Friday 13 December 2019

‘Fergie factor’ gives McGinley the edge

Karl MacGinty

THERE'S a reason why world No 1 Rory McIlroy and the majority of Europe's Ryder Cup miracle-workers at Medinah believe Paul McGinley should lead the home team into next year's matches in Gleneagles.

Let's call it the Fergie Factor.

Alex Ferguson was a good footballer in his day, not a great one – yet when it comes to man-management, meticulous attention to detail and enduring commitment to a team cause, he's in a league of his own.

Several of his players at Old Trafford – megastars like Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes and Roy Keane – followed Ferguson into management but couldn't match the maestro when it came to building a squad and wringing every drop of potential out of it.

Nobody would dare suggest McGinley's gift is on a par with Fergie's, but the Dubliner is an exception to the usual rule in that most solitary of sports, professional golf.

McGinley's natural flair for organisation, his eye for detail and innate ability to get the most out of a locker-room was seen to best effect at the Seve Trophy matches in 2009 and 2011, when Great Britain & Ireland teams captained by McGinley overturned the odds against Continental Europe.

When the European Tour's controlling Tournament Players Committee convenes in Abu Dhabi tonight, hopefully they'll have the courage to match McIlroy's conviction and name McGinley as Ireland's first ever Ryder Cup captain.

The committee must resist any temptation to let last month's appointment of Tom Watson as US captain influence their deliberations.

America's decision, albeit inspired, to pluck this legendary figure from the annals of history was born out of desperation caused by defeat in seven of the last nine Ryder Cups since Watson led them to their last victory on European soil in 1993.

To allow it prompt a panic-stricken departure from policies that helped Europe recover from the Nick Faldo debacle at Valhalla to win at Celtic Manor and in Chicago would represent a significant coup for the US team, offering craven endorsement of their choice.

When it comes to Ryder Cup week, it really doesn't matter how many Majors, if any, your team captain has won. Victory in this arena is achieved by inspirational players – like Ian Poulter at Medinah – not talismanic skippers.

If anything, recent Ryder Cups suggest that team captains are more likely to lose matches. Luck, of course, plays a major part but success or failure hinges on small, seemingly innocuous decisions.

Davis Love, for example, berated himself after Medinah for not placing the pins at 17 and 18 on Sunday on the back left of the green instead of the back right, which would have favoured the majority of his players. Poulter later insisted this was key to Europe's miracle comeback that afternoon.

McGinley, 46 and in the latter stages of a relatively distinguished playing career on the European Tour, is neither a Tiger nor a Tom Watson.

Yet when it comes to team play, he clearly draws deep from his roots in Gaelic football. Famously, McGinley was Europe's match-clincher on Sunday at the Belfry in 2002, the first of three successive Ryder Cup appearances as a player.

Including his role as a vice-captain to Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal last September, McGinley has never tasted defeat in this exalted arena.

His distinguished contribution at Celtic Manor and in Medinah has convinced McIlroy and fellow Ryder Cup stalwarts like Poulter, Justin Rose, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, that McGinley has the right stuff for next year's confrontation at Gleneagles.

Guys like these don't give their allegiance lightly.

Even if McIlroy's most recent contribution to the Ryder Cup debate was delivered last Sunday on Twitter, his words carry immense weight.

"RC captaincy should be a one-time thing ... Everybody deserving gets their chance and moves on," he tweeted, concluding: "Would love to play under Paul McGinley in '14."

Darren Clarke, McGinley's erstwhile rival for the captaincy, responded to Watson's appointment last month by suggesting that Europe needed a man of Monty's status to go eye-to-eye with his fellow 'Hall-of-Famer' at Gleneagles.

Montgomerie seized on this opportunity to propel himself into the captaincy race and, in the wake of Clarke's admission last Friday that "this may not be my time", the Scot is the only realistic rival to McGinley going into tonight's meeting.

