AS Rory McIlroy's star continues its ascent towards a Tiger-esque galaxy far, far away, even his practice rounds have become media events.
But with all the hoopla comes a downside -- as some of Ireland's leading clubs discovered to their cost last weekend when they fell for a sneaky hoax. Ballybunion was the most high-profile victim of a bogus caller who was also reported to have stung Lahinch, Doonbeg and the Adare Manor resort.
Local media revealed that the caller, purporting to be an agent of golfer Mark O'Meara, contacted Ballybunion to arrange a round for O'Meara and McIlroy last Saturday, prior to the duo attending the Heineken Cup semi-final between Ulster and Edinburgh in Dublin.
Well used to VIP visitors, Ballybunion saw nothing amiss and swept into action with their preparations. Extra catering arrangements were made, caddies took precise measurements to ensure their yardages were spot on, and the Old Course was in pristine condition for Rory and his entourage.
Except they never showed -- much to the disappointment of up to 100 young fans, club members and local media who had gathered from 7.30am. Most waited patiently until 11.30 when it became clear that McIlroy was a non-runner.
"The saddest thing about it was the disappointment on the faces of his young fans," said local photographer Domnick Walsh, reflecting the general mood.
A salutary lesson for clubs everywhere to be sure but there's always an opportunity to make amends. Over to you, Rory. Don't let the pranksters grind you down.
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IT'S time we stopped genuflecting at the altar of Roy Keane, an outstanding footballer and an average manager.
Every year it's the same story. Keano pops over to launch the Irish Guide Dogs For The Blind 'Shades' campaign and every year the media line up to hear, digest and regurgitate his words of wisdom.
Old coals are raked over, old grievances dusted off and aired again. Saipan, Mick McCarthy, even his career as an underage Ireland international when away trips meant everyone got a game except him.
The problem with all this is that there is no balance. Nobody checked with Mick McCarthy, for instance, if Keane's latest version of what happened prior to the 2002 World Cup is any closer to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
He says that Ireland are better prepared this time around. How does he know? Has he some secret involvement with the Ireland squad? Are the preparations not being overseen by the same FAI that Keane has spoken so vehemently against in the past?
So we're presented with the latest version of the Gospel according to Keano and expected to swallow every word. Until next year that is, when we might get a slightly tweaked version of history. Or we might just get the whole lot again.
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The bounty controversy in the NFL continues to rumble on. After an investigation into the New Orleans Saints, the NFL found that the franchise had run what's known as a bounty system for two years -- targeting key opposition players and paying to have them taken out during games. A 'knockout' was worth $1,500 and a 'cart-off' was worth $1,000 and among the players targeted between 2009 and 2011 were quarterbacks Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.
In March, the NFL suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for all of next season without pay and imposed fines on the club. In the latest development, four players were suspended last week for their part in the bounty system.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suspended without pay for the full season; defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, has been banned for the first half of the season; defensive end Will Smith will miss the first four games and linebacker Scott Fujita, who now plays with the Cleveland Browns, will miss the first three.
Vilma was the first to come out fighting, saying he was "shocked and extremely disappointed" by the decision. "I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any team-mate to intentionally hurt another player," said Vilma. All four players have decided to appeal.
Noel Twomey, Fergus McDonnell
and John Greene