Gareth Shaw is inspired by former rival Rory McIlroy in his quest to blaze a trail to tour glory.

But the Lisburn native, 23, is prepared to earn his stripes on the Challenge Tour before he joins Ulstermen like McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Michael Hoey, Gareth Maybin and Jonny Caldwell in the big leagues.

Confident he has the game to compete, the two-time North of Ireland champion said: “I beat Rory in a play-off for the Mullingar Scratch Cup back in 2005 and we played together for Ireland, so I know where I stand.

Gareth Shaw, Michael McGeady, Richard Kilpatrick and Colm Moriarty“It gives you a lot of confidence to see Rory doing what he is doing. It’s just fantastic for Irish golf and a great boost to every Irish player.

“He’s obviously improved since our amateur days and I am just hoping he hasn't got an awful lot better. It gives me a lot of belief myself and I know that if I can get out there, I can compete with these guys.”

Ireland’s budding stars will get a chance to strut their stuff in the €150,000 Challenge of Ireland at the Darren Clarke designed Moyvalley Hotel and Country Club in Kildare from June 11-14.

Hoey, Maybin and Mick McGeady all won on the Challenge Tour last year and McDowell believes the second tier tour is the perfect stepping stone to the main tour.

McDowell said: “In recent years, we have seen some great players come through the Challenge Tour and there have been a number of spectacular European Tour wins by recent Challenge Tour graduates.

“Two of my good friends from Northern Ireland, Michael Hoey and Gareth Maybin, are a great example of how successful the Challenge Tour has now become and, more importantly, the crucial role it plays in the development of the next generation of Irish stars on Tour.”

Hoey proved the point by winning the Portuguese Open last month and Derry man McGeady feels ready to join him on tour after his breakthrough Challenge Tour win in Wales last term.

Set to begin his quest in Morocco this week, McGeady said: “I always thought I could win but I had to prove it to myself. I missed my card by a shot at the Q-School in the end but I have a good mind set for this year and I am going out on the Challenge Tour believing I can win rather than hoping I can win.

“I probably wasn't ready for the main tour this year but this is my third year on the Challenge Tour and I am feeling positive about getting my card.”

A whopping 31 Irishmen played last year’s Challenge of Ireland and thanks to a €35,000 prize fund allocation from the Irish Sports Council, many budding Irish stars will get a chance to shine on tour this season.

According to Conor Ridge of Horizon Sports Management: “It is only through hosting a Challenge Tour event in Ireland that young Irish players get the chance to play in other Challenge Tour events around Europe.”