'South' victory would cushion blow of Cats exit for O'Hara
Paul O'Hara might have played with Henry Shefflin "many moons ago," but if the Kilkenny man comes through to win the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch today, he will consign his 15 minutes of hurling fame to history.
The 34-year-old – a career amateur of yesteryear – beat Warrenpoint's Stephen Coulter 2&1 before dispatching former international Nicky Grant of Knock 3&2 to set up a semi-final showdown with 20-year-old Queens University student Ryan McKinstry at the Co Clare links.
The winner will take on 19-year-old Alex Gleeson of Castle or 2006 champion Simon Ward of County Louth in the decider and O'Hara has no problem admitting that winning that title would be beyond his "wildest dreams."
"This is rarified air," he said, admitting that his run in Lahinch makes up for the disappointment of Kilkenny's All-Ireland Championship defeat on Sunday.
"It eases the pain. But then those guys have brought so much pleasure to Kilkenny over the years."
O'Hara never quite made it as a hurler, though he did once come close to greatness when he played alongside Shefflin in a south Kilkenny team and his golf is very much a pastime as he plays only the South and "a couple of scratch cups."
"That was many moons ago and I doubt he'd remember," O'Hara said with a grin. "I only took golf up at 15. If they hand't built a pitch and putt course near the hurling pitch I'd never have taken it up."
McKinstry, a 20-year-old pharmacy student from Cairndhu, beat Royal Dublin's Sean Ryan by two holes before being taken to the 23rd – The Dell – by Rathmore's Ben Best in the quarter-finals, where he won with a par three.
The other semi-final promises to be a high quality affair with former Boys star Gleeson celebrating his debut in the championship in spectacular style.
"It's my first year in men's golf and it's been a huge step up," said the Dubliner, who won the Connacht, Ulster and Irish U-15 titles in 2009 before going on to win Jacque Leglise honours for Great Britain and Ireland last year.
Armed with a two-ball putter supplied by his uncle and caddie John Gleeson after the third round, he beat Shannon's Ed Hickey 5&4 before edging out Royal Dublin's Bryan McSweeney 2&1 in a very tight affair.
"I was playing well coming in and hoping to do well, but it's all down to the putter," Gleeson said.
"I couldn't putt the first two days, but I've holed everything since I put it (the two-ball) in the bag."
He will certainly need his best game against 26-year-old Ward, who plans to turn professional in September.
The Carrickmacross native brilliantly birdied the 15th and took the 16th in par to go two up against last year's runner-up Stephen Healy and then held on to win by one hole as the Claremorris man closed with two brave, but ultimately fruitless, birdies.
"You finish with two birdies and go home," Healy said wistfully.
"That's match play. I played better this week than I did in getting to the final last year, but Simon played very well."