Ireland have lost the services of two influential players with Noel Graham and Neil Booth deciding to step down from international bowls.
They said an emotional farewell at the conclusion of the recent Home Championships at Leamington Spa in England.
It perhaps wasn’t the way the boys wanted to make their international exit with the team disappointingly finishing bottom of the table.
The Irish produced two battling performances against England – beaten by only 15 shots – and Wales, which they agonisingly lost out by only five shots, but they reserved their worst performance for the final game, when they were demolished by Scotland.
Graham and Booth have racked up 160 caps between – 80 each – since making their debut in 1991 and they’ll be a massive loss to representative bowls.
It also means that Ireland selectors, who came under a certain degree of criticism for their decision making for the 2014 Home Internationals, will have their work cut out replacing both players.
“I had my mind made up before I left for the Internationals in England, so the results had no bearing on my decision,” said Graham.
“Basically, I think the time is right for me to step away. I’m now 45 and perhaps I’ve lost a little bit of hunger, if I’m being honest.
“The time is right to give someone else a chance. I’ve been part of the Ireland set-up since making my debut in Wales in 1991. Boothie and I came into the team together and we haven’t missed a Series since.”
Not only has Graham representated his country on the international stage, but he has featured in the World Championships and Commonwealth Games -- reeling in medals from both.
He won a fours gold medal in the World event at Ayr in 2004, partnering Johnny Ross, Booth and Jim Baker, the current Irish team boss.
In fact, Graham and Baker combined to win a silver in the pairs the same year.
His international oddessy began in 1994 in Canada when his skipped the rink of Victor Dallas, John McCloughlin and Ian McClure to a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games fours.
Then, in 2002 in Manchester, Graham pocketed another fours bronze, joined by Michael Nutt, Booth and Baker.
He also won the prestigious Honk Kong Classic Singles and Pairs titles -- the latter along with his former Lisnagarvey and Ireland team mate Johnny Ross, who is now a regular in the Scotland team.
“I’ve some wonderful memories,” added Graham, who has a plethora of NIBA, Irish and British Isles titles to his name. “Winning the gold medal in Ayr was perhaps the highlight. But it was a privilege to play for my country not only at international level but also in the World Championships and Commonwealth Games – I enjoyed every minute of it.”
Booth has also rubbed shoulders with the elite since breaking into the Ireland set-up along with Graham.
The Old Bleach man featured in the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, winning a gold medal in the fours, along with Marty McHugh, Ian McClure, and Gary McCloy.
Following his 2002 success in Manchester, Booth was joined by Mark McPeak and Jeremy Henry and they went on to win silver in the triples in the 2006 Games in Melbourne.
At World level, Booth lifted a bronze medal in the triples, along with Johnny Ross and Henry at Ayr in 2004.
Eight years later in Adelaide, he was a double medal winner. Paul Daly, James Talbot and Booth took bronze in the triples and the same three players were joined by McClure to in the fours where they also secured a bronze.
“I’ve been part of the international set-up since 1987, since my days in the Under-25 team,” said Booth, who will be competing in this month’s Commonwealth Games. I basically wanted to go out on my terms. I’ve achieved everything that I wanted, winning gold medals at Irish, British, Commonwleath and World level. I don’t know why that has been achieved before in the men’s game.
“I’m still playing well, but I think it is time for some of the younger cubs to step up.
“I’ve had a fantastic career, playing all over the world. There is undoubtedly a lot more commitment required now than when I first started out.”
Like Graham, Booth has many outstanding memories.
“He added: “Probably the three that stand out is winning gold medals at Commonwealth and World level. Also my British Isles singles indoor title in 1999, simply because I lost out in five British previous finals.
“I may be stepping down from the competitive side of the game, but my aim would be stay involved in future years, perhaps in a selection or management capacity.”