Northern Ireland’s bowlers will get the chance to win the country’s first gold medal of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow on Monday morning when the men’s triples skipped by Neil Booth take on South Africa in the final.
Booth, Paul Daly and Neil Mullholland battled past Wales yesterday to set-up today’s final shootout.
In the final they will face Prince Neluonde, the first black man to play bowls for South Africa at international level, and his teammates Petrus Breitenbach and Bobby Donnelly.
South Africa skip Donnelly won the Commonwealth Games men’s singles title in Manchester 12 years ago, when he beat former Portrush star Jeremy Henry, who now lives and plays bowls in Australia, in the final.
Ironically, the Northern Ireland triple lost 19-17 to the South Africans in the last group match, but both teams qualified for the knockout stage – so Booth’s men have an early chance of revenge.
“It was very similar to yesterday, both times we have managed to claw our way back,” Booth said of the semi-final win over Wales.
“The important thing is to dig in when you are a few shots down so that’s what we managed to do and we made sure to keep the momentum up.
“We are delighted with the result and are confident going forward to the final.
“There’s no reason why we can’t go out there and win the final. We are a good triple and have good experience in the triple so we are confident.”
Reflecting on teammates Daly and Mulholland, Booth added: “The two boys have played superb for me throughout the competition and hopefully we can bring home the dazzly one.”
In the quarter-finals, they disappointed home supporters by beating the host country’s favourites David Peacock, Neil Speirs and Darren Burnett, 19-12, then clinched their place in today’s final with a 20-12 win over Paul Taylor, Jon Tomlinson and Marc Wyatt, from Wales.
On Saturday, Marty McHugh and Ian McClure looked certain to qualify for the semi-finals of the men’s pairs when they led England duo Andy Knapper and Sam Tolchard, 13-5, with only six ends left to play.
But Knapper and Tolchard, whose cricketing uncle Roger kept wicket for England, outscored them by ten shots to one on the run-in, and returned a 15-14 scorecard, cruelly denying McHugh and McClure a place in the last four.
In the women’s singles, Northern Ireland star Catherine McMillen surprised everyone – including herself – when she defeated the defending champion Natalie Melmore, from England, 21-12, in the last group session, a triumph that saw her through to the knockout stage.
Her confidence clearly boosted, she made short work of Welsh star Caroline Taylor, clinching her place in the semi finals with a well-deserved 21-13 victory.
But her progress was halted by New Zealand’s Jo Edwards, who is regarded by many as the best woman bowler in the world, and who took advantage of a below-par performance from McMillen to win, 21-8.
“I was thrilled to get as far as the last four, and I put everything into it, but it just didn’t happen for me,” said a crestfallen McMillen.
“I was slow to get going, and let Jo have too big a lead. I realised I was playing for the chance to go for the gold medal, and I suppose it overwhelmed me a bit.”
On Sunday night, McMillen put up a gritty display against South Africa’s Colleen Piketh, in the bronze medal play-off, but had to settle for fourth place, and sadly has no medal to show for her efforts.
Also on Sunday night, Kiwi Jo Edwards won the women’s singles title when she defeated the defending champion, Natalie Melmore, from England, 21-15, in the final, while South Africa, who are riiding high at the Games, beat Malaysia in the women’s fours gold medal play-off.