Clifford Craig set to lead way for NIBA in IBA Series as non-playing skipper

Man on a mission  NIBA  skipper Clifford Craig
Man on a mission  NIBA skipper Clifford Craig

Clifford Craig may have stepped away from representative bowls last season, but he'll still break new ground in the IBA Inter-association Championship at Belmont on Friday night!

Having pulled on the NIBA shirt on over 100 occasions, the big Balmoral man was happy to bow out with the distinction of being the last captain of his association to lift the title back in 2014.

However, the NIBA selectors were having none of it! They insisted the former international skip still had a lot to offer and came up with the unique decision of appointing him as non-playing captain!

“Clifford has been part of the set-up for such a long time and has a vast amount of experience that can still be beneficial to the team,” said the NIBA's Stephen Moran. “He was too good a player to lose.

“Yes, we respect his decision to step away from playing at this level, but he can still have a massive impact when it comes to team affairs and motivation.

“It was an easy decision for the selectors to create the a position of non-playing captain – they were all happy with the decision.

“It’s also a gesture to acknowledge the service that Clifford has given the association over many years.”

The NIBA will have several changes on show when they line out against the Bowling League of Ireland at Belmont tomorrow night – a game that offers them the chance to get early points on the board.

Bangor's Graham McKee returns to the team after sitting out last season's tournament at the same venue to due discipline reasons – the NIBA were pipped to the title by the Provincials on shot advantage on that occasion.

McKee will be joined on the comeback trail by his Ward Park colleague Mark Shannon, while Divis’ Gerard McGleave and Annesley Harrison, from Balmoral also return. Bangor’s Matthew Hastings will be the only new face on show.

“We lost quite a few players, but thankfully, we were in a position to draft in a number of experienced lads,” added Moran.

The Bowling League of Ireland, whose finest hour in the tournament was back in 2009 when they got their hands on the trophy for the one and only time, have revamped their team.

Leinster’s Antony Gray may be the only new face on show, but John O’Sullivan, Mark O’Looney, Walter Doyle and Michael Scanlan have all been recalled.

Two of the four reserves – Greg Mullhall and Keith McCarthy – will experience action at this level for the first time, while the other two, Derek McCarthy and Mark Brown have been brought back into the squad.