Friday 23 August 2019

Hero's rain-sodden army of supporters weather the storm on a day to remember

 

True colours: Fans hold up a Co Offaly GAA jersey in support of Shane Lowry at Portrush yesterday. Photo: PA
True colours: Fans hold up a Co Offaly GAA jersey in support of Shane Lowry at Portrush yesterday. Photo: PA

Ed McCann and Melanie Finn

It's not often you see Irish Tricolours flown without controversy in Portrush - but as Shane Lowry teed off at the first hole the flags flew proudly.

Even at that stage there was a sense something special was in the air.

The wind blew one way and then another - in fact, it seemed to be blowing in about three different directions at the same time.

And then the downpour came as the rain battered down on the unsuspecting players and spectators alike. There was no hiding place - but Lowry and his army of supporters weathered the storm.

The fans are what make the atmosphere and they came from far and wide. Most of those who travelled from further afield looked somewhat bewildered as the heavens opened after lunchtime.

It was a diluvial downpour but didn't put a dampener on the Lowry supporters.

It never looked like there was any danger of him losing his lead so each hole seemed like a victory parade. On the 13th, Lowry's recovery from a bunker was greeted by a cacophony of shouts of "Shane-o". There was no doubt he felt like he was playing at home.

The rain had now gone. The fans grabbed a spot wherever they could to catch a glimpse of Lowry. This was no easy task as the crowds seemed to grow bigger and bigger - with people stretched out as far as the eye could see.

By the 18th the most likely view you were going to get was a sea of mobile phones trying to capture this historic moment: an Irishman winning The Open on the island of Ireland.

The stewards throughout were incredibly friendly and helpful - and they came from all over. One woman who was holding the line at the 13th came from Ballyliffin in Co Donegal. By the final hole, however, they could only advise that the best vantage point was on the big screen in the spectators' area. If you hadn't got a place already, there was no chance.

Or so it seemed. A moment that symbolised the positive atmosphere was when a fan from Bray lifted a little boy on to his shoulders to get a view of Lowry on the 18th green.

His smile was reflected all around as the crowd basked in the glow of this special occasion. And in the town of Portrush, the party was in full swing in the Neptune, the Tourist and the Harbour Bar where it was standing room only.

All roads led north over the weekend as a procession of southern-reg cars thronged the seaside village as momentum began building over a possible victory for Lowry.

Hardy fans were seen trudging around the town decked out in rain gear and toting golf umbrellas with plenty of "grass widows" checking out the local attractions as their other halves watched history unfold at the course.

Publican Willie Gregg was doing a roaring trade as he welcomed golfing aficionados who piled in seeking refuge from the driving rain and huddled around the giant screens.

They raised the rafters with their cheers when Lowry made the final shot, with none more delighted than Mr Gregg, who had been flying the flag for Portrush since the tournament was first confirmed for the area.

His pal Darren Clarke - who won The Open in 2011 - is a regular and said the historic win "means everything to this whole island, not just Portrush", describing Lowry as a "gentleman".

"This tournament has meant everything to the area. It's priceless for the town," said Clarke.

"We're going to benefit from this for the next 10 years.

"We are still getting benefit from the Irish Open that we had in 2012. With the actual town seen in over 900 million TV sets around the world, we couldn't buy this PR."

Worth an estimated €45m to the local economy, Portrush has been shown in its finest light over the past few days with many lauding the tournament as a huge success.

Irish Independent

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