Hope springs eternal out West
 Gary McDermott gets ready for another crack at the West of Ireland title

Gary McDermott gets ready for another crack at the West of Ireland title

Reputations count for nothing when the wind whips across County Sligo for the annual West of Ireland Championship.

While eight members of the international panel are teeing it up in the first of two strokeplay qualifying rounds today, hoping to make the top 64 who will match Sunday's first matchplay round, last year’s win by local hero Barry Anderson has given new hope to many still dreaming of lifting the famous old trophy.

Fewer Rosses Point natives have suffered as many disappointments as Gary McDermott, now playing out of Carton House in Kildare, as he seeks a Sligo man's Holy Grail.

At the age of 36 and with an 18-month baby at home, the former international might have bigger priorities than golf but he has never lost his love for the “West”.

He came closest in 2011 when he was beaten by eventual champion Paul Cutler in the semi-finals and the fact the most recent of his five quarter-final loses came just last year proves it’s never too late to dream.

“I don't have expectations so perhaps that can be a help rather than a hindrance,” McDermott said as he laced his shoes for another crack at a links softened by the recent poor weather but otherwise pristine. “It frees you up and you are not trying to impress anyone.”

With Warrenpoint’s Colm Campbell forced to sit out the event with a wrist injury and Maynooth University stars Caolan Rafferty and Ronan Mullarney playing the R&A Scholars Tournament, the favourites are Tramore’s Robin Dawson, Castle’s Alex Gleeson, Irish Amateur Open champion Peter O’Keeffe, defending champion Anderson, the in-form 2016 winner Jonathan Yates and 17-year old Irish Boys champion Mark Power.

Massereene’s Tiarnan McLarnon, another international and former Irish Close champion, is also expected to perform well but having played in last weekend’s Laytown and Bettystown Senior Scratch Cup and produced two solid rounds, McDermott will be a tough rival for any of the big guns.

 Joe Carr and Cecil Ewing won 22 West of Ireland titles between 1930 and 1966

Joe Carr and Cecil Ewing won 22 West of Ireland titles between 1930 and 1966

“Those were my first two rounds since the All Ireland Cups and Shields last September,” McDermott said of his fourth-place finish at Laytown and Bettystown behind Rafferty, Mullarney and last year’s beaten West of Ireland finalist, Jack Pierse from Portmarnock. 

“I surprised myself with how well I played. I had no expectations, and it's much the same this week. I am here to see family friends and every day is a bonus.”

Yates is gunning for his second win in three years and sees no reason why he can't contend again.

The Naas ace (24) lost in the first round when he returned to defend the title last year but having played well early this season to earn a call-up for Ireland for the Nations Cup in Sotogrande next month, he’s playing with nothing to lose an everything to gain on a course he loves.

“I've been playing lovely all season,” said Yates, who was Ireland’s leading qualifier in the Spanish Amateur Championship recently.

“So I suppose I have absolutely no pressure now that I have been picked for the Nations Cup.

“I am just here to try and lead the qualifying and win again. It was trickier to come here last year as defending champion when I had higher expectations, qualified second and lost in the first round. 

“This year, I feel I can just go out and play.”

Dawson might be the world No 96 and a recent star performer in the Bonallack Trophy but he admits he'd love to add an amateur "major" to his trophy cabinet should he eventually make the move into the professional ranks.

The 22-year old from Tramore has come close before, losing to Chris Selfridge in the final of the North of Ireland at Portrush in 2014.

That was just a year after he made his debut at Rosses Point as a raw 16-year-old, only falling to defending champion Harry Diamond in the quarterfinals.

Diamond now caddies for Rory McIlroy and Dawson is now the elder statesman for his 17-year old brother Charlie, who came through an eight-man playoff for the last five spots of the 12 that were on offer in Wednesday's 18-hole qualifier to take his place in the 126-strong field.

Dawson hopes he's still going strong for Tuesday afternoon's final but when asked he's ever taken time out to study the big board listing the former West of Ireland champions in the doorway, he shook his head.

"You try not to get caught up in thinking about that sort of thing," he said. 

What about the trophy, which is gleaming on a table next to a picture of the late GUI and West of Ireland stalwart Fred Perry?

