TEAM NI: Bowlers remain on bronze course in Glasgow

Northern Ireland's Martin McHugh plays a bowl during his Men's Singles quarter-final match against Scotland's Darren Burnett
Northern Ireland's Martin McHugh plays a bowl during his Men's Singles quarter-final match against Scotland's Darren Burnett

While Northern Ireland’s men’s bowlers missed out in Glasgow on Thursday, Mandy Cunningham and Barbara Cameron slipped through almost unnoticed in the women’s pairs – and could bag a bronze medal on Friday.

There was disappointment for Whitehead’s Marty McHugh in the quarter-finals of the singles, while Neil Booth’s quartet lost in the last eight of the fours.

But while the men slipped up in their respective medal quests, the ladies kept the Northern Ireland flag flying in Glasgow.

Ewarts star Cunningham led well for Ballymena ace Cameron as the Northern Irish duo scraped through to the knockout stage.

They then toppled the high-flying New Zealand pair Val Smith and Jo Edwards, who were hotly tipped to strike gold.

It would be fair to say no-one saw it coming, because Smith and Edwards made a great start, opening up an 8-2 lead after seven ends, and were still in the driving seat at 10-6 five ends later.

Incredibly, the Kiwis were unable to score again, as Cunningham and Cameron compiled a devastating 1-1-1-1-3-1 sequence, and clinched their place in the semi finals with a 14-10 victory.

Sadly, that’s where their challenge for gold ended with a 19-14 defeat at the hands of England’s Jamie-Lea Winch and singles silver medallist Natalie Melmore.

On Friday, when Cunningham and Cameron return to the Kelvingrove greens to do battle for bronze, they will find a pair of Channel Islanders, Katie Nixon and Lindsey Greechan, from Jersey, standing in their way – but they will be confident of winning that medal.

“We were slow to get out of the box with the game shortened to 18 ends. You must get out quickly,” admitted Cameron who is still seeking a first Commonwealth medal at her fifth attempt.

“This is my fifth (Commonwealth) Games now. On four previous occasions it’s been like this, so hopefully we’ll pick the medal up.

“The Commonwealth to me would be the medal to win. It would be a dream come true, but there’s still 18 ends to fight for it so we’ll be there.”

This is the final chance for the bowlers to claim a second medal of the Games after the men’s triples took silver.

“The boys won silver. They will have the bragging rights if we don’t take home something,” said Cunningham.

“We play against Jersey every year in the Home International series, so they’ll be up for it as much as we will.”

She added: “You need your best game here against anyone, no matter who it is. You can’t underestimate any opponent here.”

McHugh may have been eliminated at the quarter final stage of the men’s singles, but he gave the host country’s favourite Darren Burnett a scare.

The Whitehead man led 20-17, but the Scot finished strongly to win, 21-20.

“I honestly thought I had it,” aid McHugh.

“It was a superb game, but that’s no consolation. I’m obviously very disappointed.”

The luck of the draw pitted the Northern Ireland quartet of Paul Daly (Belmont), Neil Mulholland (Lisnagarvey), Ian McClure (Portrush) and Booth (Old Bleach), who drew, 12-12, with England in their last group game, against England again in the quarter finals of the men’s fours.

The score was 5-5 after six ends, but England, skipped by Jamie Chestney, took control to lead 15-8 after 14, before Booth’s men struck with a well-taken count of four that rocked the English back on their heels, and brought Northern Ireland back into contention at 15-12.

Pressure was really mounting when Northern Ireland added a single on the next end to trail by just two shots, but a four on the 17th end proved crucial, and gave England a 19-14 victory.

“We may have played it differently. Low and behold we lost a seven, we probably lost it in that end,” lamented Booth.

His opposite number Stuart Airey added: “To get a seven in this sort of standard is rare but it can happen and that’s bowls for you.”

In his five Commonwealth Games, Booth won four medals – a gold in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, bronze in 2002 in Manchester and silver eight years ago in Melbourne and this week in Glasgow.