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Northern Ireland's Ryder Cup

Their golfing dominance should be a cause for celebration

Posted Mar 27, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

ryder cup

For the first time since Ireland had more than one player in a Ryder Cup team, this year’s representation could be exclusive to the northern part of the island.  The point is prompted by Michael Hoey’s impressive victory in the Hassan Trophy in Morocco last weekend.

As things stand, he joins fellow Northerners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell as the leading Irish challengers for places in the side to defend the trophy against the US at Medinah on September 28th to 30th.  The possibility of such a development, highlights the extent to which form south of the Irish border has dipped, since Padraig Harrington captured the last of his three major championships in August 2008.

It also brings home to us how spoiled we became during the glory years of the so-called noughties.  That was when Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Harrington were fixtures in the teams of 2002, 2004 and for the memorable Irish staging at The K Club in 2006.  Indeed McGinley gained the distinction of delivering the winning half-point in 2002 when he sank a nine-footer across the 18th green at The Belfry in his singles battle with Jim Furyk, and is now being touted as a future Ryder Cup captain.

The Irish and the Ryder Cup first got together in 1947 at Portland, Oregon where reigning Open champion, Fred Daly, was a member of the beaten British team.  And he remained the sole representative two years later and again in 1951, even though Wicklow’s Harry Bradshaw was runner-up in the 1949 Open Championship at Royal St George’s, where he lost a play-off to Bobby Locke.  Bradshaw’s problem was that being from the Republic of Ireland, he was categorised as an “international” player by the British PGA and as such, was ineligible.

This ridiculous anomaly was finally sorted out by the time the 1953 team was chosen for the matches at Wentworth. That was where Bradshaw eventually teamed up to splendid effect with his good friend Daly, even if it happened to be in yet another defeat for the home side.

Then, for 10 successive Ryder Cup stagings from 1955 until 1973, Galway’s Christy O’Connor Snr was an ever-present, setting a record which finally fell to Nick Faldo in 1997.  And in 1975, on the first occasion that Ireland had three representatives in the team, John O’Leary, Eamonn Darcy and Christy O’Connor Jnr all happened to hail from the South.  When Darcy was joined by Des Smyth in the 1981 team at Walton Heath, the South was again dominant.

Things were to change, however, through the emergence of gifted Northerners such as Ronan Rafferty, David Feherty and Clarke.  Still, the South continued to keep its end up in the persons of Darcy, O’Connor Jnr and Philip Walton.  And the mix seemed to work splendidly, given the first away triumph at Muirfield Village, Ohio, in 1987 when Darcy was the hero, and when the trophy was regained at Oak Hill in 1995, courtesy of a winning point from Walton.

While there will be those who see all of this as no more than a reflection of the cyclical nature of sport, others, myself included, are genuinely delighted at the current dominance of Northern golfers.  Having suffered 30 years of civil strife during the so-called Troubles, their place in the sun is long overdue.  And they will have cause for rather special celebration when the 2010 US Open champion, McDowell, his successor, McIlroy and reigning Open champion, Clarke, parade their skills as the Irish Open makes a long-awaited journey North of the border in late June at Royal Portrush.

And, of course, Hoey will be there, too. And with any luck, one hopes he will have further strengthened his position by then as a challenger for Ryder Cup honours.  All of which brings to mind the memorable victory by the 2001 British and Irish Walker Cup team at Sea Island, Georgia, where the Irish part of the visitors’ line-up was splendidly represented by none other than Hoey and McDowell.

Yes, it would seem that the North’s time has finally come in a golfing context.  In which case, I believe it is a cause for the whole of Ireland to celebrate.

- Dermot Gilleece

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