Saturday 25 February 2017

Lernihan finally secures big prize

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Dara Lernihan shows the style that helped him win the Irish Close Championship at Royal Dublin yesterday.
Dara Lernihan shows the style that helped him win the Irish Close Championship at Royal Dublin yesterday.

NO more 'nearly man' for Dara Lernihan of Castle, who was crowned 2010 Golfsure Irish Close champion after a 3&2 victory over Rory Leonard of Banbridge in the final at Royal Dublin yesterday.

Lernihan (23) -- who plays off +2 -- was a beaten finalist two years ago when Curragh's Paul O'Hanlon won the coveted title, but wasn't prepared to settle for second best yesterday.

He has also contended in other GUI championships without making the big breakthrough, but yesterday everything fell into place.

"I was wondering if it was ever going to come. I have been close a few times. I'm just delighted

"I've played well all week. The furthest I went all week was to the 16th green, so that's an indication of how I played," said Lernihan.

Lernihan already created history two years ago when he became the first Castle player to attain senior international status.

Now he has added to his place of honour as the first player from the Rathfarnham club to win a senior national championship.

The morning semi-finals resulted in a 6&4 victory for Lernihan over Stephen Crowe of Dunmurry and a 3&2 verdict for Leonard against the leading qualifier Luke Lennox (Moyola Park).

The stage was set for an intriguing contest. Lernihan, a young emerging talent, against West of Ireland and Munster Strokeplay champion Leonard, the 34-year-old who is having the best period of his career.

Unfortunately for the Banbridge player, he got off to an awful start, finding the rough off his drives on the first two holes and hacking his way from there.

Lernihan was not obliged to putt on either hole as Leonard had to concede lengthy potential birdie putts to his opponent.

Leonard was less worried about that than the gallery might have assumed.

"No complaints. He played very well. I got bad lies on the first and second and that's what I was saying to Barry, my caddie, I wouldn't have taken either shot back. It was just a couple of ropey lies.

"I maybe got a bit adventurous at the second, tried to hit it on to the green instead of playing to where Dara was, and I left myself no shot," he said.

Over the next seven holes, Lernihan lost the par-three fourth and seventh, but won the par-five sixth and par-four eighth with birdies, to turn two up.

Par was good enough for a Lernihan win on the short 12th hole, so now he had a three-hole lead and some food for thought.

"I was three up in the (Irish Close) final two years ago and lost at the 20th, so I never took it for granted that I was going to win until the match was finished," he said.

They halved the 13th in par, and then Leonard took the par-five 14th with a birdie four. Two up with four to play -- how would Lernihan react?

Well, he started by pushing his drive on the 15th to the right, and that was a glimmer of hope for Leonard.

"I thought he was going to give me a chance there after I birdied 14 and he pushed his drive. It was going to be a tough shot, but he made a great three," said Leonard.

Delight

Indeed he did. Lernihan had 155 yards to go from a difficult lie and fired a wedge shot to 25 feet.

He just wanted to lag the putt close but, to his delight, the pace was spot on and the ball dropped in.

Dormie three, and keep it steady was the requirement. Lernihan did just that with the match ending on the 16th green.

His success was shared by caddie Darragh Fanning, the St Mary's College wing who has signed a contract with the Connacht Rugby side.

Fanning also caddied for Lernihan in the 2008 final.

Golfsure Irish Close championship.

Semi-finals: D Lernihan (Castle) bt S Crowe (Dunmurry) 6/4

R Leonard (Banbridge) bt L Lennox (Moyola Park) 3/2

Final: Lernihan bt Leonard 3/2

Irish Independent

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