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Ulster deny McIlroy is bankrolling province’s big earners


Rory McIlroy. Photo: Reuters

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Reuters

Rory McIlroy. Photo: Reuters

Ulster Rugby have denied that Rory McIlroy is the mystery backer behind the club's big-money signings.

Rumours have abounded that the golfer has been contributing to the financial cause at Ravenhill, after the club signed New Zealanders John Afoa and Jared Payne on estimated €415,000-a-year deals.

Ulster already have a host of big-name South Africans, like World Cup-winning Springbok Ruan Pienaar, on their books and are now widely believed to be operating on a bigger budget than any of their provincial rivals.

The Holywood, Co Down native is a huge supporter of Ulster and watched their Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat to Northampton Saints before his final-day meltdown at the US Masters.

His girlfriend Holly Sweeney is a cheerleader at Ravenhill and he is a former schoolmate of Ireland 'A' centre Darren Cave. He was in the crowd for last Friday's victory over Connacht.

But the 21-year-old -- who has earned more than €6m on the course during his career -- "is not putting any money into Ulster", a spokesperson said yesterday.

"Not at all, Rory McIlroy's a massive supporter and while I'm not sure if he pays into Ravenhill, he is not putting money in. There are rumours about him paying some players' wages, but they are not true."

Meanwhile, Munster have been boosted by Paul O'Connell's return to training ahead of Saturday's Challenge Cup semi-final with Harlequins at Thomond Park.

The second-row hurt his ankle at the start of the month and there had been fears that he would not play again this season.

But O'Connell took a full part in yesterday's session, although management say it is too early to predict whether he will be ready to start against Harlequins.