From Brian Keogh at Lahinch
Hurling great Davy Fitzgerald eased the pain of Clare's Croke Park defeat when he dumped Newlands’ Cian Curley out of the McNamara sponsored South of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Lahinch.
The former hurling goalkeeper, who was banished by The Banner after a major falling out with boss Tony Considine earlier this year, watched Curley miss from eight feet at the last and calmly holed a three-foot birdie putt to win one up and clinch a third round clash with Walker Cup great Arthur Pierse today.
While his former team-mates were licking their wounds following their seven-point All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Limerick, one-handicapper Fitzgerald holed a pair of vital putts for halves at the 16th and 17th before blasting a four-wood to the edge of the 18th and two-putting for a winning birdie four.
“Nobody gave me a chance,” beamed 35-year-old Fitzgerald, who won three All-Ireland titles and two All-Stars with Clare. “This is super. Cian has a proven track record. But this is massive for me.”
Beaten in the first round in his two previous appearance in the 'South', Fitzgerald was already on a high following his 3 and 1 victory over Connacht interpro Kenneth Fahey on Saturday.
But his triumph over Curley, who reached the sem-finals of this season’s North of Ireland championship shortly after being named as one of the first recipients of a Paddy Harrington Golf Scholarship at NUI Maynooth, was a huge surprise.
“This is the first time I have come here with some practice under my belt,” he added. “People probably said I wasn't able to play off my handicap. Well, no matter happens, I have two rounds of this under my belt and beaten an accomplished player by making a birdie at the last. I am just delighted.”
Missing a Clare match for the first time since 1977 hurt him deeply, however, and he confessed that his heart was with his former team mates at Croke Park.
“It was very hard to come out today and forget about Clare,” he said. “The boys will be absolutely gutted. My heart is there with the boys and I wanted to be there with the boys.
"If I got the call (from Clare) I would probably go back. But this match to me has been the biggest buzz. I have played the South twice and didn't do myself justice.”
Fitzgerald was two up after two and while he fell one behind at the turn, he stuck to his tactic of not watching his longer-hitting opponents for fear of losing concentration.
He beamed: “I am an awful man for the mental game. I have a rule that I won't watch an opponent hit a shot so that I can try and stay focussed on what I am doing.”
Defending champion Simon Ward cruising to an emphatic 6 and 5 victory over Limerick's Michael Kemmy while Irish Close champion Shane Lowry was never ahead against Kanturk’s Paul Buckley until he hit an eight-iron to two feet for a winning birdie at the 19th.
Elsewhere, Limerick's Pat Murray, a semi-finalist in the South for the past two years, was beaten 2 and 1 by Doneraile's Hugh Nolan while international Aaron O’Callaghan lost on the 18th to Castle’s Stephen Webster in one of the day’s bigger surprises.