Belfast Telegraph

Rory McIlroy finally decides to represent Ireland at the Olympics... and everyone's cool

By Adrian Rutherford and Claire Williamson

Rory McIlroy has said he will represent Ireland with pride at the 2016 Olympic Games.

The golf superstar is set to spearhead the Irish bid for glory in Rio after declaring for the country he represented as an amateur and at two World Cups.

His decision ends lengthy speculation and controversy about whether he would opt for Ireland or Team GB.

Speaking on the eve of the Irish Open, McIlroy said he had given a lot of thought to the matter, and was "100% sure" he had made the correct decision.

His declaration has drawn widespread approval.

Fellow Northern Ireland golf star Graeme McDowell (below) said: "I grew up wanting to wear the green blazer with a shamrock on it and have a green golf bag with the Ireland logo on it.

"So it makes sense that the best players in Ireland, whether it be north or south of the border, should want to represent Ireland in the Olympic Games."

McIlroy had spoken candidly about the "extremely sensitive and difficult" issue of choosing between Team GB and Team Ireland, having grown up in Holywood, Co Down, but spent his early years competing for Ireland at amateur events and the 2009 and 2011 World Cups.

In an interview in September 2012, he hinted that he could opt for Team GB when he said he had "always felt more British than Irish".

However, speaking at the Fota Island resort in Cork yesterday where he's playing over the weekend, McIlroy revealed he had opted for Team Ireland.

"I have been thinking about the decision a lot and remembered all the times I represented Ireland as an amateur," he said.

"I've played for Ireland my whole life and there's no reason to change that now – it's just a continuation of what I've done.

"It's a decision I feel comfortable with and I'll be proud to represent Ireland in 2016. I'm 100% sure it's the right decision for me and I hope people respect my decision."

Asked if he had been torn on the issue, the former world No 1 said: "I'm more worried about what other people would think, rather than me. But you've got to do what's right for yourself and what you feel most comfortable with, and ultimately that was the decision I made.

"I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and play as an amateur and as a boy, and I would be very proud to do it again."

In McIlroy's home town of Holywood, the reaction was mainly positive.

Kate Ahern (37), said: "It's a positive and obvious decision. We wish him all the best. Anyone who has ever golfed will understand what he's doing."

Simon Sloan (26) said: "It's good to give Ireland a shot. I don't think it's an issue. He's from Ireland so he should be representing his own country."

The one note of criticism was sounded by two-time Olympic medal winning boxer Paddy Barnes, who questioned McIlroy's commitment.

Barnes competed under the Irish flag at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and will box for Northern Ireland in next month's Commonwealth Games.

"The reason I don't like McIlroy representing Ireland at the Olympics is because he doubted going for Ireland, you should be proud to," he wrote on Twitter.

Former Irish rugby star Trevor Ringland said it is time that people relaxed about identity in sport.

"The key thing is that he wants to represent all the people of these islands," he said.

His remarks were echoed by Peter Sheridan, chief executive of the cross-community organisation Co-operation Ireland.

"Rory McIlroy is a wonderful sporting ambassador for these Islands and his right to choose should be respected and supported like anyone else," he said.

Reacting to the news from Lausanne in Switzerland, the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland Pat Hickey said he was thrilled.

"His fantastic talent, brilliant personality and endless energy will be a real boost to all of our athletes," he said.

Michael Ring, junior sports minister in the Irish Government, said it was a major boost to the country's Olympic prospects.

"This is the first time golf is an event at the Olympics Games and to have a two-time major winner declaring for Ireland's is superb," he said.

What his hometown fans think

Edna Murphy, Co Down

(Knows the McIlroy family)

"It could be good for the single reason he is wise enough. If he feels it's the right choice, he has thought about it hard. He is so well guided with the team around him. But for the decision in going for Ireland, he's a young lad, and it's not a big issue."

Don Cully (72), Holywood

"Rory is a great golfer and he has put this town on the map. Don't get me wrong we are all one but it's up to him who he plays for. I don't think religion or politics should come in to sport. I wish him all the luck in the world and hope he gets it. I don't think people around here will care. Whether it's north or south he should be backed because he has done a lot for this town and this country."

Jane Flannigan and granddaughter Sophia, Co Down

(McIlroy lived near them when he had a house in Moneyreagh)

"I think it's great. It doesn't matter who he represents. Sport is sport – it's good for everyone. We are proud of our wee country and we are proud of him. My husband and three sons love golf and support him. It's wonderful, we wish him all the best."

Simon Sloan (26), Holywood

"I think it's great. It's good to give Ireland a shot. I don't think it's an issue. He's from Ireland so he should be representing his own country. I hope people around here don't take issue with it. It's more important that he brings home a medal. The fact his name is on the Holywood sign shows how much the people are behind him here. It will be good to see him on such a big stage and I wish him all the best."

Judith Cree and son Patrick (8), Holywood

Judith said: "It's not an issue at all – it's great. Some people would have issues but people have issues with everything. Rory is brilliant, he is just a nice guy. He always keeps roots and comes back and visits the schools and the golf course.

Patrick said: "It's a really good thing. He came to our school and he was really nice. He's a little bit of a role model around here."

Lisa Wilson (39), Holywood

"We are very proud of Rory and that he has done so well. Maybe some people here would have a problem with him playing for Ireland but personally I don't. I hope people wouldn't take issue with it. Rory hasn't forgotten where he came from and he still supports Holywood. I wish him well."

David Greer (52) and daughter Amy (14), Holywood

"I don't think it will do him any harm. It's sport, so politics and religion shouldn't some in to his decision. It's not anyone else's decision – only his. He is very well respected and he is very much Holywood's golden boy. I know people that know him and he does his own thing. That's the very way he should be – it's up to him."

Kate Ahern (37), Holywood

"All the clubs in Northern Ireland are affiliated with the Golfing Union of Ireland, they regu late the handicap system. So essentially he always played for Ireland. I wouldn't read anything else in to it. It's a positive and obvious decision. We wish him all the best. I don't think anyone in Holywood would take issue. Anyone who has ever golfed will understand what he's doing."

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