You know you’re doing something right when you impress such an august triumvirate as former West of Ireland champions Des Smyth, Barry Reddan and Declan Branigan with your play in freezing, 30mph gales.
But Muskerry’s Niall Gorey was too busy to notice the presence of the famous Drogheda threesome - Smyth is in town as a guest of honour to mark the 40th anniversary of 1973 win over Vincent Nevin - as he crushed Gary McDermott’s dream of becoming the first County Sligo winner of the title for 63 years with a 19th hole quarter-final win.
Beaten in the semi-finals by an inspired Alan Dunbar two years ago, the 32-year old Kildare native lost a three up lead by the 11th but birdied the 15th into the teeth of the wind by hitting a sensational, 186-yard four iron to six feet to go one up - “the best shot I’ve hit in my life” - and then recovered after losing the 17th with a winning par at the first extra hole.
He faces 21-year old Mourne international Reeve Whitson, the recently crowned Spanish Amateur Open champion, in the last four but will not be using age as an excuse after being persuaded by his wife to continue chasing his dream of an amateur “major” win.
“I was close to packing it in this year but my wife Valerie talked me into it,” said Rathangan, Co Kildare native Gorey, who became a father for the first time just a few weeks ago, following his win over his former international foursomes partner.
“She said, ‘When you think you can’t win a championship, then stop.’ So that’s the plan. I’ll only give up when I get to the point where I don’t think I can win one.”
McDermott, 31, was left to rue a three putt at the 14th that allowed his former Ireland foursomes partner to escape with a half in double bogey sixes having put his second in the hazard.
“It hurts,” said McDermott, who got a bad lie in the left semi-rough at the 19th and failed to get up and down from short of the green. “Fourteen was a mistake and he made a great birdie on 15 to stop my momentum.”
It was a match of changing momentum from the start as Gorey won the second, fourth and seventh in par figures to go three up
McDermott birdied eighth to get back to two down and then had a stroke of luck at the ninth when facing a 35 footer for par. Gorey was sizing up a 40 foot birdie putt and had remarked and headed off to read his putt from the other side of the hole.
When he turned around he saw that his ball had blown into a nearby bunker from where he failed to get up and down. Having escaped with a half there, McDermott took advantage of Gorey bogeys at the 10th and 11th to get back to all square.
“The 12th is probably were I think I won the match,” Gorey said. “I was over the back in three and Gary was short in two. I got up and down from a horrible spot. It was a good half and gave me a bit of momentum.”
Denied a winner birdie by a lip out from 10 feet at the 13th, Gorey had a stroke of luck at the next. Having hit a poor tee shot and then carved his second into the water hazard, well right and short of the green, he was gifted a half in double bogey sixes when McDermott missed the green left and three-putted from the fringe.
Having won the 15th with that brilliant birdie after McDermott had hit a great approach to 18 feet, Gorey made a nerveless up and down for par at the 16th after his Co Sligo opponent had holed a tricky four footer down the hill for a par save of his own.
Forced to hit driver off the 17th tee, the Kildare man ran through the fairway and with McDermott jsut short of the greeen in two, he had no shot from a downslope, failed to make the green in three and lost the hole.
All square playing the last, Gorey could barely clear the hill with his drive and came up short of the green in two. But McDermott lost his second well to the right and then came within inches of pitching dead only to see his third shot trickle back into the swale.
Both men took five and the match was decided at the 19th, where Gorey made a regulation four as McDermott drew a poor lie down the left and failed to get up and down from short of the green.
“It was in a hole in an uphill lie and I tired to run up a six iron but it was never getting there.” said McDermott, who was under par in his 3 and 2 morning win over Nicky Grant. “It’s disappointing. He made a great birdie on 15 to stop my momentum.
“I didn’t quite get going this afternoon but I got back and was there on the home straight. It hurts. You don’t get too many chances but I have a few more left in me before I pack it in. I played well all week.”
Gorey will play 21 year old Whitson, who crushed England’s Henry Featherstone 5 and 4 and Carton House’s Shane McGlynn 5 and 3 to cruise into the last four.
“The swing it getting there,” said Whitson, who struggled in qualifyin. “I hit it nicely again today compared to the way I was striking it in the qualifying when I found it tough to score in the weather conditions. But I knew if I could make the matchplay I’d do all right in the tournament so I am happy to get to where I am now.”
Hoping to make an impression on the Walker Cup selectors, Whitson added: “I’m not sure where the West ranks with them but it counts for me. I’ll try and play well and see what happens.”
On the other side of the draw, Belvoir Park’s Harry Diamond can match pal Rory McIlroy by becoming the first man to successfully defend the title since the Holywood star in 2006.
The 28-year old international beat Newlands’ Andrew Hogan 3 and 2 in the morning before holding off 17-year old Boys international Robin Dawson of Faithlegg by 3 and 2 in the afternoon.
“I was a couple under the front nine but I felt like I was about two over,” said Diamond, who has been impressive all week. “I putted very well to finish it on the 16th.”
He faces a tough semi-final against leading qualifier Rory McNamara of Headfort, who edged out former winner Rory Leonard of Banbridge by one hole in the third round before relying heavily on his putter to close out a 3 and 2 win over Rathsallagh’s Jack Hume in the afternoon.
Hume had to go to the 22nd to beat West Waterford’s Gary Hurley in the morning but it was reigning North of Ireland champion McNamara who complained of fatigue in the afternoon having struggled all week with the effects of ‘flu.
“My legs were gone on the back nine today,” said 23-year old McNamara, who took a two up lead when he eagled the 12th thanks to a five iron to four feet. I’m very happy but I am just wrecked. So tired. Hopefully the elements won’t play too much of a role tomorrow.
“As long as I can get some rest tonight and get some energy back it should be a good day because me legs were gone on the back nine today. I had a lot of pain. If the putter hadn’t been working it could have been a different story with Jack hitting fairways and greens but I kept it together.
“I had a great up and down on 14 for a half to stay two up and holed a good putt to win 15 in par.”
West of Ireland Amateur Open (sponsored by Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa), Co Sligo GC
Shane McGlynn (Carton House) bt Paul McBride (The Island) 5/4
Reeve Whitson (Mourne) bt Henry Featherstone (Ringway, UK) 5/4
Gary McDermott (Co. Sligo) bt Nicholas Grant (Knock) 3/2
Niall Gorey (Muskerry) bt Gareth Lappin (Belvoir Park) 2/1
Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park) bt Andrew Hogan (Newlands) 3/2
Robin Dawson (Faithlegg) bt Eoin Arthurs (Forrest Little) 4/2
Rory McNamara (Headfort) bt Rory Leonard (Banbridge) 1 hole
Jack Hume (Rathsallagh) bt Gary Hurley (West Waterford) at 22nd
Reeve Whitson (Mourne) bt Shane McGlynn (Carton House) 5/3
Niall Gorey (Muskerry) bt Gary McDermott (Co. Sligo) 19th
Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park) bt Robin Dawson (Faithlegg) 3/2
Rory McNamara (Headfort) bt Jack Hume (Rathsallagh) 3/2
Tuesday, April 2 - 1.30pm
(8.0) Reeve Whitson (Mourne) v Niall Gorey (Muskerry)
(8.15) Harry Diamond (Belvoir Park) v Rory McNamara (Headfort)