Golfing superstar Rory McIlroy signing autographs after the third round of the Horizon Irish Open last Saturday in the K Club.

No soccer glory days on the horizon

Attending the Horizon Irish Open in golf as a birthday present last Saturday and witnessing the latest defeat for the Republic of Ireland soccer team on the Sunday, clearly proved again to this sports-mad scribe that we have a couple of superstars in the former sport and none (certainly on show) in the latter.

The ‘on show’ is important as the Dutch team of the 2020s is so ordinary when compared with the great teams of the 1970s and the 1980s (when current manager Ronald Koeman was one of umpteen star players on a team which broke my heart in Gelsenkirchen at Euro 88) that an argument could be made that the presence of injured teenage sensation Evan Ferguson could have swung the game the way of the home team.

However, I’m not sure where beleaguered Irish manager Stephen Kenny, in his latest uncomfortable post-match television interview, tots up the “four or five” missing players. He’s hardly still counting Declan Rice and Jack Grealish?

Let’s start with the golf in the K Club on a day so glorious that fellow-Mullingar man Michael O’Leary must be secretly pleased is a rarity in this country, to keep his Ryanair flights full to sun destinations. While it was a wonderfully relaxing day out, undoubtedly golf is an unusual sport in that television coverage is preferable to the live event to keep enthusiasts up to speed with happenings elsewhere on the course.

Yours truly, as an excited teenager, attended the first restaging of the Irish Open (then sponsored by tobacco company Carrolls) after a 22-year gap in Woodbrook in 1975. Technology was in its infancy then and it needed cumbersome manual scoreboards to keep punters informed, a far cry from the superb and computerised boards on show in the beautiful County Kildare venue three days ago.

Indeed, all aspects of the tournament were top class, starting and ending with the very efficient ‘park and ride’ shuttle buses for the huge throngs in attendance, operating from outside Clane to and from the course. A visit some years back for a lesser event was mainly to watch the wonderful Ernie Els in the flesh and, being honest, a chance to use a column headline of, ‘The Importance of Seeing Ernest’!

Long gone are yours truly’s ambitious attempts to follow a twosome/threesome, certainly in sweltering heat, and a spot at the top of the gallery beside the 18th green was ideal for watching approaches to the last hole and viewing putts thereon, albeit the pin placement made for a near-total shortage of successful medium-to-long putts. A quick glance over the shoulder was also perfect to see activity at the ninth green.

In truth, almost everybody was focused on the groups containing home heroes, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, both of whom were very much in contention. Neither closed out the deal the following day, with the County Down man particularly disappointing in this regard with three ‘visits’ to the water scuppering what looked like a fantastic chance to replicate his success from seven years ago at the same venue. The Clara man came closer in the end, and his sensational win in Baltray as an amateur 14 years ago remains his only home triumph.

McIlroy is unquestionably entitled to be included in any conversation about the greatest sportsperson to have come from the island of Ireland, but there will always be an asterisk about his total of ‘only’ four Majors (to date), together with collapses such as the weekend gone by.

However, he is to be highly commended for giving an inordinate amount of his time to signing an array of golf caps, tee-shirts, pieces of paper etc for an adoring public (not all of them youngsters!) after his third round. As somebody who has watched in disgust as far less talented people in the public eye snubbed autograph hunters, Rory hugely impressed me with the time given to fans (a good half-hour, and counting) when some rest and relaxation, and food assumedly, must have been his perfectly reasonable targets.

And now for the latest soccer heartbreak! My text to a range of friends heading on my second leg of a great sporting weekend needs no embellishment: “I have been travelling to Dalymount and Lansdowne Rd to internationals for 49 years, and recent trips have been my least enthusiastic.”

Yes, yet again, the ‘boys in green’ played with huge heart and spirit, but there is no substitute for class, as magnificently exuded by the French in Paris last Thursday night. The bottom line is that shaky visiting keeper Mark Flekken never had a real save to make throughout the match at a packed and fired-up Aviva Stadium.

A post-match observation from a friend re the Netherlands read: “They are very ordinary indeed. And while you can’t fault the Irish players’ efforts, our lack of quality in the centre of midfield, wing back and up front (without Ferguson) is depressing.” As ever, Basil Fawlty came to my aid with a reply: “In Basil’s classic words to the hotel inspector with the huge list of complaints, ‘Otherwise, everything okay?’”

The return of Donegal football ‘messiah’ Jim McGuinness to the green and gold bainisteoir bib will, no doubt, revive chants from a decade ago of, “Jimmy’s winning matches.” Well, Stephen is losing his. You know the rest!