Amid the howling winds of Ballybunion, silver medallist Ronan Mullarney continued his relentless march at the AIG Irish Close.
On the third day, Mullarney booked his place in round three. His preparations began before dawn ahead of a 7:30am tee time, but the work was complete by early afternoon. The Galway man displayed customary poise to notch wins against Ruairi O’Connor (Co Sligo), 5&4, and Marc Boucher (Carton House), 4&3.
“I was one down this morning through three but after that was the best golf I’ve played all week,” said Mullarney. “I had four or five birdies. This afternoon was ground hurling. I was blown off a lot of shots.”
As the wind gusted close to gale force, Mullarney displayed his aptitude for combat golf. Afterwards, he professed as much: “I’m from Galway. I’m used to that ground hurling!”
Putting, too, required extra care: “When you’re over the ball, you’re hesitant. Not just about line and pace but is your ball going to move. It’s another factor to add in.”
The 23-year old Ireland international moves on to meet Niall Hearns of Mountrath in the last 16.
While the top seed remains on course to win his maiden championship, other big names bowed out.
Eoin Leonard, second in qualifying, went down 3&2 to Conor Ryan of Dun Laoghaire. The Killiney man joined John Murphy (Kinsale) and Peter O’Keeffe (Douglas) on the first round casualty list. Murphy, an international in 2018, lost 2&1 to Keith Murphy (also of Dun Laoghaire).
Evan Farrell stunned O’Keeffe, taking out the 2017 Flogas Irish Amateur Open by a margin of 5&4. Farrell produced another awesome display in round two, dismantling Liam Grehan (Mullingar) 6&5. Next up for the in-form Ardee man is a meeting with Alan Fahy.
Fahy, the third Dun Laoghaire player to reach the match play stage, was a 3&2 winner against David Brady (Co Sligo). In the first round, Fahy eliminated Monkstown’s Sean Desmond, recent winner at the South of Ireland.
For Co Sligo, the third round holds significant appeal. Sean Flanagan plays TJ Ford, his friend and former clubmate, for a place in the quarter-finals
“Myself and TJ go way back,” said Flanagan. “We know each other’s games inside out. This is our first time, I think, playing against each other in a championship.”
Now living and working in Dublin, Flanagan plays with Portmarnock. The 23-year old previously competed alongside Ford at Rosses Point. For one match, affinity will be set aside.
“One of us is guaranteed a shot at the semi-finals, which is great,” Flanagan insisted. “We’ll leave it all on the course and there’ll be no hard feelings afterwards.”
Local man Edward Stack pleased the gallery with victory on 18 against Malone’s Matthew McClean. Stack progressed to the penultimate day, where he meets Richard Knightly of Royal Dublin. Knightly defeated John McCarthy (Grange) on the 19th in round two.
Rob Brazill of Naas birdied 18 to pip Hugh O’Hare (Fortwilliam) in a frantic finish. O’Hare missed an eagle putt to go two clear on 16 before Brazill rallied over the closing stretch. By dint of that result, Brazill leads the Bridgestone Order of Merit and plays Devin Morley (Oughterard) next. Morley edged out Eanna Griffin (Waterford) by one hole to progress.
Elsewhere in the last 16, Greg O’Mahony (Fota Island) meets Charlie Denvir (Elm Park); Cathal Butler (Kinsale) squares off against Stephen Walsh (Portmarnock); and Colm Campbell (Warrenpoint) faces Eoin Murphy (Dundalk).
Campbell has been revitalised this season following a year out with injury. Given his pedigree, a win would not surprise. For the moment, the former international is content to be contending.
“It’s good just to be playing again,” Campbell admitted. “At one stage during that injury (hook of hamate), I didn’t think I was going to lift a golf club.”
With 16 players left and just four rounds remaining, ambition brightens by the day.