Ivan Little: Northern Ireland are in a league of their own when it comes to producing top talent

It wasn’t until victory became impossible for Rory McIlroy towards the end at St Andrew’s last week that the penny dropped, although a winning shot did not.

he somewhat understated crowd reaction to Cameron Smith’s Open triumph told the story of their disappointment that the Holywood golfer fell just short of glory.

What it also proved is that Rory is undoubtedly the most popular golfer on Earth, regardless of the outcome.

But what also struck me was that despite its small size and small population, Northern Ireland is in a world of its own when it comes to the best of the best, or at least being a major player in many fields. Think about it. Snooker’s biggest draw for two decades has been the People’s Champion, Alex Higgins, and while his behavior has been reprehensible at times, that hasn’t stopped thousands of fans from idolizing him.

We’ve also given world motorcycling legends the Dunlops and Jonathan Rea, as well as boxing star Carl Frampton.

Then there is football, where there is no doubt that George Best was one of the most gifted players on the planet.

He and Higgy were born just a few years ago and a few miles apart.

On the road to Bestie’s Cregagh estate, Van Morrison, one of the world’s most enduring singer-songwriters, was born less than a year before George.

Don’t forget that world-renowned flautist James Galway is a Belfast man, while in movies there are few busier actors than Ballymena’s Liam Neeson.

Sir Kenneth Branagh, from north Belfast, has more Oscar and Bafta awards and nominations to his name than most comedians could dream of, while Ciaran Hinds, from the same corner of the country, was also in the running for a Oscar this year.

Jamie Dornan is another in-demand local actor, while US-based Roma Downey from Derry/Londonderry is one of the richest women on the rich lists each year.

But it’s not just the people who appear on screen who have ties to Northern Ireland.

Look at the car that comes to many people’s minds when asked to name the most famous car star in movie history.

Alongside James Bond’s Batmobile and Aston Martin DB5 in the top five, you’ll invariably find the Dunmurry-built DeLorean DMC-12, proven in the Back to the Future films.

Going from land to water, the Titanic is the most famous ship of all time and helped launch one of the biggest box office hits of all time.

The Titanic Belfast has been voted the world’s number one tourist attraction and, together with the stunning Giant’s Causeway, attracts thousands of visitors each week.

Not far away, day trippers also head to the Dark Hedges near Armoy due to their fleeting appearance in the cult HBO series Game of Thrones, which is one of the greatest television shows of all time and has was mainly filmed in Northern Ireland.

Back to music, and in the realms of rock, there have been few guitarists more esteemed than the late Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore and Henry McCullough.

Another famous ax man is Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, Lisburn.

Although it’s a more tenuous connection, one of rock’s most famous anthems, Stairway to Heaven, was first played in public at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, home to a plaque in memory of pop music record holder Ruby Murray, also from Belfast, who once had five top 20 singles at the same time.

Of course, the Donegall Road singer’s name is now Cockney which rhymes in slang for a curry – the ultimate level of fame.

A fair ball from former cricketer McCallan

Cricket fans were taking the microphone off former Irish star turned TV commentator Kyle McCallan for not taking the microphone last week.

Kyle dropped a noise during the broadcast of the first international T20 match between Ireland and New Zealand at Stormont.

When the live camera went his way, he was bravely trying to explain the intricacies of spin bowling, but the only problem was that he was using both hands to do it and he had placed his microphone in front of him so viewers could ‘ not hear a word.

Co-commentator George Harper laughed and, handing him the mic, said, “You might need it, Kyle.”

The cover and good weather prompted me to travel to Stormont for the second game of the T20, my first international game in decades, since the days of Ormeau when Australia’s greatest ever cricketer, Richie Benaud was the visitors’ captain. A few years later, I thought about making a career in cricket as a goalscorer, the guy who keeps a record of every ball in every over.

I did the work for the Ulster and Ireland Schools teams. I was also offered work by the BBC and there was the possibility of getting a job in England with a county side.

My parents, however, weren’t too keen on the idea.

Sammy is full of hot air

It’s no laughing matter when the oft-ridiculed Jeremy Corbyn finds you amusing for all the wrong reasons.

The former Labor leader appeared to shake his head in disbelief as he sat behind Sammy Wilson in the House of Commons last week listening to the DUP MP talk about people overheated by the heatwave in England.

Sammy, who has long opposed the very notion of man-made climate change and the costs being spent fighting it, said not everyone should indulge in what he described as “the hysteria of the heat wave”.

His message seemed to be, go sit in the shade, have a cold drink and cool off.
Sadly, those weren’t possibilities for English homeowners whose homes were burning on the afternoon Mr Wilson raised temperatures.

I need a new prime suspect

Bangor reader Alan Shaw asks who am I going to write about now that Boris Johnson, the man who helped me fill so many columns, has resigned as Prime Minister?

Johnson’s farewell to Westminster consisted of repeating Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Hasta la vista, baby’ slogan. He didn’t say I would come back. And I hope it won’t.