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Open season for Irish golf stars

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Padraig Harrington
Okay so life doesn’t get much better than this.  It’s Tuesday afternoon, and thanks to the recent exploits of some golfers you may know, the sporting universe centers in Kerry this week.

We’re in Killarney to be precise, in a press tent that is nestled on the lakes that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists to this wonderful town each and every year.

I’m here on a double-edged mission. The journalist in me has to chase the dollar these days, and the dollar is powerful when it comes to covering Irish golf at this time of year.

The golfer in me, the scratch player that I know is just waiting to break out of my official 15 handicap body, wants to spend the next six days marveling at Messrs Clarke, McIlroy, McDowell and Harrington. And copying them.
Twice in the past month or so, I have traipsed up to Belfast and Portrush to hang on every word from Rory and Darren after their major triumphs at Congressional and Sandwich respectively.

Both times the press conferences to celebrate their inaugurations into the major clubs have taken place in the very golf clubs that played such a part in their formative successes.

Just last week, we had to look out on the great links at Royal Portrush, on the far end of Antrim, as Darren Clarke brought the Claret Jug back home.

That day I wanted so badly to get out onto the first tee and crack a booming drive down the middle.  Instead, the only drive I encountered was the near five-hour drive back to Co. Meath.

Today, this column is coming to you after another near five-hour drive, this time from Dunsany to Killarney.
This time, the golf clubs are in the boot of my battered car. This week, I will definitely play golf.
It won’t be over the Killeen course in Killarney. That is reserved for the best golfers in Europe between now and Sunday.

Instead, we will probably look to drive down the middle of nearby Beaufort or the wonderful links at Dooks or maybe even, if we are really lucky, at Ballybunion or Tralee.

Everywhere you look in Kerry there is great golf. Everywhere you look in Killarney this week, there are great golfers.

Darren Clarke got here on Monday. He drove down from Portrush in his Ferrari. As you do.
Quite what Darren made of the giant poster acclaiming the hunger strikers as you cross the Limerick-Kerry border is a story for another day.

Padraig Harrington arrived into Kerry on Monday as well. He flew down in his private jet. As you do.
The Ferraris and the jets are the trappings of life as a successful golfer.  Sadly, it is most unlikely now that my swing will ever earn me a private jet or a Ferrari, even if I still have three years to try and make the seniors tour.

Golf does give me great pleasure however. So does pretending to be a golf journalist.

On Tuesday, I had the great pleasure to sit through a 30 minute Harrington press conference.
The man is a genius. End of story.

No matter what people say about his most recent lack of form -- he missed the cut as Darren won at Sandwich for example -- he is quite brilliant when it comes to talking off the course.

And he has a way of putting this game into perspective that applies almost to life itself.

Asked about his current world ranking -- he is 64th and sliding -- Harrington reminded us that his is a sport where everything is based on the here and now.

“It’s all instant,” said Padraig. “Instant results. Instant. But if my rating was defined by career results then there are only two players playing now with more majors than me.

“So I’d be ranked number three in the world if we wanted to design it by career results. Instead, we are taking instant results. Life is also done by instant results and as a professional athlete, you have to stay away from the instant results because it’s a very fickle business.

“I can play the very best of my life this week in Killarney and not win the tournament. It happens. I could play okay and get the right breaks and win the tournament. Which are you going to be happier with?”

It was a fantastic observation from one of this country’s greatest sportsmen, and a fitting start to what promises to be a great week in Killarney.

As I write, the aforementioned Clarke is out fishing on the aforementioned lakes.

And yes. I might just envy him his lifestyle.

Sideline Views

SOCCER: Mick McCarthy has admitted he is powerless to ban his players from using the social network site Twitter, but he has warned them about their comments. Just last season Mick lost out on signing Steve Sidwell when one of his squad tweeted the fact that the player was training with them and about to sign. Fulham nipped in and landed Sidwell.

Mick is also concerned that players will tweet team formations and selections ahead of big games and has promised to fine anyone who does so.

In a similar vein comes confirmation from the Celtic winger Paddy McCourt that none of the various Twitter accounts attributed to him are genuine. “They are all fake because I don’t really use computers,” revealed McCourt. “I don't know anything about it. Some people ask if it’s me but it’s certainly not.” Now you know.

HURLING: Ryan O’Dwyer was Dublin’s hero in Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling quarterfinal win over Limerick when he scored a hat-trick of goals and forgot all about family loyalties. O’Dwyer’s grandfather is the Limerick legend Paddy Ryan and the Dublin striker, born in Tipperary, admitted, “We’re very proud of him. He is my mother’s father and growing up, everything was about the great Paddy.

“Unfortunately we had to beat Limerick, my own mother’s blood. But at the end of the day no matter who is put in front of you, you have to beat them. Paddy Ryan is still close to my heart.” Wise words from O’Dwyer – I hope his mother understood!

GOLF: The Irish Open is the hottest ticket in town this week, not a bad claim for golf considering Celtic, Inter Milan and Manchester City are all in action at the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park hosts three of the four All-Ireland football quarterfinals over Saturday and Sunday. Such is the interest in the Killarney tournament than even Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny is playing in the pro-am. Let’s hope he doesn’t meet anyone from Roscommon angry at the closure of their hospital.

RUGBY: Some people have expressed surprise that Declan Kidney has landed a two-year extension to his contract as Ireland coach before the World Cup finals in New Zealand, but why? After winning the Grand Slam two years ago, Kidney should be allowed stay on as long as he wants.

SOCCER: Goalkeeper Alan Mannus couldn’t get near the Northern Ireland set-up when he played for Shamrock Rovers. Now he’s just a week into his new career with Scottish side St. Johnstone and back in Nigel Worthington’s squad for next month’s game against the Faroes. Strange that.

HURLING: Sean Og O hAilpin says he wants to play for Cork again but only if Denis Walsh isn’t the manager. Then he says he doesn’t want to start a witch hunt against Walsh -- which is exactly what that sort of statement will start!


Heroes of the week

Davy Fitzgerald isn’t my cup of tea, but you can’t deny the manner in which he inspired Waterford’s battered hurlers to victory over Galway in Sunday’s All-Ireland quarterfinal. Likewise, Fitzy’s former Clare teammate Anthony Daly did some job in getting Dublin over the finish line against Limerick in their quarterfinal clash. The pair have a job on their hands when they meet Kilkenny and Tipperary respectively in the semis but, after last weekend, don’t bet against the Banner Boys pulling off the biggest shocks of all.

Idiot of the week

Mario Balotelli has been reprimanded by his Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini for showboating against the LA Galaxy on Sunday and rightly so. The fans who paid good money to watch the Italian striker in action deserved better than to see him attempt to back-heel the ball past the Galaxy keeper. Mancini took Balotelli off straight away and warned him as to his future conduct. Those who claim that Super Mario was only trying to entertain the crowd forget one thing -- the greatest entertainment on any soccer field is a goal.

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