Conor Purcell hoping to impress Ireland selectors at Lahinch

Defending champion among a stellar field at 116th South of Ireland Amateur Open

Defending champion Conor Purcell knows he may need a big week to hold on to his place in the Irish team as a high-quality field assembles for the first qualifying round of the 116th South of Ireland Amateur Open at Lahinch on Wednesday.

Only the top 64 after Thursday’s second round will make the matchplay stages on Friday, and with the Irish team that will bid for a fourth successive Home Internationals title set to be picked shortly, the “South” represents the final throw of the dice for many.

Nine of the 11 men who helped Ireland win the Raymond Trophy last year will tee it up at the stunning Co Clare links in what is easily the strongest field assembled for the Pierse Motors Volkswagen sponsored championship for many years.

Only Co Sligo's Sean Flanagan, who has exams, and The Island's Wake Forest University star Paul McBride, who accepted an invitation to play in this week's Porsche European Open on the European Tour, are absentees.

"I'm good to go," said 20-year old defending champion Purcell, who has just completed his first season for the Charlotte 49ers in the US but knows that competition for the 11 places in the Irish team are hotter than ever with the likes of Caolan Rafferty, the leading qualifier in the North of Ireland and the Amateur Championship, and Kilkenny's two-time Irish Boys champion Mark Power, pushing hard for places in the team.

"It's all up for grabs," admitted Purcell, who beat the recently crowned North of Ireland champion Rowan Lester at Lahinch last year.

“I need a good performance this week because this is the last event before the selectors decide but I’m feeling pretty good.

“There are a lot of Irish players playing well so there it will be a hard team to make this year. Apart from Paul McBride pulling out it’s the strongest field for a long time.”

Four of Ireland's five Walker Cup panellists are in action, but after a modest campaign, many believe that only McBride and Tullamore's Stuart Grehan still have a chance of making that team with Whitehead's John Ross Galbraith making a late push for selection.

In that context, the "South" takes on more significance than ever for some of the players hoping to salvage their seasons with Naas's Conor O'Rourke, Irish Close champion Alex Gleeson from Castle, Tramore's Robin Dawson and Warrenpoint's Colm Campbell all desperate for some silverware.

For the Hermitage's Lester, it's a golden opportunity to become the first man since Darren Clarke in 1990 to win the North and South of Ireland titles in the same season.

Clarke’s son Tyrone debuts at Lahinch looking to improve his run to the last 32 of the North earlier this month.

As for the race for Irish caps, Irish Amateur Open champion Peter O'Keeffe from Douglas, West of Ireland champion Barry Anderson from Royal Dublin and Portmarnock's Geoff Lenehan and Jack Pierse can stake their claims by going deep into the weekend.