Opinion: Ireland's Rory McIlro...

Golf

Opinion: Ireland's Rory McIlroy is finally going for gold, so let's cheer him at the Tokyo Olympics


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When describing golfer Rory McIlroy in a sports news bulletin, it's never been straightforward.  I like 'Holywood' star, as it's a play on words relating to his homestead and his standing in global sport.  There's 'County Down' golfer.  There's 'Ulsterman'.

'Ireland' and 'Northern Ireland' I have tended to  eschew, all because of McIlroy's past pronouncements.  His upbringing against the backdrop of the Troubles exudes the colour grey, when people demand to see a black and white identity from their sports stars.  The possessiveness of fans towards public sporting figures / heroes should not be underestimated.  Add nationalism to the mix and it's sugar on the bonfire.

So when I observe McIlroy's surprise announcement that he will play for Team Ireland at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I am looking through grey tinted glasses.  I am deciphering a man in his third decade, comfortable to return to his roots.  That was representing the island of Ireland as a teenage amateur under the GUI banner, along similar lines to his rugby, hockey and cricket cousins in the atmosphere of 'Ireland's Call'.  I am deducing a good relationship with his former amateur coach Neil Manchip, who is going to head up the Irish team in Japan.  Cognisant that Manchip coaches Shane Lowry, and with McIlroy and Lowry the likely duo to travel, a clear picture begins to emerge.

The tears that Rory McIlroy cried when claiming the Irish Open at the K Club in 2016 were real.  His foundation played a huge role in putting a tournament that was in jeopardy back on a sure footing, through the halo branding of his rock star association and the financial support which followed in sponsorship.  It should never be forgotten.

So when I see McIlroy not wanting to play this year's Irish Open at Lahinch, so he can give himself the best preparation for the Open at Portrush, or when I look back at the contradictory utterances of his past, relating to Zika (jumping on the bandwagon), the Olympics (watching sports that matter (not golf); resenting it), flags (no connection), identity (more British than Irish, versus playing for Ireland always being the dream) - I am no longer inclined to pass judgement.  I see someone that's maybe too open with his words, too free in a 'gotcha' culture.  A young man under klieg lights.

I have always got the sense with McIlroy that he wants to be his own man, preferably out of the spotlight, who just wants to play great golf and win majors.  I don't get the feeling he likes being put under pressure and told what to do.  Who does?

His upbringing was normal, but the environment in which he grew up was extraordinary.  Therefore life is going to be a little grey, not boring grey, but complicated grey, especially when one is launched from a cannonball to global recognition by winning a major at the age of 22.  There could be brand considerations.  Back in 2014, when Rio was on the horizon, Rory McIlroy was the best golfer in the world.  He remains ridiculously talented, but he's not the dominant force we expected in a 'post Tiger Woods' era.  In fact, we are back living in a Tiger era again.

Ireland's legacy of gold medals at the Summer Olympics is not bullion rich.  Only Ronnie Delany, Michael Carruth and Katie Taylor have worn the precious metal since World War 2.  So if McIlroy or Lowry are in contention down the 18th hole in Japan, I'll be wholeheartedly cheering them on.

Let's respect that professional and personal decisions are not always easy, they may involve wavering, and that they take time.  Hopefully, McIlroy has made the right one for himself and for the country.

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