Shane Lowry is about to tee off in the most important round of Golf in his life. The chance for an Irish winner on Irish Soil of a Major comes around as regularly as Halley’s Comet, but at the least the latter is almost guaranteed.
Lowry is an endearing, loveable character very much carved in the flat bog lands of Offaly. In the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s and this small County in the heart of the island of Ireland competed and won All-Ireland Senior Football & Hurling Championships. To utilise the oft used cliché, they punched way above their weight. The Offaly hurlers were renowned for an unconventional approach to training. When asked about their preparations for an important game, one of the Offaly Hurling stars is reputed to have replied – “We’re taking this match awful seriously. We’re now training twice a week and some of the lads are off the beer since Tuesday”.
The Offaly footballers caused the shock of the century when they prevented the great Kerry team completing a five in a row in 1982. They were a tough, uncompromising team but this simplistic view masks the fact that they had some of the greatest footballers of their generation in their ranks. Anyone lucky enough to have seen Matt Connor in his prime will acknowledge that they were looking on a rare talent. These Offaly teams were also very tight knit groups, bands of brothers, cousins, neighbours. You can’t think of those halcyon days of Offaly sport and not think of the Dooleys, the Whelehans, the Furlongs, the Troys, the Connors, the Darbys and of course the Lowrys.
Despite the perception of Offaly teams as unconventional, devil may care, take it or leave it lads there always was this steely side to them, allied with great skill of course. Offaly Hurling was always admired for its style and speed, its footballers for their athleticism. One could argue that these glory days were fuelled by the steady employment given by the ESB and Bord na Mona at times when the rest of the country were taking the mailboat. That the footballers and hurlers in particular are nowhere near the heights they reached in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s would seem to support this but nothing is ever as it seems.
The same could be said about Shane Lowry. Let’s face it he’s definitely no Gym bunny and he has that happy demeanour that the Aussies might describe as a ‘likeable larikin’. The New York times described him as “a bearded and bulky man with soft hands”. It is impossible not to like Shane Lowry – he is the “everyman” in the Irish sense, gregarious yet competitive, serious but self-deprecating, clever, composed, the sportsman strutting on the Global stage yet blending easily into the crowd at a hurling match in Thurles, just an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things. Joyce created the modern anti-hero in Stephen Dedalus and Lowry at times appears in the same mould. The great English Bard said “All the world’s a stage ….. and one man in his time plays many parts”. Today Lowry can play the super-hero and it will fit comfortably if it happens. It’s what the people want, there could hardly be a more popular champion.
It was a wonderful achievement getting The Open to this Island for the first time in almost 70 years. Many expected Rory McIllroy to be the star and the best bet to have a home winner. That expectation ran aground and sank on the very first day. Lowry though was also sensing this could be his best chance to win a Major. He has played some extraordinary Golf and has the lowest ever Open score after 54 holes. He has played himself into a wonderful position.
I once saw Sean Lowry, uncle of Shane when he had transferred from his native Offaly to play football for Mayo. Sean already had three all-Ireland medals in his back pocket but was very much in the twilight of his career. That wet day in Carrick-on-Shannon in 1985 Lowry lined out at full forward, his debut was the talk of the place. The crowd was giving him lots of abuse behind the town-goal but Lowry was in his element. The insults and barbs just bounced off him. The more the crowd tried to rise him the bigger he seemed to get and he could have carried them all on his broad shoulders. Today in Portrush all Irish men and women will be willing Shane on to victory and hopefully he too can feed off the crowd. Go on the Faithful.