G-Mac and Pádraig get Special Olympics boost

Padraig Harrington gets to meet Paul Kirrane from Ennis, Co. Clare as he prepares to represent Team Ireland in  LA2015, Photo Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

European Tour pros Pádraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell received a major boost when they received a visit from the Team Ireland golf athletes getting set to compete at this summer’s Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.

The duo met the athletes at at Royal County Down at the weekend where they were enjoying a day at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open hosted by the Rory Foundation, courtesy of The European Tour.

Seven members of the Team Ireland golf team were given a bird’s eye view of the action on the penultimate day of the tournament and the chance to soak up the atmosphere at Ireland’s most prestigious golf tournament, as The European Tour’s VIP guests. 

Jill Connery (aged 29 from Scarva Co. Armagh) and playing partner, Ursula McDonnell (aged 70 from Co. Antrim); Paul Kirrane (aged 29 from Ennis, Co. Clare) and playing partner, Patrick Rutherford (aged 72, from Co. Clare); Rosemary O’Reilly (aged 29 from Co. Meath); Margaret Carr (aged 54 from Calry, Co. Sligo) and Leo O’Brien (aged 19 from Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow) enjoyed an action packed day of golf and star-spotting.

Starting off the day on a high, Special Olympics Global Ambassador, Padraig Harrington took time out to meet the athletes ahead of teeing off, providing valuable tips to the team, who travelled from right across Ireland for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see their heroes in action. 

Since becoming a Special Olympics Global Ambassador in May 2010, Harrington has generously donated his time and expertise to the Special Olympics movement across the world by conducting golf clinics for athletes and coaches.

And, in the biggest surprise of the day, the athletes were put through their paces by Northern Irish golfing great, Graeme McDowell in a putting competition. Officials from The European Tour had planned the special surprise for the athletes to round off a great day at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open.

Padraig Harrington commented: “I am proud to be associated with Special Olympics – it is a real honour to be able to help to inspire all the athletes to be the best that they can be.  The talent, focus and commitment of our Team Ireland golfers is truly inspiring and it was great to meet them at Royal County Down to provide a few tips to help with their preparations ahead of LA2015.  I look forward to following their progress at the World Games this summer.

“I would strongly encourage others to support Special Olympics Ireland in what is a very important year for this great movement and its athletes.”

Graeme McDowell said: “It’s fantastic to meet these golfers that will be representing Ireland out in LA this summer – it’s such a special thing to get the chance to represent your country. I probably should get back to my putting practice myself after seeing these athletes in action – perhaps they’ll give me some tips!

“Padraig Harrington is a global ambassador for Special Olympics and it’s great to be able to step in for him today and meet some very special athletes. I wish the golfers and the whole of Team Ireland the best of luck in LA this summer.”

This is a massive year for Special Olympics Ireland, with 88 athletes preparing to travel to Los Angeles to compete as part of Team Ireland at the Special Olympics World Summer Games. Their selection comes after four years of training and competition. The World Games will take place in L.A. from 25thJuly until 2nd August 2015.

Special Olympics Ireland needs to raise €440,000/£360,000 to send Team Ireland to the World Games this summer. Companies and businesses across Ireland are being called upon to get behind the Support an Athlete fundraising campaign to help raise the necessary funds. 

Matt English, CEO, Special Olympics Ireland said: “It is fantastic to have the support of The European Tour and we are so thankful to all at The European Tour and also the golfers , particularly Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell, for this fantastic opportunity for our athletes. From the moment the athletes arrived, they were treated like the true VIPs that they are; the experience of meeting their golfing heroes is a tremendous boost to their preparations for the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles.

“With less than two months until Team Ireland sets off for LA in July, we still have a way to go to reach our target of €440,000/£360,000 and I would encourage as many companies as possible to get behind Team Ireland in the run up to the Games. Full details of our Support an Athlete campaign are available at specialolympics.ie 

“It also goes without saying that the commitments from our ongoing partners; eircom, Aer Lingus, the Irish Sports Council, Sport Northern Ireland and more recent relationships with the likes of Gala are helping to ensure that our athletes get to realise their dreams and demonstrate to their world their extraordinary and inspiring talents. We hope others will join them and support our Team Ireland athletes.”

During their visit to Royal County Down, the Team Ireland golfers got the chance to see some of the tournament’s finest limbering up at their practice session on the range, before getting an opportunity to meet Padraig Harrington and Danish golfer & eventual winner, Søren Kjeldsen. They also enjoyed a tour of the media centre, before a practice putting session and the surprise putting competition with Graeme McDowell.

To round off their day at the Irish Open and to help with the preparations for LA2015, the Team Ireland golfers were presented with a goody bag including Oakley sunglasses, Titleist golf balls & gloves, European Tour and Wilson hats. 

