Monday 9 December 2019

From the Stands: Time for McIlroy to raise the white flag

Fergus McDonnell and Seán Ryan

APART from being a classic first-world problem, Rory McIlroy's 'who should I play for in the Olympics' dilemma is not as difficult to resolve as people might think.

McIlroy himself has stated that he has three options – to represent Ireland, to represent the UK or not play at all. But there's a fourth option open to the world's best golfer and that is to compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete or IOA.

London 2012 was the third time this route has been taken, when four athletes – three from the Netherland Antilles and the other from South Sudan – competed under the neutral white flag. The previous occasions, 1992 and 2000, saw athletes from Yugoslavia, Macedonia and East Timor avail of the device, which shows the political turmoil necessary for such a course.

McIlroy has no such concerns, but if he did seek to compete as an IOA it might concentrate the minds of those from both Ireland and the UK who insist on being insulted if he doesn't march under their flag.

And there is an added dividend for the Holywood star. The IOAs are required to wear white uniforms, stripped of all traces of flags or political statements, and those worn at London 2012 were designed by Nike. McIlroy, of course, is about to sign an equipment and clothing deal with the manufacturing giant believed to be worth some $200m.

Not unlike those who would feel betrayed if McIlroy didn't represent them at Rio 2016, it's a no-brainer.

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MEASURING the standard of the League of Ireland against its cross-channel rivals has always been a popular topic of debate among soccer fans. Is it akin to League One or League Two, or could it be more like the Scottish Premier League (minus Celtic, of course)?

One area where comparisons can be made is in the scoring rate of former League of Ireland players who have made the jump across the Irish Sea. And the SPL is the one where LoI strikers fare best.

At present, former Derry City winger Niall McGinn (Aberdeen) is third in the charts with 14 goals, followed by Richie Foran (Inverness and ex-Shels) and Eoin Doyle (Hibernian and ex-Sligo) on eight.

In League One, Paddy Madden (Yeovil and ex-Bohs) has an impressive 10, with David Mooney (Leyton Orient and ex-Cork and Longford) on eight, while in League Two, Romuald Boco (Accrington and ex-Sligo) has nine, John O'Flynn (Exeter and ex-Cork) has eight, with Boco's teammate Pádraig Amond (also ex-Sligo) on seven.

The picture is not so healthy in the Championship where Conor Sammon (Derby and ex-UCD and Derry) has seven, while Kevin Doyle (Wolves and ex-Cork) and Daryl Murphy (Ipswich and ex-Waterford) have each only managed five goals. In Sammon's case, this is in contrast to the 15 he managed by January two years ago at Kilmarnock, earning him a big move to Wigan.

The only former LoI striker playing regularly in the Premier League is West Brom's Shane Long (ex-Cork) and he has eight goals to his credit, five of which were in the League. Noel Hunt (Reading and ex-Shamrock Rovers) has four from limited opportunities, while Sunderland's former Derry winger James McClean has a creditable four.

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A Norwegian soccer player, 28-year-old Havard Rugland, could be on the verge of a career in the NFL after posting a video on YouTube which showed him kicking an American football with remarkable levels of distance and accuracy.

The video came to the attention of the New York Jets and they invited Rugland for a trial. By all reports, he did well and is now waiting to hear if he will be offered a contract.

He wouldn't be the first player from another sport to make the transition. Indeed there was speculation some years back that the Washington Redskins were interested in Ronan O'Gara.

Offaly's Tom Furlong made it as far as being signed by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1960s on a contract worth $800 a game. He told Dave Hannigan in an Irish Echo interview in 2003 that Micheál O'Hehir commented at the time: "Denis Law is the highest-paid player in England and he's only on £200 a game."

Unfortunately, Furlong didn't make it to the NFL. Having performed well in pre-season games, he suffered a knee injury in training and that, as they say, was that.

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