McIlroy makes it a perfect Fota opportunity by declaring for Boys in Green
Sunshine and blue skies ensure huge crowds for Irish Open pro-am at Cork venue
Rory McIlroy at the press conference on Fota Island, Co Cork. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Sun shining, temperatures hitting 25 degrees, Fota Island looking as manicured and magnificent as Augusta and just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any better, Rory McIlroy just made every Irish golf fan’s day by declaring for Ireland for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
McIlroy’s press conference was trundling merrily along in the thankfully air-conditioned media centre when, in response to a question from a member of the press pack, he caught everyone unawares with his declaration that he would be playing for the Boys in Green in Rio De Janeiro.
“There is no point in delaying it, letting it linger any longer. I was watching the World Cup in Brazil thinking about Brazil in a couple of years time and it got me thinking that I should go ahead and get it out of the way - I really look forward to the Olympics in a couple of years time.”
“I had a lot of time on my own over the last few weeks and I have been thinking about it a lot. It’s something that would be quite important to me. I needed to make some sort of decision, some sort of stand. I weighed up everything.
“I was thinking back about the times I was playing for Ireland, won a European Team Championship. I won a lot of great amateur titles representing Ireland so I thought why change that? To me it is just a continuation of what I have always done.”
The announcement, greeted by a spontaneous round of applause from the press, not surprisingly led to a swelling of the public gallery at 2pm as McIlroy teed off in the pro-am with his father, Gerry, businessman and Glasgow Celtic owner, Dermot Desmond and Mr Desmond’s friend Albert Sharpe.
Irish American super hoofer and multi-millionaire, Michael Flatley had been due to participate in the pro-am but was forced to pull out at the last moment but in truth there were plenty of names among the amateurs as well as the many pros to keep the autograph hunters happy.
Among the amateurs, sports men from other codes were among the most besieged for autographs with Cork hurling goalkeeper, Anthony Nash putting all the controversy about his ability to launch his trademark raspers penalties and frees behind him to enjoy a relaxing game of golf.
“I was playing with Marc Warren - he was an absolute gentleman - I drive the ball a bit but my driving wasn’t going too well today so he gave me a few tips - it’s great being able to see the professionals up close and Fota is just phenomenal , the greens and fairways are just pristine.”
Nash’s nemesis from last year’s All-Ireland, Clare manager, Davy Fitzgerald was also enjoying the occasion, revealing that he had been at Fota Island just a few weeks back with his Clare team but was unable to sample the course with his focus then very firmly on last Sunday’s clash with Cork.
“I play off one...that’s my official handicap but I wouldn’t say I play (that well) all the time,” he said.
“I have played here a few times. It is an unbelievable course, absolutely fantastic and I’m really looking forward to playing it,” said the Clare manager as he signed autographs for fans.
Among those wanting to talk hurling with the two-time All-Ireland medal winner was the 2009 Irish Open champion, Shane Lowry who admitted part of the attraction of playing the competition was meeting so many friendly and familiar faces.
“I love the course here...and it is fantastic weather for it. You just go out and do your best .... I wouldn’t dream of giving Davy any advice but I will be looking at the qualifiers draw to see who Offaly gets, I hope it won’t be Clare,” he quipped.
Sun screen and ice cream were proving very much the order of the day at Fota, which last year was bought from Nama by the Kang family, with many fans smearing themselves to a Goth-like pallor as they sought protection from a sun which rayed down from a perfectly azure sky.
Meanwhile in the shade of some trees near the 10th hole, Craig Williams of Glanmire Ice Creams was doing a roaring trade from his van despite maintaining a near Carmelite silence from his jingle machine that would have won approval from Senator Catherine Noone.
“We’ve been on the go since early in the morning - business has been great for cones and 99s - kids and adults - we even had a school in here earlier with 32 kids but we have plenty of supplies so there’s no danger of us running out of ice cream,” he said happily.
Back off the golf course, Irish international and Ipswich Town midfielder, Stephen Hunt was taking time out to wax lyrical about the whole event as well as the perfectly groomed course which was originally part of the Fota House estate owned by the Earls of Barrymore.
“It’s very hot out there but it was fantastic to be part of it all,” said Hunt who plays off 12 and teed off with English professional Simon Khan. “I’ll stay around for the day now and just enjoy it and hopefully I’ll come back down for the weekend again if I get a chance.”