Big Clifford Craig is poised the pull on the Northern Ireland Bowling Association shirt for the 100th time at Whitehead on Friday night!
The Balmoral player will captain the side in their IBA Inter-association Championship clash against the Provincials in what is sure to be a mouth-watering opener to the two-day event.
Having made his NIBA debut as a raw 17 year old back in 1981, Craig has been a regular ever since. This will be his 34th year of un-interrupted action at this level -- a record that will probably never be bettered in today’s modern game.
“I’m very proud to be making my 100 appearance for the association,” he said modesty. “In an ironic twist, I made my debut against the Provincials at Ballymoney in 1981 -- and we won the Series that year.
“Down the years I have received a lot of support from my mum and late dad . . . and, of course, from my wife Liz, so I’ve managed to reach the milestone with their help.”
Craig began his romance with the game of bowls, playing for Connsbrook as an 11 year old. He then moved on to Ormeau and then subsequently joined Bangor.
He left the Seasiders back in 2005 to link up with his current club, Balmoral.
Craig is now targeting another NIBA success to mark his remarkable 34 years of inter-association combat.
“It would be a nice way to celebrate it, but it will be a difficult two days, there is no question about that,” he added. “The team showed a lot of character last season to win the title for the first time since 2006.
“We fell to a heavy defeat to the Provincials which looked to have scuppered our chances -- that put them in the box seat.
“But the Bowling League of Ireland then beat the Provincials, which opened the door for us -- and we responded by enjoying a great win over the Private Greens, which earned us the title.”
NIBA selectors have handed a debut to Banbridge’s Aaron O’Keefe . He is one of four changes to the team.
International trio, Martin McHugh (Whitehead), Michael Bickerstaff (Balmoral) and Lisnagarvey’s Neil Mulholland also come back into the squad.
The NIBA have drafted in Dundonald duo Mark Foster and Colin Orderly, along with Portadown’s Aidan Corrigan, who are named as three of the four reserves for the first time.
“The inclusion of three international players will undoubtedly beef up the team,” added Craig. “Marty and Neil were away on Ireland duty last season, while Michael took ill just before the tournament.
“Aaron O’Keefe deserves his chances -- he has been knocking at the door for some time. Obviously, with Martin and Neil named in the Comonwealth Games team, they’ll be bursting to do well over the weekend,” added Craig, who has been given honouary membership of the NIBA along with his good pal, Noel Graham, from Lisnagarvey, for their services to the association and international bowls.
Meanwhile, Provincial selectors have reshaped their team with Coleraine pair, Mark Maston and Paul O’Neill handed a debut along with Ballymoney’s Martin McAleese and Sean Quinn, from Portglenone.
Dunluce’s Alistair Kennedy, named in the reserve panel, is also included for the first time.
Former Ireland international and Commonwealth Games player, Victor Dallas (Coleraine), has earned a recall along with Portrush’s Ian McClure, who was on international duty last year.
Ballymoney trio, Brian Smyth, Brian McAlary and Aidan Reid are also back in the squad, but must settle for a place in the ‘bench’. There are also some positional alterations with Cookstown’s Colin Hogg reverting from skip to third . . . and Ballymoney’s James Martin moving from lead to third.
The Provincials will be without Uel McKee.
How they line out . . .
NIBA team: Rink one: S Gibson (Balmoral), A O’Keefe (Banbridge), N Mulholland (Lisnagarvey) C Craig (Balmoral).
Rink two: N Beggs (Whitehead), B Power (Divis), S McKinley (Whitehead), B Browne (Whitehead).
Rink three: M Crawford (Bangor), R McMullan (Portadown), S Martin (Bangor), R Hastings (Bangor).
Rink four: J Montgomery (Whitehead), P Cromie (Lisnagarvey), G McGleave (Divis), N Graham (Lisnagarvey).
Rink five: M Bickerstafff (Balmoral), JR Wilson (Whitehead), G McKee (Bangor), M McHugh (Whitehead).
Reserves: A Corrigan (Portadown), R Cregan (Divis), M Foster (Dundonald), C Orderly (Dundonald).
Provincial Bowling Association: Rink one: M Mason (Coleraine), J Calvin (Coleraine), J Martin (Ballymoney), I McClure (Portrush).
Rink two: A Tennant (Ballymoney), S Quinn (Portglenone), M Wilson (Cookstown), M McKeeman (Dunluce).
Rink three: B Hughes (Ballmoney), M McAleese (Ballymoney), A Davison (Coleraine), G Kelly (Ballymoney).
Rink four: R Kane (Dunluce), D Smith (Portrush), A Paul (Ballymoney), B Kane (Dunluce).
Rink five: P O’Neill (Coleraine), V Dallas (Coleraine), C Hogg (Cookstown), G McCloy (Portrush).
Reserves: A Kennedy (Dunluce), A Reid (Ballymoney), B Smyth (Ballymoney), B McAlary (Ballymoney).
Private Greens League: Rink one: P Daly (Belmont), T Crawford (Belmont), C McCartan (Dunbarton), B Thompson (Belmont).
Rink two: M McPeak (Belmont), S Cavan (Belmont), A Hughes (Dunbarton), DJ Wilson (Dunbarton).
Rink three: S Shields (Ballymena), A Duncan (Ballymena), M Greenfield (Dunbarton), J Talbot (Old Bleach).
Rink four: R Kirkwood (Old Bleach), C Allen (Belmont), S Coleman (Ballymena), A Kyle (Ballymena).
Rink five: P McEwan (Falls), N Robinson (Ballymena), S Bennett (Belmont), N Booth (Old Bleach).
Reserves: M Tait (Old Bleach), P Convery (Dunbarton), M Trainor (Dunbarton).
Bowling League of Ireland: Rink one: J Sullivan (Blackrock), F McCarthy (CYM), J Murphy (Blackrock), B Somers (Blackrock).
Rink two: G Peirpoint (St James’s Gate), J Byrne (Crumlin), S Leonard (St James’s Gate), R Leonard (St James’s Gate).
Rink three: M Kelly (CYM), N Maher (Crumlin), R Maher (St James’s Gate), C Murphy (Blackrock).
Rink four: E Farrell (Aer Lingus), P Smyth (Leinster), D McCarthy (CYM), I Wilson (CYM).
Rink five: A Murphy (Blackrock), M O’Looney (Aer Lingus), E Carruth (St James’s Gate), S Millane (Sy James’s Gate).
Reserves: M Brown (Dun Laogharie), A O’Keeffe (St James’s Gate), T Murray (Meath), M Keegan (Blackrock).
Tomorrow: NI Private Greens League v Bowling League of Ireland, Carrickfergus (5.30pm); Northern Ireland Bowling Association v NI Provincial Bowling Association, Whitehead (5.30pm).
Saturday: BLI v NIPBA, Carrickfergus (9.30am); NIBA v NIPGL, Whitehead (9.30am).
Saturday afternoon: NIPGL v NIPBA, Carrrickfergus, (9.30am); NIBA v BLI, Whitehead, (2pm).