Rory McIlroy
There’s a wonderful golf course in Northern Ireland that has its very own Rory McIlroy story to tell, a Nick Faldo design that flatters to deceive at first before showing its true class.

The course, known as Lough Erne, is situated just outside the town of Enniskillen, on the road to the village of Belleek where world famous china is manufactured and the sign post at the far side of the parish points in the direction of Donegal.

There are many reasons to visit Enniskillen or Belleek -- as I know from experience. And I'm just talking about the famous caves, but that's another story altogether.

I’ve an aunt who once got married in the Fermanagh capital, I’ve passed through both places on the way to the annual Rory Gallagher festival in Ballyshannon, and I’ve even been known to play golf on the Lough Erne course itself.

It’s also the only place in the world where I’ve had the pleasure to see the Earth below from a helicopter, an experience everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.

The invite to take to the air in one of those whirly machines came my way about five years ago when Lough Erne was still in its infancy and the developer -- now sadly in NAMA -- was keen to show the course off.

That day, a bunch of us went up, up and away over the Lakeland course and marveled at the beauty of the Faldo design below us.

A few minutes later, safely back on terra firma and enjoying canapes in one of the island’s finest hotels as was our wont in the Celtic Tiger era, we met the course’s young ambassador.

His name then -- and now -- was Rory McIlroy, and round about that time, the young man from Holywood in the County Down had just turned professional.

The PR man introduced Rory that day but there was no need. We knew all about him already and even if we didn’t, a visit to the locker room would have sorted us out fairly quickly with its collection of Rory memorabilia.
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Now a lot of water has flowed across Lough Erne in the years since that helicopter ride, some of it good and some of it bad.

The business belonging to Jim Treacy, the owner who paid Faldo to design the layout that only shows its true beauty once you hit the sixth hole on the hill overlooking the lake, is now in the sort of financial bother that is par for the course for Ireland’s big developers, pun intended.

Rory McIlroy, however, has gone from strength to strength. He can literally do no wrong on any golf course, aside from the rare off day like the final Sunday at Augusta last year that is!

Wee Mac’s career has taken off as smoothly as the helicopter that rose above Lough Erne that day, all those years ago.

He is now the number one golfer in the world, for the next few days at least, and deservedly so.
In the months since he collapsed in the final round of the Masters, Rory has learned how to putt well on a regular basis, and he has discovered the joy of consistency.

Only once in the last 11 big events he has played in, has McIlroy finished outside the top five, and that was when he was suffering badly with an oriental flu virus or some such like.

He has risen to the top of the world but he has never forgotten where he came from, no matter how many times his name and his personal life has appeared in the press.

A story concerning Lough Erne illustrates that much beautifully.

The Fermanagh course is now in receivership and those running it in no state to pay Rory McIlroy to endorse their product.

Yet those who know such things tell me that Rory McIlroy still wears the Lough Erne crest on his sleeve with pride and is no rush to discard it, no matter how much or how little the club can afford to pay him.

Look closely at the pictures of Rory celebrating his win at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens last Sunday night and you will see the Lough Erne logo as clear as a Florida day.

It may not stay there forever but the Fermanagh course will always be close to his heart and right now he wears that fondness on his sleeve.

A class act – and a deserved world number one.

Sideline Views

GAA: Dublin fans will be delighted to know that Bernard Brogan will make his return after injury this coming weekend, but there was another significant return to form for another All-Ireland winning Dub last Saturday night. Big Eoghan O’Gara scored 1-5 as Dublin beat Laois in the National League down in Portlaoise and may finally, having beaten his own injury problems, be ready to prove his worth to the cause. On his day O’Gara is a handful for any defense. Last Saturday was one such day.

RUGBY: The Tyrone football boss Mickey Harte turned up at Carton House on Tuesday to watch the Irish rugby team train. A keen follower of all sports, Harte no doubt picked up a thing or two from watching Declan Kidney put his team through their paces. There’s little doubt, by the way, that Kidney could also have learned a thing or two from a natural leader and a born winner like Harte.

SOCCER: Two players have already quit cash strapped Rangers and more are certain to go in the coming days as the administrators take a knife to Ally McCoist’s first team squad. The current problems at Ibrox may guarantee Celtic the title, but I am sure that no real Celts fan really wants to see his or her team win the Scottish League this way, even those currently laughing at the Rangers predicament.

SOCCER: Mick McCarthy will fly home from an American holiday this week and back to the waiting game that is life as an unemployed football manager. In the time he’s been away, Wolves have replaced him with his assistant Terry Connor and got hammered 5-0 by Fulham last weekend. Maybe now they are beginning to realize that the players, and not the manager, are the problem at Molineux.

SOCCER: Speaking of Mick, Chelsea sacked their manager Andres Villas Boas on Sunday, after just a few months in charge. His short time with the Blues cost Roman Abramovich something in the region of $80 million. It won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be great to see Mick McCarthy put in charge of a team with money to spend and quality players always at his disposal!
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SOCCER: Best wishes to Jack Charlton, who fell down the stairs at his Newcastle home the other day and broke his hip. Big Jack is said to be bored stupid as he recovers in hospital and I’ll bet he has borrowed a cigarette or two off the nurses -- even if he’s not allowed to smoke them in the ward.

RUGBY: Tommy Bowe has, as expected, announced his return to Ulster for next season. The deal was signed before his two try heroics in Paris on Sunday which is probably just as well for the Northern province as his value definitely went up in the Stade de France.

SOCCER: Some people of a certain persuasion in the North are upset that James McClean wore the number 26 on his Republic debut in the 1-1 draw with the Czechs at the Aviva last week. Maybe they have a reason to dislike the number 26. Can’t think why!


Rory McIlroy has made it patently clear he wants to hang onto the world number one spot when he returns to action in Miami this week, and who can doubt his intentions after his brilliant victory in Palm Beach Gardens last weekend. Lee Westwood and Luke Donald can both overtake McIlroy if they win the WGC event this coming Sunday, but such was McIlroy’s control and calmness last weekend, they will have little or no chance.


Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich bowed to player power again when he ousted Andres Villas Boas as his manager on Sunday, less than 24 hours after a 1-0 defeat at West Brom. The Blues are going through coaches like a knife through butter, but the senior players who have got them into their current mess remain at the club. Maybe it is time for Abramovich to sack a few of them as well.