TEAM NI: Jim Baker praises players following solid start

Marty McHugh
Marty McHugh

Northern Ireland’s lawn bowls team manager Jim Baker waxed lyrical on Friday night about the closeness of the men’s team, who have done so well on the first two days at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

“All five guys are similar – they have the same strengths, and play for each other,” Baker, who won the world indoor singles title in 1984, said. “I suppose it’s part of our culture in Northern Ireland, and something I am very proud of.”

Baker admitted he was disappointed when the Northern Irish pair of Marty McHugh and Ian McClure lost their first two matches.

“I was gutted,” he said. “But they have fought back with spirit, and have a chance of qualifying for the knockout stage if they can beat Canada tomorrow.”

McHugh and McClure lost to Malta, 18-16, and to Malaysia, 22-14, but bounced back to record superb victories over Papua New Guinea (19-13) and Samoa (29-4), to keep in the hunt for a place in the quarter-finals, and therefore a chance of a medal.

“I believe they can do it,” said Baker. “They have the skill and the strength of character to overcome those early setbacks, and know exactly what they have to do against the Canadians, Ryan Bester a top singles player, and the Scots-born skip George Whitelaw.”

The Northern Ireland trio of Paul Daly, Neil Mulholland and Neil Booth made a positive start, beating Kenya, 21-13, then added wins of 17-15, and 23-8 against Cook Islands and Fiji.

“I think that means they are bound to qualify for the quarter finals,” said Baker. “Though they do have to play South Africa this morning to decide who finishes on top of the group.”

The top two teams in each group go through to the knockout stage, and there is a slight advantage for the top team, because they play the runners up in another section.

The chances of Catherine McMillen and the Northern Ireland quartet making headway in the women’s singles and fours appear to be slim, though they have turned in some good performances, and have returned winning cards.