Paul O’Hanlon holds on to win East of Ireland

Local hero Gerard Dunne staged comeback in Louth to come within one shot of winner

In fine weather on the famous old links, Paul O'Hanlon stuck gamely to his task to fend off a late charge from local hero Gerard Dunne and claim the East of Ireland amateur championship at Co Louth Golf Club.

Of comparing this latest, unexpected win with his previous amateur exploits – winning the Irish Close in 2008 and reaching a West of Ireland final to play against Rory McIlroy in 2006 – O’Hanlon said: “This is better. And I am not just saying that because of the moment. I am working full-time now and it kind of feels like one against the head. It’s come out of nowhere. It’s bizarre.”

Two-player contest

In forging a wire-to-wire victory, O’Hanlon, a 31-year-old trainee accountant with Grant Thornton who once embarked on a professional career that was mainly played out on the EuroPro and mini-tours – showed patience and fortitude to fire a closing 73 for an 11-under-par total of 277, one shot ahead of Dunne.

Robbie Cannon, who hit a five-iron approach from 274 to 15 feet for a closing eagle, and Stuart Bleakley shared third on the 279 mark. But, in truth, it was really a two-player contest, akin to matchplay, coming down the stretch.

Dunne was like a pied piper drawing huge support as the final round evolved. Standing on the 12th tee, the 28-year-old schoolteacher was six shots behind O’Hanlon and, with wily old former international Barry Reddan on his bag, he produced three birdies on that closing stretch to turn matters from a victory procession into a rather more dramatic affair.

To his credit, O’Hanlon held on rather gamely. The Carton House-attached player – playing his first championship back as a reinstated amateur – had gone into the final round with five shots advantage on his closest pursuer Bleakley.

However, a disastrous double-bogey six from O’Hanlon on the first and a scrambled par five served to focus his mind.

“It was an awful start. It was just a mix of tiredness and [lack of] concentration,” he said.

After such a poor start, O’Hanlon – his caddie Richie Whelan providing a calming presence – steadied the ship with a birdie from 18 feet.

‘Freak shot’

Another birdie on the par 5 sixth was followed by safe pars on the seventh and eighth before he unleashed “a freak shot” – his words – from the ninth tee where he was 50 yards past his playing partners.

His approach went over the back, but he sank the birdie putt from off the green – to be followed in by Dunne and Jack Pierse in more conventional manner – and O'Hanlon's couple of fist pumps showed what it meant. He was four shots clear of nearest rival Bleakley at that point and six clear of Dunne.

The journey home, though became more dramatic than anyone could have envisaged as Dunne – despite some adventurous driving – used his putter like a magic wand, especially on the 16th where his long breaking birdie putt rolled into the tin cup to huge acclaim from the gallery.

Dunne’s bogey there meant a two-shot swing. “It was game on,” said O’Hanlon. But two closing pars were sufficient to see him home safely and perhaps heighten ambitions of a recall to the international team.

“It would be great [to wear a green jersey again]. I harboured no ambitions of doing that at the start of the week, this is just bonus territory,” said O’Hanlon, who has the rather more pressing matters of upcoming accountancy exams.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times