Saturday 16 December 2017

Small matter of the truth has been lost in a storm of denial

Dion Fanning

Perhaps Ireland's wooing of Rory McIlroy could be made an official part of the Gathering proceedings.

Certainly the confusion over his allegiance could become a centrepiece of the festivities. In a year of self-regarding bullshit, a little corner could be reserved for the ambivalent.

McIlroy said last week that he may not compete at all at the Rio Olympics having upset many with his comments that he considered himself more British than Irish which led to the reasonable assumption he might play golf for Great Britain in 2016.

After his latest comments, some immediately declared that this was the most prudent course, a politic way of avoiding the trouble that might come with declaring for Britain.

The trouble, it seems, would come from Ireland, from a 'lone nut' at the Irish Open or a collection of lone nuts, all acting alone, but thinking as one, who might decide to abuse McIlroy for not being the person they wrongly believed him to be.

The Irish Open needs McIlroy more than he needs the Irish Open so maybe the wisest course would be to explain to these people why McIlroy carries a British passport rather than accept that he will be abused if he makes a decision in keeping with this fact.

"He still hasn't really come up with an answer," one commentator declared last week when the issue arose again, forgetting that McIlroy has answered the question in several ways. He has answered it through words and gestures, stopping short of delivering it through song. He just hasn't given the answer people in Ireland want to hear. Of course he has added qualifications for fear that he may be upsetting people with the truth.

The body language experts would be able to view his rejection of the tricolour at the US Open as something of a telltale sign, especially when coupled with the words "I've always felt more British than Irish . . . Maybe it was the way I was brought up, I don't know, but I have always felt more of a connection with the UK than with Ireland."

There is an answer in there somewhere, a strong message, almost a 'come and get me' plea, but still the bullshit persists that we are having a debate about allegiance, when we are having a debate about our inability to accept his allegiance.

In the refusal to accept the meaning of these words, there is the natural response to rejection, a desire to pretend it isn't happening.

Those who still act as if there is a meaningful debate sound like Alan Partridge when he meets Tony Hayers to discuss a second series. Alan is given every indication that he won't get a second series when he asks directly and says, "Let me rephrase that . . . Can I . . . actually I'll just repeat the question, have I got a second series?"

They are as deep in denial as Partridge and close to doing the sporting equivalent of shrieking "smell my cheese, you mother" and running through the BBC canteen.

Last week on RTE, they again referred to McIlroy as 'Irish' when, in his latest interview on the subject, he had pointed out that he considers himself Northern Irish.

"If I could and there was a Northern Irish team, then I'd play for Northern Ireland. I feel Northern Irish, and obviously you have a connection to Ireland and to the UK."

This seems to be a difficult one for some to grasp. We rightly condemn the abuse a player like James McClean receives when he declares for Ireland and is tormented by bigots in the North but it is harder for us to allow McIlroy to have his position.

Brendan Rodgers used to be asked if he would like to manage his country one day but people in the south lost interest when Rodgers made it clear that his country was Northern Ireland. Despite being, according to one, "a GAA man to his fingertips", Rodgers is another who self-identifies as Northern Irish and has referred to himself as a British manager.

The recent UK census showed that while 45 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland is Catholic, only 25 per cent of the population identify as Irish only. Many say they are Northern Irish, identifying themselves with what we were told so often was a 'failed statelet', perhaps the wisest choice when their alternative is the failed state to the south.

It isn't hard to imagine the pious outrage if McIlroy wanted to play for Ireland, had indicated his desire to do so but then had backtracked because his words were described as "stupid" by top British media figures and led to fears he would be abused at the British Open.

In fact, it would be much easier for McIlroy to compete under the Irish flag that he has used for many golfing events, with the cover that the Irish Olympic team represents all of Ireland.

Instead he has made an active decision to assert something else, something that may be commercially counter-productive which would indicate that, to McIlroy, it has some meaning. He should be praised for this.

Yet the debate still remains frozen at some point which no longer exists, a point at which we don't know what Rory McIlroy is thinking.

Ireland has disguised its need as a reasonable position, its desperation for McIlroy to tell us how much we mean to him as merely one of several equally palatable alternatives.

Like the Gathering, it is need masquerading as something else. The Gathering is Ireland as the drinker at dawn, locking the front door and insisting everyone is having fun and nobody is going home just yet.

McIlroy's wish to self-identify as Northern Irish or British doesn't tally with the story Ireland wants to tell itself. As usual the story has little connection to the truth. The truth is he transcends all our bullshit and he transcends all their bullshit too. We should thank him for this and, for once, make a meaningful gesture by releasing him from all obligation.

Sunday Indo Sport

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