Rory McIlroy. Andy Lyons

With the final group stumbling at The K Club on Saturday, Hurly Long took full advantage, posting a third-round 70 to reach 13-under and open up a one-shot lead over nearest challenger Jordan Smith. The German will tee it up on Sunday alongside crowd favourite Rory McIlroy.

“It’s exciting,” Long said. “Last year at The Belfry I was leading after two rounds, and there were ginormous crowds out there as well. So I can take something from that. I’ve got a good attitude. I know it’s going to be way more difficult tomorrow than it was even today but you can feed off that just as well. So I’m just looking forward to it either way.”

With huge crowds watching on, World No. 2 McIlroy shot a stunning 66 to climb to 11-under and sit just two shots off the lead with 18 holes to play.

“Last night I thought I was maybe a little bit too far behind and out of it but I played a really good round of golf today to get myself back in it and I’m excited to have another opportunity (to win the Irish Open) tomorrow,” he said.