Sensational LeBlanc gives himself shot at West glory
Published 28/03/2016 | 02:30
Kevin LeBlanc is gunning to become the youngest West of Ireland champion since Rory McIlroy after a sensational day two performance in County Sligo.
The 17-year-old from the Island golf club has been more concerned with his books than birdies as he prepares to sit his Leaving Cert in June.
But after coming back from two down after nine with five wins in a row to beat Hollystown's Stephen Kinch 3&2, he made himself one of the clear favourites for the title when he killed off a comeback by Castle international Alex Gleeson down the stretch, with an 18th green birdie securing a one up win.
"I was just trying to die it in," LeBlanc admitted after his 20-foot, right-to-left birdie putt fell in the side door, making Gleeson's eight- footer for par irrelevant.
"He'd holed a few putts and was bound to miss one, especially under pressure on the last, so I just wanted to lag it down. To see it go in was a big relief."
Gleeson had won the 14th with a huge birdie and the 15th in par to get back to level, but LeBlanc - a former Junior Open champion and boys international who has only a modest matchplay record - showed true grit down the stretch.
He'll need it today, as he faces Co Sligo's Stephen Brady - aka 'the giant-killer', following his win over champion Jack Hume last year. The local man gave a repeat performance yesterday when he defeated North of Ireland champion and Irish international John Ross Galbraith 3&2, before beating Rathmore's Ben Best 2&1.
The strong men in the bottom half of the draw remain Naas' Jonathan Yates and defending champion Dermot McElroy, from Ballymena, who is trying to become the first player since McIlroy in 2006 to retain the title.
"I'd really like to win it again and match Rory," McElroy said after comfortable wins over Stephen Healy and Dwayne Mallon left him to face Kinsale's Cathal Butler, who surprised Naas' Conor O'Rourke 2&1 in the second round.
"I feel I am playing really well. I just need the putter to warm up."
If LeBlanc is a dark horse for the title, the same cannot be said for County Sligo's 20-year-old hope, Sean Flanagan. After coming back from two down after nine to beat Fota Island's Sean Barry on the 18th, Flanagan took a big scalp when he beat reigning East and South of Ireland champion Stuart Grehan by one hole in a high-quality match.
Grehan had to birdie the ninth just to be two down, but lost the 11th to a par before birdies on the 14th and 15th left him just one down with three to go.
Flanagan holed a six-footer for par at the 16th to remain in front and safely parred the last after Grehan had overshot the green and failed to chip in. The home hope now faces Royal Dublin's Richard Knightly, with the winner to face Des Morgan or international Colm Campbell in a top half that also features the dangerous Daniel Holland.