The West woke up at Rosses Point as three Connacht men stormed into the semi-finals of Connolly’s Audi West of Ireland Championship for the first time in the event’s 99-year history.
oscommon’s Allan Hill (22) defeated two former champions, beating leading qualifier Caolan Rafferty 5&4 and defending champion Hugh Foley 4&2 to take on Galway’s Liam Nolan (22) in the semi-finals.
Nolan shagged on the 18th to beat Ireland Close and Open champion Peter O’Keeffe by a hole before edging out Malone international Matthew McClean by the same margin.
It could be an all Connacht or even an all Roscommon final after Thomas Higgins (19) birdied on the 19th to defeat Scot Andrew Benson and then to a 5 & 3 win over Ballybofey and Stranorlar’s Ryan Griffin drove. However, Bray’s Alan Fahy (24) is hoping to spoil the Connacht party after beating Tandragee’s James Hewitt 3&1 before edging out Carton House’s Keith Egan by a hole in the afternoon.
“I’ll be wearing my Leinster gear here tomorrow anyway, so hopefully I can take it home with me,” joked Fahy, who finished second to TJ Ford in last year’s final in Southern Ireland.
“It would be unreal to win the West. I won the Munster Strokeplay a couple of years ago and winning one of the Big Five championships would be a different category but you can’t think that far.”
He faces a difficult task against boys international Higgins, who was a leading member of the Roscommon team that won the Fred Daly Trophy in 2019.
“The West is the first men’s event I heard about as a young golfer so it would be great to win,” said Higgins.
“I was pretty stable in qualifying but I was behind Andrew for most of the morning and then made a lot of good par putts to beat Ryan.”
The Hill vs. Nolan duel promises to be a smash after both men played superbly to reach the last four.
Hill was three under and didn’t drop a shot when he beat Walker Cup player Rafferty on the 14th, and having already played plenty of golf this season, the Maynooth University star is sharp-eyed and ready for a fight after he only squeaked into the matchplay thanks to a 25-foot birdie putt on the last hole of the 54-hole qualifier.
“It was nice to beat two Ireland internationals,” he said. “I’ve been coming to Sligo since I was seven or eight years old. I remember seeing Shane Lowry play here. It would be nice to win tomorrow, but it’s one step at a time.”
As for Nolan, he was never ahead until he made an eight-foot to beat O’Keeffe on the 18th, then hit a critical nine-iron close on the 14th to go against McClean with 2 and held.
“It would be incredible,” he said of what it would mean to win. “The West is the one, isn’t it?”
Connolly’s Audi West of Ireland Amateur Championship, Co. Sligo GC
Round 1: A Hill (Roscommon) bt C Rafferty (Dundalk) 5&4; H Foley (Royal Dublin) bt M Boucher (Carton House) 1 hole; L Nolan (Galway) bt P O’Keeffe (Douglas) 1 hole; M McClean (Malone) bt E Sullivan (Carton House) 1 hole; T Higgins (Roscommon) bt A Benson (West Lothian) 19th; R Griffin (Ballybofey & Stranorlar) bt A Mulholland (Castlerock) 2&1; A Fahy (Bray) bt J Hewitt (Tandragee) 3&1; K Egan (Carton House) bt E McCormack (Galway Bay) 1 hole.
Quarter finals: Hill bt Foley 4 & 2; Nolan bt McClean 1 hole; Higgins bt Griffin 5&3; Fahy bt Egan 1 hole.
Semifinals: (8.0) Hill vs. Nolan; (8.15) Higgins vs. Fahy.
Final: 1:15 p.m
https://www.independent.ie/sport/golf/connacht-trio-progress-to-west-of-ireland-semi-finals-41564821.html The Connacht trio reach the West of Ireland semi-finals