted a five-under par 68 ahead of the final round of the EuroPro’s IFX Payments Championship at Brocket Hall.

The Royal Dublin professional, who spent the winter months honing his skills in Thailand ahead of another year in the paid circuit, added six birdies to his opening round of 69 at The Melbourne Club to move to within striking distance of the lead ahead of Friday’s final round.

“Yeah, I’m playing solid,” reflected Kearney who sits in a share of third overnight. “The winter of hard work is certainly showing. I was in Thailand again this off-season. The facilities down there are great, perfect weather and it was good to get some reps in.

“I guess you never really know until you get your card in hand how it’s going to go but I’ve been hitting it very solid lately; hitting a lot of fairways and greens and giving myself a lot of chances so it’s great to be there, there abouts heading into the last day.”

A booming driver of the ball and a towering presence himself, Kearney may have gone into the week unsure of where his game stood but the course that greeted him for event one of the EuroPro season immediately suited his eye.

“I’d never played it before but it’s a nice course, big course,” added Kearney. “It’s in woodland for the majority of it and then there’s a few holes that are a bit more open. It’s up at a bit of a height too so it tends to be windy but it’s playing really well, the fairways and greens are lovely.

“And it helps that I’ve been giving myself a lot of short irons into the greens. I’ve holed a few putts, missed a few as well. I could probably be a few shots better but I suppose everybody could say that.”

This year is a big year for Kearney, as they all are, and having played as far afield as Asia when he earned his status to that Tour, he’ll spend the majority of this season on the EuroPro where he’ll hope his playing will afford him more lucrative opportunities elsewhere throughout the year.

“The majority will be on EuroPro,” Kearney said. “Maybe a couple of Challenge Tour starts that are in Ireland. I’ll obviously go to the Irish Open Qualifier that’s in Moyvalley, I’m looking forward to that and hopefully I’ll qualify for the Irish Open.

“Thankfully, I’ve lots of opportunities. It really depends on how I play early on as to how the schedule is going to shape up but there’s a lot to look forward to, not least tomorrow.”

Kearney’s not the only Irishman in the hunt as Whitehead’s John Ross Galbraith moved into the mix with a superb four-under par 69. Galbraith’s five birdies so him jump into a share of 7th spot on minus-seven, just four shots off the lead.

And Ballymena’s Dermot McElroy is not without hope either despite being unable to add to a sizzling opening day 66. The Northern Irishman carded a one-over par 74 on day two that saw him drop to a share of 9th on six-under ahead of the last day.

Tullamore’s Stuart Grehan advanced to the last day after recovering from an opening 75 with a gritty day to 70 to move to minus one while Headfort’s Joe Dillon posted a one-under 72 to sneak inside the mark on the number at even par.

Unfortunately, Neil O’Briain at plus-one fell agonisingly short of the final day while Brendan McCarroll (+8) and Brian Casey (+9) will have better tournaments ahead.

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