PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – So Rory McIlroy will play for Ireland in the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro. Big deal. Can we now get back to more-important issues?
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” McIlroy said at an Irish Open news conference at Fota Island Resort in County Cork. “I don’t know whether it’s been because the World Cup has been in Brazil, and I’ve been thinking a couple of years down the line. Thinking about all the times that I played as an amateur for Ireland and as a boy and everything, I think for me it’s the right decision to play for Ireland in 2016.
“I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and play as an amateur and as a boy, and I would be very proud to do it again.”
Why it took McIlroy, who as a citizen of Northern Ireland is a British subject and thus eligible to compete for the U.K. or Ireland in international events, so long to make this decision is a bit of a mystery. Here’ the rub. People in this part of the world couldn’t care less.
His decision isn’t going to stir up a storm of controversy. There won’t be marches on Stormont in Belfast, seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Northern Irish golf fans on both sides of the religious divide that still separates this nation are not going to boo McIlroy the next time they watch him play. They’ll still turn out by the thousands to cheer him.
McIlroy’s decision was the quintessential no-brainer, despite previously saying the issue had put him in an “extremely sensitive and difficult position.”
He played for Ireland as a boy, as a youth and as a professional. It’s only natural that he would play for Ireland in Rio – presuming, of course, that he qualifies.
There was no great outcry when McIlroy teamed with Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell to play for Ireland in the World Cups of 2009 and ’11. There’s a simple reason: It wasn’t out of the ordinary.
Perhaps the greatest part about sport in the Emerald Isle has been its ability to bring the North and the South together despite the obvious sectarian divide. No one blinked an eye when Northern Irish golfers such as McIlroy, McDowell and Darren Clarke much earlier were chosen to represent the Golfing Union of Ireland.
Golf isn’t the only sport that ignores the border that separates Ulster from the three other Irish provinces of Leinster, Munster and Connacht. The Irish rugby team has always been made up of players from the North and South. Ditto for cricket and field hockey.
The only major sport chosen along North and South lines is football, and the beautiful game is poorer for it. An all-Ireland team probably would have had much more success over the years.
So let’s get back to more important issues – such as, will the thick haar rolling in from the Irish Sea stay away long enough to complete play in the 119th Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush?