Commercial Court to hear McIlroy legal action

Golf star Rory McIlroy is to be hit with a counter claim when he takes legal action against his former sports agent, a court has been told.

Golf star Rory McIlroy is to be hit with a counter claim when he takes legal action against his former sports agent, a court has been told.

McIlroy is seeking termination of his contract with Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management, and two other named companies Gurteen and Canovan Management.

It is understood the dispute is over fees charged by his ex-agent on endorsements, which includes landmark deals with Nike, Omega and Santander.

The golfer’s legal team applied to have the case heard in the Commercial Court in Dublin, a division of the High Court designed to fast track business cases.

But a barrister for Horizon, set up by agent Conor Ridge, revealed a counter-claim will also be taken.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly ruled the golfer’s claim, and the counter claim, both exceeded the €1m threshold to be heard in his court.

It is due to be listed for trial in October 2014 to fit in with McIlroy’s extensive travelling worldwide.

The details of the case were not outlined in court, but McIlroy is reportedly unhappy with the amount paid to Horizon, said to be more than €7m since he signed with them in September 2011.

The agency is fighting the action and maintains the contract was fair.

McIlroy, a two-times Major winner, began a month-long tour of Asia today, well away from the confines of a crowded courtroom and amid reports that his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniacki had ended.

His public relations advisers have said they will not comment on the star’s private life.

Despite the reports, Wozniacki’s Twitter page still carried a profile of the couple in happy times.

McIlroy spent last week in Ireland, staying mainly in a top Dublin hotel, and played a round of golf with former US president Bill Clinton at Portmarnock and enjoyed a dinner with golf fanatic U2 star Bono one night. He also watched Ulster play in the Heineken Cup in Belfast on Friday night.

The 24-year-old, from Holywood in Co Down, spilt from the Horizon management firm in recent weeks and set up his own management operation, Rory McIlroy Inc (RMI).

He is seeking the rescission of a contract, void from its original date in September 2011, and a second contract signed last March.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said there are various grounds listed including breach of fiduciary duty and undue influence.

Rossa Fanning, junior counsel for the golfer, revealed there were a “complexity of issues” within the case but that its merits could be given at a later stage.

He said all parties had consented to it being admitted in the Commercial Court and handed the judge a timetable for the various steps when affidavits, pleadings and discovery notices be issued.

Mr Fanning said his client was a professional golfer who travels extensively and they would need a particular date when listed for trial.

Paul Sreenan, senior counsel for Horizon and the two other defendants, warned that his clients were waiting to serve a counter claim, to be lodged on November 26.

The case is due for mention again on February 24 next year.

McIlroy’s new business is headed by actuary Donal Casey while “long-term family friend” and business executive Barry Funston will run the golfer’s foundation. Both men will serve on the group’s board, along with McIlroy’s father, Gerry.

The golfer previously split from Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management, which had represented him since he became professional in 2007, for Horizon, four months after winning his first Major at the US Open.

Horizon later responded with a statement.

"Horizon Sports Management (“Horizon”) notes with disappointment Rory McIlroy’s decision to initiate legal action seeking to terminate his representation contract," the statement read.

"Since October 2011, under Horizon’s management, Rory McIlroy has signed some of the most lucrative endorsement contracts in sports history, in addition to achieving significant success on the golf course. Today, he is one of the world’s most highly remunerated sports people.

"In March 2013, he signed an extension to his representation contract up to 2017. Rory McIlroy has now announced that his business interests will be managed by Rory McIlroy Incorporated. As a consequence, he is in breach of the representation contract, into which he willingly entered.

"This legal action seeks to void his representation contract from its original date, recover fees already paid and avoid paying any further fees as stipulated by the agreement.

"Regrettably, this legal action has been taken despite Horizon’s efforts to reach an orderly and fair resolution.

"The claim will be defended vigorously and comprehensively in legal process.

"Horizon has confidence in its position. This confidence is underpinned by a legally binding contract and the clear evidence of the exceptional job done for Rory McIlroy by Horizon.

"We will always be proud of what Rory McIlroy and Horizon achieved together and we wish him well in his future golf career."

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