There was a time when Rory McIlroy’s Irishness -- or the lack of it -- would have really bothered me.
Not so long ago, I’d have got really upset by his apparent willingness to play for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics in London.
I may even have slated those comments on these very pages when he made them back in 2009 and said that he would probably play for Britain rather than Ireland in London next year.
Likewise, the quick disappearance of the Irish Tricolor as he made his way to the recorder’s hut at Congressional two Sundays ago would have really irked me in the recent past. So much so that I’d probably have rewound the tape a hundred times to see what happened to the green, white and orange flag.
Now I don’t care. I’ve come to a stage in my life where I no longer want to define people by their nationality or their Olympic persuasion.
I haven’t found my way to any particular Damascus on this issue. I’ve just come to realize that what matters is a person’s heart, not any allegiance.
A week ago, on Wednesday to be precise, I spent the day at Holywood Golf Club in North County Down, the very club where Rory McIlroy learned to play the game that may yet offer him a shot at Olympic glory.
The Holywood members got their chance that Wednesday to welcome their hero home, to throw their doors open to the world and show the global audience of millions what Rory McIlroy meant to them.
RMac, as some have christened him a year after GMac won the same U.S. Open title, reciprocated as he showed the world what this picturesque part of the world on the shores of Belfast Lough means to him.
It was, to be honest about it, a love-in at Holywood Golf Club last week, and we were like giddy school kids invited to take a peek at the family party as McIlroy arrived home in triumph.
He could do no wrong in their eyes and they could no wrong in his. They all talked about him with lavish words; he spoke about them in terms only of endearment.
It was hard not to be swept up by the moment, hard not to be engulfed by the emotion of it all as Rory spoke to us mere visitors in the very room where, as a three-year-old, he used to hit plastic golf balls with plastic golf clubs as his father manned the bar.
Over the course of an enthralling afternoon, Rory answered every question, signed every autograph, smiled for every camera.
He swore allegiance to the Irish Open on the one hand, offered his help to find a sponsor for his “national” championship as he put it, and looked forward to seeing us all in Killarney at the end of the month.
Then he spoke about sitting in the royal box at Wimbledon this week, about his support for Andy Murray and his support from Rafa Nadal, about his love for Manchester United and his hope that Lee Westwood will follow him as a major winner in the not too distant future.
As I left Holywood that night, sent on my way with the best wishes of the members and one old dear who insisted I have a cup of tea before I left, I realized that I was a southerner in a very northern part of North Ireland if you know what I mean.
And then I realized as well that it didn’t matter.
Not once in Holywood Golf Club last week did anyone ask me where I was born. Not once did anyone ask me what religion, if any, I subscribed to.
One man did ask me a very personal question -- where did I play golf? He approved of Headfort, my club in the Royal County of Meath.
The recent riots were only calming down in East Belfast as I left for home on Wednesday night. In fact, I passed not a stone’s throw from the Short Strand, scene of the crime, as I drove towards the motorway to Dublin -- but thankfully nobody was throwing stones at the time.
While one corner of Ulster was celebrating Rory McIlroy’s success and looking to the future, another corner was threatening to return to the horrific days of old.
That’s why I don’t care anymore how Irish Rory McIlroy is or isn’t. It doesn’t matter.
I would rather celebrate his ability with a golf club than worry about the mindless morons who want to drag us back to a violent past.
If that means watching him play golf for Britain at the Olympics next year then good luck to him. Nobody will be hurt on whatever golf course they use for London 2012.
And really, that’s all that should matter in this debate.
RUGBY: My hat goes off to Brian O’Driscoll for having the courage to speak his mind in front of a New York audience last week. The Irish rugby captain was dead right to say that the soccer players who pulled out of the end of season games, including the vital qualifier away to Macedonia, had treated the national jersey with disrespect. He was also brave to admit that the rugby team had bought into the hype when they went to the last World Cup in France, four years ago now, believing the speculation that they could win it. The rugby team gathered for their first World Cup training camp on Sunday and Dricco is clearly going to keep their feet on the ground judging by his Manhattan comments. I won’t be surprised to see them go further this time around if that is indeed the case.
GAA: There has yet to be a replay in the GAA Championships this summer, and it’s costing the Croke Park accountants dearly in these economically challenged times. So you can imagine their disgust when Meath referee Cormac Reilly awarded a late, late free to Dublin on Sunday and Bernard Brogan duly scored the match winner against Kildare. Had Reilly opted to ignore the controversial “foul” on Brogan, the replay would have netted an estimated $600,000 for the GAA. Now that’s what you call an expensive free-kick.
RACING: The Queen didn’t make it to the Curragh on Sunday despite all the hints in the media, and it’s a good job too. She may have been welcomed with open arms last month, nowhere more so than in the rebel county of Cork, but legendary trainer Aidan O’Brien didn’t stand on ceremony as three of his horses beat her majesty’s Carlton House into fourth place at the Irish Derby. Very uncivil of him after everyone working so hard to make the royals welcome.
SOCCER: Ask anyone of a certain age to name an Argentinean football club and I’ll guarantee you they will answer River Plate or Boca Juniors. Well River Plate, the club that gave us Passarella, Batistuta and Cannigia, made history at the weekend when they were relegated from the top flight of Argentine football for the first time in the club’s history. Nothing lasts forever in football.
CRICKET: The good news from the game with the stumps is that Ireland will be given the opportunity to qualify for the 2015 World Cup after a change of heart by the game’s governing body. Hopefully our men in green will get the chance to beat England again.
HURLING: The Clare hurling legend and well known pundit Ger Loughnane is currently battling leukemia at a Dublin hospital. We can only wish him well.
Hero of the week
There's only one Ciano -- Cian Ward could probably make a small fortune as a soccer player if he ever decided to switch codes. His four goals in Cavan’s Breffni Park didn’t just blow Louth out of the water in the eagerly awaited Leinster football rematch, they also proved that class will always tell on the gaelic football field. At a time when puke football is the norm for so many counties, it was refreshing to see Meath create so many goal chances -- and breathtaking to watch the accuracy with which Ward dispatched the ball to the Louth net. Thanks to Ward’s eye for goal there was no doubt about the result second time around. Thank God.
Idiot of the week
Politicians are supposed to lead their people by example, so pity the poor Unionists in the North who voted the DUP’s Ian McCrea into the Ulster Assembly recently. McCrea clearly has a problem with the very Nationalist sport of Gaelic football to judge by his tweet following Tyrone’s defeat to Donegal in the Ulster Championship on Sunday. McCrea tweeted, “Great to see Tyrone beat in the Ulster semis today, hope Donegal beat Londonderry in the final to keep the celebrations out of Mid Ulster.” He later claimed he was entitled to celebrate the fact that taxpayer’s money wouldn’t be spent on serenading the Tyrone team, but he still came across as an idiot.