Doherty revels in unprecedented crowd support

THE extent to which Oliver Doherty has captivated the fans, if not the nation, took the organisers of the golf competition at the Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links by surprise yesterday when, three times, extra marshals had to be called in to control the crowds who thronged the course as the Special Olympics World Games entered its third day.

Crowds gathered from mid-morning and the gallery swelled throughout the round causing problems for Mark Merrot, England, and Ragnar Olaffson, Iceland, playing alongside the gentle giant from Buncrana who revelled in the support and responded with a round of 86 six shorts better than his opening round on Monday.

At the end of play he remained one shot clear of Merrot, who followed his first round 93 with an 87 to retain

second place on the leaderboard after a day of spectacular golf.

Doherty's coach, Philip Patterson from Portadown, admitted everyone was taken by surprise by yesterday's happening's on the course but insisted it was a pleasant surprise, adding that he was thrilled with the way the Irishman responded to the interest.

"He was in cracking form," he said. "And we all had an absolutely brilliant day. We went to the first tee at 10.18 in brilliant sunshine and the course was just beautiful.

"At that time the crowds were gathering but I don't think we were prepared for what happened later. Before long he was playing to a gallery of more than 1,000 and this resulted in crowd control problems. When we got to the 18th there was another 1,000 waiting.

"It is a marvellous thing, but Portmarnock themselves, Special Olympic Ireland and the World Games Committee did not think the golf competition would attract crowds.

"Normally when golf would be played you would have family and friends and some fans there, but nothing at all like this.

"I went away for a short time and when I returned I had no difficulty finding where Oliver was. The crowd was just enormous and I had difficult getting through to him.

The young Icelandic golfer could not get on to the tee at one point and later not get off it because of the crowds.

Then the young lad from England complained that the throngs were very noisy and too close.

"It was just unbelievable. I was walking along with Oliver and I could not see where the Icelandic or the

English players were. We again had to request extra stewards to sort it out although I must add there was no complaint as such from anyone. It was just a request.

"We had a meeting afterwards to look at the situation and they have promised to sort out the situation."

But while Doherty was obviously the big attraction, the gallery applauded every shot from the other players playing alongside him.

Unlike Monday when he shot a disappointing 92, Doherty responded to the crowd yesterday. He talked to them, joked, and revelled in the attention.

"On Monday he played a round of golf with his head down," head golf coach Dan O'Connell said. "He was not used to playing before galleries and he avoided the crowd.

"We talked to him last night and when he got off the coach this morning we could see the change. There was a large crowd there to greet him and he shook their hands.

"We knew he was going to enjoy himself today and he did and it was reflected on his scorecard."

And it was a great day all round for the Irish golfers. Back at Elmgreen Golf Centre, two Cork golfers were also enjoying themselves.

Kevin O'Callaghan from Cork came in with a round of 45 which was all of eight shots better than his opening score.

Ruth O'Mahony shot a 55 and that was two shots better than her opening day's card which she can now discard.

Fergal McDermott from Limerick, who played out of his skin on Monday when he went way above his personal best, repeated the performance with another 72 points in the individual skills.

Sarah Hyland from Cork also had another superb day to reinforce her lead in the ladies individual skills competition.

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