"Oh, the trophy caught my eye alright," Dawson said with a chuckle.

 The late Fred Perry's picture faces the door of the bar, waiting to see how will come to take away the West of Ireland trophy.

The late Fred Perry's picture faces the door of the bar, waiting to see how will come to take away the West of Ireland trophy.

Dawson has been around long enough to know that given the vagaries of the weather and the matchplay format,  the West is the most unpredictable of the amateur championships.

"I don't get caught up in that sort of stuff," the senior Dawson said of looking at boards of past winners. "Obviously, I'd love to win one of the Irish championships but I just have to take it one day at a time and see how we go."

For Dawson, it's a big event but just one of many he'll play this year as he plays amateur golf full time before a likely reappearance at the European Tour Qualifying School.

After playing for Ireland in Argentina and South Africa in January and February before representing Great Britain and Ireland in the Bonallack Trophy in Qatar, it’s almost a shock to the system to be facing the wild West wind as one of the title favourites.

“After the Bonallack Trophy I went to Sydney for a few weeks holiday, and I was playing in shorts and a tee shirt,” he said before tucking into a bowl of Rosses Point chowder. “This is a bit different, but I’m looking forward to it."

Irish Boys champion Power, 17, is hoping for better luck than he had two years ago when he shot 89 in a gale on the first day and never got a chance to redeem himself

"It was when the second qualifying round was cancelled because of the wind so I didn't make it to the matchplay," he said with a chuckle. "But the course is playing nice and quite soft. And the greens are lovely for this time of year.

“Alex and Robin have to be two of the favourites but it’s matchplay and anyone could win once you get into matchplay. I’m really looking forward to it."

Yates added: "With Robin here, he's played better than anyone. Alex played brilliantly in South Africa and you have Mark Power as well. I saw Peter O'Keeffe shot 9 under at the weekend too."

Local hopes will be focussed on the likes of holder Anderson, McDermott, Sean Flanagan and David Brady, who got the quarter-finals last year but fell to the eventual champion on the last.

And while Campbell's wrist problem hasn't improved sufficiently to allow him to play, Irish Close champion Jamie Fletcher will fly the flag for Warrenpoint.

There is no shortage of experience in the field either with Pat Murray and 1987 champion Noel McGrane (55) back for another joust with the Point.

 Clontarf's Pat Murray and Tramore's Paul Flynn are looking forward to "the West"

Clontarf's Pat Murray and Tramore's Paul Flynn are looking forward to "the West"

McGrane qualified on Wednesday having come as chauffeur to his son Gary (28) who had to come through an eight-man playoff for the last five spots.

The introduction by the GUI this year of the new Bridgestone Order of Merit has helped the West attract a very strong field with eight members of the Irish senior squad in action.

And with the leading two points winners from the eight main championships at the end of the season earning their places on the Irish team for the Home Internationals, there’s plenty at stake.

Defending champion Anderson, who became the first Rosses Point man to win since Cecil Ewing in 1950, will be keen to start the points race strongly after failing to get an international call up last year.

There will be a shotgun start for the 126-strong field at 9am and 2pm today and tomorrow with the leading 64 players qualifying for matchplay combat from Sunday with the semi-finals and final on Tuesday.

If there is a tie for 64th, a countback will be used to decide who gets into the matchplay draw.

West of Ireland Amateur Open, sponsored by Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa Sligo, (Par 71)

