Ireland have a big act to follow in the 2014 World Shot Mat Bowls Championships that get under way at the National Sports Centre, Cardiff, this morning.
The Irish hosted the bi-annual event at Ballymoney last time out and managed to walk off with the triples and fours titles, courtesy of the Oriel combinations skipped by Gerry McCabe and Kevin Conroy.
In an ironic twist, Conroy is back in action in Wales; this time in the singles.
Ireland don’t have a selection policy for the world championships – the 2012 and 2013 Champion of Champions winners earn the right to feature at this level.
But having won the CoC triples last year, followed by the singles earlier this season, Conroy is only allowed to feature in one discipline. He opted to compete in the singles.
Irish international selectors then had to nominate a replacement, with Paddy Hanlon, who was a member of Oriel side that triumphed back in 2012, getting the nod.
Hanlon will now team up with Billy Taaffe, he was also successful at Ballymoney, and Sean Trainor for the new-look three day event.
“There were an awful lot of games crammed into two days, so the World Bowls Committee decided to extend the tournament to three days for the first time,” said Irish official Harold Massey.
“It will certainly help ease the pressure because there were 277 matches staged over the two days at Ballymoney in 2012, they were two long days.”
Ireland’s stats in the world championships certainly don’t compare with their record in the British Isles Series.
In fact, they have won the singles on only five occasions, the last back in 2008; the pairs seven times; while last season’s successes meant that Ireland have now picked up the triples trophy on seven occasions and the fours eight times, since the series was introduced in 1989.
“It was another good performance at Ballymoney,” added Massey.
“With 12 countries now involved it is becoming increasingly difficult, they are all improving.
“We managed to retain two of the three titles we won in Scotland. We were rather unlucky in both the singles and pairs.
“Our most successful year was back in 2000 when we completed a clean sweep of trophies. But the tournament has grown in stature from that.”
Conroy and Donegal’s John Quinn will both carry the responsibility in the blue-riband discipline, the singles.
They both have the opportunity of etching their name in the history of the competition by becoming only the sixth Irish winner, following the success of Curley Hopkins back in 1989; Paul Moore (1990); Kevin McConville (1994), Ronald Stubbs (2000) and Colm McHugh (2008).
“I’ve managed to get my hands on the world triples trophy back in 2000 and followed that up with the fours two years ago,” said Conroy.
“It would be a great achievement to bring the singles title back after a long absence. I’ll be giving it my best shot.”
The husband and wife combination of Joe and Pauline Beattie, from Armagh, will feature in the pairs along with North West’s James Mullan and Lorenzo Graham.
They also have a of little bit of added pressure heaped on them due to the fact that the West Down brothers, DJ and Jonny Wilson, were the last Irish winners back in 2010.
Willie Lennox, Clarke Hill and Alan Paul, from Mid Ulster, will feature in the triples along with Hanlon’s Oriel combination.
And, there is a strong representation in the fours with another Mid Ulster side going into action -- Colin Hogg, Glen Smith, Dayne Jordan and Mark Wilson.
They will be joined in their quest of retaining the title by Armagh’s Gary Culbert, Matthew Crawford, Jal Richardson and Andrew Leckey.
“It’s one of the strongest squads with some off the best short mat players in the country involved, so there is no reason why our record in the tournament can’t be enhanced,” added Massey.
Colin Hogg, incidentally, will captain the team.
Singles: John Quinn (Donegal); Kevin Conroy (Oriel).
Pairs: Joe Beattie, Pauline Beattie (Armagh); James Mullan, Lorenzo Graham (North West).
Triples: Billy Taaffe, Sean Trainor, Paddy Hanlon (Oriel); Willie Lennox, Clarke Hill, Alan Paul (Mid Ulster).
Fours: Colin Hogg, Glen Smith, Dayne Jordan, Mark Wilson (Mid Ulster); Gary Culbert, Matthew Crawford, Jal Richardson, Andrew Leckey (Armagh).
Team captain: Colin Hogg.
Team manager: Artie Rice.