Rory McIlroy: The Holywood lad who made everyone proud on his journey from junior prodigy to golfing superstar
Rory McIlroy’s victory in the USPGA really can help to bring Northern Ireland together.
Coming on top of our Olympic achievements, it gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to take the sectarian edge out of our local sport and bring young people together.
Rory himself provides a model for what can be achieved by a local boy of fairly modest beginnings.
This week he proved himself the world’s top golfer by winning the USPGA and, at the age of 23, he can, in the natural course of events, look forward to a long and successful career.
SportsPro magazine, which dispassionately assesses the potential of sporting figures for investors rather than fans, already rates him as one of the two most remarkable athletes on the planet.
No wonder he attracts the top flight sponsorship from the Dubai-based Jumeirah international resort group which has opened doors for Northern Ireland business in the oil-rich Gulf states.
Rory is an example of what can be achieved by showing a united face to the world. His reputation has been built under a number of national flags.
Rory was on the European team which won the 2004 Junior Ryder Cup.
In 2007 he represented Ireland when its team won the European Amateur Team Championships, the same year as he won the Walker Cup for a combined Great Britain and Ireland team.
The list could go on, but the most consistent thing about the team he has been on is that it tends to be the winning one.
A Catholic, he is the grandson of a shipyard worker who brought the passion for golf into the family.
He was raised in a predominantly Protestant area of north Down, and attended Sullivan Upper School, a choice which showed courage and trust in the goodwill of neighbours on the part of his parents. In 1972 Rory’s great uncle Joe was shot dead by the UVF in a drive to expel Catholics from Orangefield in east Belfast.
The murder left a widow and four orphans, but did not embitter the wider McIlroy family.
Rory seems fairly relaxed on the question of national allegiance. In a 2009 interview he revealed that he carried a British passport and that he will probably play for Team GB in the 2016 Olympics.
That was the year when he actually played for Ireland in the Golf World Cup and said: “The Irish Open is very high on the list of tournaments I’d like to win. Every golfer has a special place in his or her heart for their national open.”
So, in answer to the old Ulster question “which foot does he dig with?”, Rory McIlroy could be said to dig equally well with both.
That could be a model for the future.
Our five Olympic medallists chose between Team GB and Team Ireland, but their achievements is what counts.
Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and her colleagues have the chance to show this at the Olympic reception she will host for the medallists in Stormont next month.
There is also an opportunity to spread sports funds evenly across the community to build a level playing field for all our youngsters in all sports.
The Executive could, for instance, encourage even more boxing in Protestant areas, where there are complaints of marginalisation, and sports like rowing in nationalist ones.
It could mean creating shared facilities to bring young people together from across the peacelines which scar society.
Sports could provide a good starting point for a united community.
Video: Rory's swing in slow motion in an ad for Santander