WHEN Sunderland winger James McClean made the decision to play for the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) rather than the Irish Football Association (IFA)*, there was uproar. Zealous fans of the IFA decried what they saw as an indefensible, traitorous act. They judged him, levelling scurrilous and unfounded accusations towards the player, branding him a “Judas” and a bigot for expressing his different, but entirely legitimate, national identity.
Others have taken a similar route to McClean. Darron Gibson, Shane Duffy and Marc Wilson are among those who have declared their allegiance to the FAI and each player has inevitably been harassed and harangued into explaining his decision. Those who are on social media fora such as Twitter, will be aware that some have been forced to endure endless streams of abuse. Indeed, McClean actually made headlines in May 2012 when odious threats were made against him. His crime? Being proud of his identity and having the audacity to indicate his joy at being included in the FAI’s squad for Euro 2012.
When the golfer Rory McIlroy said that he’d always felt “more British than Irish”, similar furore followed, but from the opposite direction. We had an outpouring of idiotic ramblings from pseudo Irish patriots who ignorantly pondered why it was that McIlroy all of a sudden felt “English” [sic]. The young man was effectively disowned by faux-revolutionaries who say they love Ireland, yet blatantly know nothing of its history and do less still in its interests – the kind who literally give life to Samuel Johnson’s famous words that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. The golfer Ronan Rafferty, speaking to the presenters of the ‘Off the Ball’ programme on Newstalk was sickeningly patronising when he described McIlroy’s nationality utterance as naive, as if it was a phase and that he would eventually come ’round to himself.
It is hard not to see the parallels between McClean and McIlroy. Like the footballers who had declared for Ireland, McIlroy was faced with a wave of vicious tweets and public withdrawals of support for hinting that he could opt to represent the United Kingdom instead. Furthermore, like McClean et al, the extent of the backlash led to McIlroy issuing an explanation.
How McIlroy identifies is ultimately no one’s business but his own. Why should he have to answer to a moronic rabble spewing misinformed and ill-judged commentary? He’ll probably keep winning without them.
*non-Irish readers will be excused for their confusion