36 Hole Stroke Play Qualifying, Tee-times (Shotgun start)

0900/1400, unless stated 

  • (1) D Brady (Co. Sligo), S Underwood (Co. Sligo), B Best (Rathmore);
  • (2) M Looby (Greystones), S Desmond (Monkstown), G Dunne (Co. Louth);
  • (3) J Blake (The Island), J Logue (Hilton Templepatrick), S Cullen (Slieve Russell);
  • (4) J Lyons (Galway), C Dawson (Tramore), TJ Ford (Co. Sligo);
  • (4) 09:10/14:10 E Farrell (Ardee), G Collins (Rosslare), N Hearns (Mountrath);
  • (5) T Coffey (Slieve Russell), MJ Kennelly (Galway Bay), A Hickey (Ballyhaunis);
  • (6) B Daly (Edmondstown), P Coughlan (Castleknock), R Knightly (The Royal Dublin);
  • (6) 09:10/14:10 C Geraghty (Laytown & Bettystown), F Kennedy (The Island), J Byrne (Baltinglass);
  • (7) R Black (Hilton Templepatrick), K Egan (Carton House), N Crawford (Mourne);
  • (8) I Kettyle (Rathmore), P Connolly (Killeen Castle), S Flanagan (Co. Sligo);
  • (9) H Gillivan (Westport), C Ryan (Dun Laoghaire), R Brazill (Naas);
  • (10) A Hill (Athenry), J Fox (Portmarnock), P Kelly (Co. Armagh);
  • (12) J Fletcher (Warrenpoint), P Buckley (Memorial, USA), D Kitt (Athenry);
  • (12) 09:10/14:10 A Gaynor (Co. Sligo), J Greene (Portmarnock), S Carter (The Royal Dublin);
  • (13) H Foley (The Royal Dublin), SB Garrett (Portstewart), D Brophy (Castleknock);
  • (14) R Kelly (Galway Bay), F Carr (Kirkistown Castle), R Hynes (The Royal Dublin);
  • (15) J Knipe (Royal Portrush), J Doherty (Carton House), C Feeney (Co. Sligo);
  • (16) M Kennedy (The Royal Dublin), G Fitzmaurice (Balcarrick), C Denvir (Elm Park);
  • (17) J Brady (Rosslare), A Gleeson (Castle), B Anderson (The Royal Dublin);
  • (18) G Lenehan (Portmarnock), R McNeilis (Fintona), J Madden (Royal Portrush);
  • (18) 09:10/14:10 G Copeland (Ardglass), W Small (Tandragee), S Barker (Mourne).

14:00/09:00, unless stated

  • (1) M Nolan (Dun Laoghaire), D Reddan Jnr (Nenagh), J McDonnell (Forrest Little);
  • (2) R Pierse (Grange), T O’Connor (Athlone), R O’Connor (Co. Sligo); 
  • (3) T McLarnon (Massereene), J O’Leary (Dromoland), P O’Keeffe (Douglas);
  • (4) O Maguire (Slieve Russell), R Berkeley (Dun Laoghaire), D O’Neill (Carton House);
  • (4) 14:10/09:10 T Neenan (Lahinch), A Maguire (Laytown & Bettystown), J Murphy (Greenore);
  • (5) D McAleenon (Edenmore), J Timlin (Dungannon), M Ryan Jnr (New Ross);
  • (6) E McCormack (Galway Bay), A Kearney (Castlerock), G McDermott (Carton House);
  • (6) 14:10/09:10 J Whelan (Newlands), W Russell (Clandeboye), M Power (Kilkenny);
  • (7) A Lowry (Esker Hills), P Flynn (Tramore), P Murray (Clontarf);
  • (8) S McDermott (Co. Cavan), B Shally (Dromoland), K McCormack (Portarlington);
  • (9) A Marshall (Lisburn), J McCarthy (Stackstown), J McVicker (Knock);
  • (10) C Daly (Castletroy), J Hapgood (Southerndown), R Moran (Castle);
  • (12) M Shiel (Galway Bay), G Smyth (Clonmel), K McCarron (North West);
  • (12) 14:10/09:10 S Carter (The Heritage), J Yates (Naas), J Pierse (Portmarnock);
  • (13) S Ryan (The Royal Dublin), R O’Doherty (Enniscrone), R McKinstry (Cairndhu);
  • (14) A McCormack (Castletroy), M Sinclair (Knock), J Quinn (The Island);
  • (15) L O’Neill (Connemara), D Mallon (Dungannon), R Dawson (Tramore);
  • (16) N McGrane (The Royal Dublin), S O’Connor (Castlebar), A McDaid (Palmerstown Stud);
  • (17) M Morrissey (Co. Sligo), G McGrane (The Royal Dublin), G McKenna (Donaghadee);
  • (18) C Woodroofe (Dun Laoghaire), P McKeever (Castle), P O’Hanlon (Carton House);
  • (18) 14:10/09:10 R Williamson (Holywood), J Walsh (Castle), D Morgan (Carton House).