Mark Watson, The European Tour added: “It was our pleasure to host these inspiring Special Olympics athletes at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Royal County Down. We hope the experience of meeting Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell and the opportunity to see some of the world’s finest golfers in action will be a great boost to them in their preparations for the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles this summer.”

Help spread the word: Connect with Special Olympics Ireland on  or search Facebook for Special Olympics Ireland. Share your support using the hashtags, #TeamIreland #LA2015 & #SupportanAthlete

The Team Ireland golfers at The Irish Open:

Jill Connery, Co. Armagh

Jill Connery, aged 29 is from Scarva Co. Armagh. Jill has been playing golf for over 10 years and currently trains with Birdies Golf Club in Silverwood. In her spare time she also like to horse ride – but chose golf to compete in with Special Olympics.

Ursula McDonnell, Co. Antrim

Ursula McDonnell, is 70 years young and is a playing partner with athlete Jill Connery. She plays at Fortwilliam Golf Club and The Eagles Special Olympics Club. She has been golfing for over seven years – she  and Jill meet as often as possible to play together.

Commenting after the visit to The Irish Open, Ursula said: “It was fantastic to be invited by The European Tour to the Irish Open. Just watching the players you learn so much. Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell in particular gave us some fantastic tips, so we will be going out to practice though now.

“We’ve had experiences today that we’ve never had before and probably won’t have again – actually meeting the golfers was just wonderful, they are such wonderful people and they gave us great encouragement and support for the World Games this summer.

“Jill was lucky to get some practice in with Graeme McDowell in the putting competition – he lined her up and got her putting beautifully with lovely straight puts – he was envious, I think, of how straight Jill’s puts were! “We’ve been practicing very hard and we just cannot wait to get away to LA for the Games now”

Paul Kirrane, Co. Clare

Paul Kirrane, aged 29 is from Ennis Co. Clare. Paul has been playing golf for four years. He is currently training with his local club, Ennis Golf Club. 

Commenting after the visit to The Irish Open, Paul said: “Today has meant more to me than anything; it was my first time at a European Tour tournament and it was fantastic to see the very best from the world of golf at Royal County Down. I’ve learnt today that it is important to have a clear mind and focus and to play from the heart. It was amazing to meet Padraig Harrington – I follow him on Twitter. He’s one of my heroes. 

“It was great to meet GMac too – he taught me the basics of how to putt and how to make sure the ball goes into the hole and said he would follow me back on Twitter, which is amazing. I enjoyed everything about today and all of the golfers – getting to see the true good of them and all of the people at The European Tour and Irish Open – it’s a day I’ll never forget.”

Patrick Rutherford, Co. Clare

72 year old, Patrick Rutherford, has 25 years’ gold experience and is a playing partner for Paul Kirrane. He also enjoys triathlons and athletics, and is a golf coach at his local club. He’s a grandfather, with six grandchildren.

Leo O’Brien, Wicklow

19 year old Leo O’Brien from Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, has been an athlete with Special Olympics for 12 years. Leo is incredibly proud to be representing Ireland at the World Games. A keen golfer, Leo also plays basketball and competes in aquatics. Leo says the best thing about being an athlete with Special Olympics is that it has helped him develop his social skills.

Commenting after the visit to The Irish Open, Leo said: “It’s been brilliant being here at The Irish Open today. It’s been amazing what I’ve seen and experienced. Seeing the pro golfers and speaking to Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell shows you what you have to do – to relax and basically put your mind to it and you’ll do it. It was amazing to meet them all – it was a brilliant day. I’m getting excited and ready for LA now – there will be a lot practicing now in Co. Wicklow, where I’m from every week now in the run up to the Games. I can’t wait.”

Rosemary O’Reilly, Meath

29 year old Rosemary O’Reilly from Co. Meath has a long association with Special Olympics Ireland and has been playing golf for many years. Rosemary participated in the National Games in Limerick last year.

Margaret Carr, Sligo

Margaret Carr from Calry in Sligo, is aged 54. Margaret is also a member of Rosspoint Athletics Club, and has been playing golf for over 15 years. She has won gold in previous games.

About Special Olympics Ireland:

Special Olympics Ireland is a sports organisation for people with an intellectual disability, but it provides athletes with far more than the physical benefits of sport. Special Olympics changes lives. Through sport, athletes develop both physically and emotionally, they make new friends, realise their dreams, and know they can fit in. Special Olympics Ireland enables our athletes to achieve and win not only in sport but in life too.
Special Olympics is a charity that provides year-round sports training to athletes with intellectual disabilities.
Special Olympics Ireland has: 9162 registered athletes participating in 15 sports in 369 clubs around Ireland.
For further information about Special Olympics Ireland visit www.specialolympics.ie