While Friday's remarks ensure Clarke will not have to endure the embarrassment of defeat in a captaincy vote, he has made so many U-turns over the past year, can one fully rule out another if circumstances fall in his favour this evening?

After playing on the Seve Trophy team captained by McGinley in 2011, Clarke informed his good friend that he'd not run against him for the captaincy at Gleneagles.

Yet as he plunged into a deep and protracted form slump last season, the 2011 Open champion had a change of heart. Clarke's decision to become a candidate for 2014 was enthusiastically endorsed post-Medinah by his stable mate at ISM, Lee Westwood, while an English tabloid reported last October that the Ulsterman had been given the job!

Clarke moved quickly to deny that "exclusive" on Twitter but revealed he had been asked by the Tour if he'd be available for the position.

He certainly appeared to have the advantage over McGinley in November when he made an appearance on 'The Late Late Show' to promote his 'Open Book', rounding off a distinctly impressive performance by saying that any disappointment either man might have would be eased by the long-awaited appointment of Irish golf's first Ryder Cup captain.

In December, Clarke then retweeted a tweet by McIlroy relishing the prospect of a clash between McGinley and Watson at Gleneagles. His appetite for the captaincy was thrown into further doubt with that endorsement of McGinley for the job.

Clarke explains that an upswing in form in two tournaments before Christmas helped convince him he could contend for the team in 2014 – but changes early that month to the 15-man Tournament Players Committee certainly did not improve his prospects of winning the vote.

Another of Clarke's ISM stablemates, Richard Finch, failed to gain re-election, Dubliner Peter Lawrie and current Ryder Cup player Francesco Molinari, a supporter of McGinley, made it onto the committee.

McGinley's dignified refusal to join the captaincy debate is to his credit. Though Clarke's coming-and-going has done little to enhance the process, he remains the outstanding candidate by far to lead the 2016 European team to Hazeltine.

Having a high-profile, popular skipper is of undoubted significance to the away team at the Ryder Cup.

After the Miracle at Medinah, however, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles will be the hottest ticket in sport next year – and there's absolutely no need for a figurehead to drum up corporate support.

Three of the 15 committee members definitely will miss tonight's meeting. Miguel Angel Jimenez is recovering at home in Malaga from the broken leg he sustained while skiing during the festive season, while Robert Karlsson plays the Humana Challenge in California and his fellow Swede Joakim Haeggman is not in the field for the Abu Dhabi Championship.

With candidates McGinley and Mongomerie expected to leave the room for the Ryder Cup captaincy debate, 10 committee members, including Clarke and Thomas Bjorn, will vote.

In the event of a tie, chairman Bjorn will not have a casting vote and the matter instead will be referred to the Tour's board of directors.

Monty cuts a daunting rival for McGinley, but the public urgings of former Ryder Cup captains Olazabal and Ian Woosnam plus fellow Scot Paul Lawrie suggest there's little appetite on Tour to row back on a well-established, 20-year tradition of one-time captains.

Montgomerie may be a laird at Gleneagles but his days as Europe's Braveheart are over. He'll be 51 when the 2014 Ryder Cup is played and, if he has any sense, should by then be hoovering up sackfuls of cash on the US Champions Tour.

Ironically, that's the same as Faldo was at Valhalla. Though Monty has far too much savvy to fall into the same trap as England's 'Captain Blunder', the decision by the European Tour in the wake of Valhalla not to appoint captains over 50 was well-founded.

While Harrington and Paul Lawrie both want to play at Gleneagles, Jimenez and Bjorn, vice-captains alongside Clarke and McGinley at Medinah, would relish the job.

Some in the British media might find it difficult not to look down their nose at an Irish Ryder Cup captain. However, McGinley's 'Fergie-like' instinct for team management and his impressive track record firmly establishes him as the right man, in the right place at the right time to make history this evening.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: John Cooney on Ulster's European run and bouncing back from World Cup disappointment

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport