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Paula Grant's teenage dream is sealed

BY ROBERT JONES

Paula Grant recorded the most significant success of her fledgling career in dramatic style when she won the Irish Ladies Close championship in fierce winds at Ballybunion yesterday.

The 19-year-old Inter-varsity champion from Lisburn came from behind to edge to an extra-hole victory in the final over 18-year-old Lisa Maguire from Slieve Russell.

Although Grant led from the first hole it was a contest that could have gone either way, especially as Maguire got her nose in front early in the back nine and stood on the 18th tee knowing that a half would give her the victory.

In the end she lost the final two holes and that gave Grant the victory.

"I feel absolutely elated. This is my biggest win yet," said Grant, a University of Ulster student who finished runner-up last month in the Irish stroke play championship and subsequently qualified for the match-play stages of the British Championship in Wales.

After an opening half of fluctuating fortunes, Maguire turned for home one up, but then missed a putt at the 10th to be brought back to all-square.

Then Maguire, who on Saturday beat her twin sister Leona in the second round of the competition, won two holes on the bounce to open up a useful-looking advantage.

But Grant won both 13 and 15 to level matters, only to fall behind again at the 17th when she failed to get up and down from a bunker.

When Maguire finished in rough with her second shot at the last, the Lisburn teen pounced to draw level and force the contest into a sudden-death play-off.

Having driven into rough at the 19th, Grant was 50 yards short of the green with her second shot, while Maguire landed in a bunker. Both hit to within 20 feet of the pin, but Grant holed out and Maguire missed.

"I have no long-term plans at the moment -- I am just taking every month and every tournament as they come," said a jubilant Grant.

Earlier, Maguire had beaten Irish Girls stroke play champion Royal County Down's Olivia Mehaffey 5&4 in the semi-final and Grant overcame Jessica Carty of Holywood 3&1 in what was an all-Ulster line-up in the last four.

It was also believed to be the youngest semi-final line-up in the history of the competition, with an age-range of 15 to 19-years-old.

Maguire won all of the first five holes in her semi-final contest to give Mehaffey an uphill task in trying to make the decider.

The Royal County Down girl only managed to win two holes and a half at the 14th gave Maguire the win.

Grant was also impressive from the off in her semi-final, being three up after four holes. That lead was wiped out when Carty won the ninth and 12th and Grant conceded the 13th.

Grant bounced back to win the 14th and after Carty conceded the 16th the Lisburn girl was dormie two and took the 17th to seal her place in the final.

All four semi-finalists caught the eye of the Ireland selectors for European team championships that will take place next month.

Grant will be joined by the Maguire twins and Stephanie Meadow of Royal Portrush in the ladies competition, with Carty placed on stand-by. Mehaffey has been selected in the girls team that will go to Sweden.

Ladies European Team Championships (York, England): Maria Dunne (Skerries), Paula Grant (Lisburn), Leona Maguire (Slieve Russell), Lisa Maguire (Slieve Russell), Stephanie Meadow (Royal Portrush), Chloe Ryan (Castletroy), 1st Reserve: Jessica Carty (Holywood).

Girls European Team Championships (Linkoping, Sweden): Ariana Coyle Diez (Elm Park), Laura Doherty (Howth), Mary Doyle (The Heath), Olivia Mehaffey (Royal County Down), Niamh McSherry (Lurgan), Chloe Weir (Shandon Park).

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