Young Shauna O’Neill will be hoping for a double celebration when she features in the Irish Bowling Association’s Junior Inter-zone Championship at Ardboe Community Centre on Saturday (1pm) .
The 14 year old has already sampled a certain degree of success this season, being part of the North West team that won the IIBA’s McIlroy Cup -- the zone’s first title win since 2005.
Now, under the guidance of her dad and well known North West bowler, Ryan, Shauna is focused on bringing the junior trophy back from Ardboe.
North West were in excellent form in the qualifying heats, topping the section that included Northern, Mid Antrim and Donegal.
They’ll now go in with current title holders, North Down, Armagh and two-times winners Western, with the big prize - sponsored by Falconer, Stewart, Chartered Accountants - up for grabs.
“Believe it or not, Shauna played her first game for the zone at the age of six, when I had only 11 players,” recalls Ryan.
“She has now progressed to the senior side and was thrilled to be part of the team that won the McIlroy Cup a few weeks back.
“Although our team has yet to be finalised, we are hoping to make an impact on the junior tournament, but it is going to be very difficult as last season’s four semi finalists have again made it through to the last four.
“We have a bit of experience at our back ends, with brothers, Stephen and Graham Kennedy on skipping duty along with James Caskie. We have a few new faces included.
“Craig Marshall and Calvin Heaveron will be in the team, but also making the squad debut this year is Rachel Cochrane, Hannah Cochrane, Laura Cochrane and Keelan Nelson.
“The remainder of the side were also involved last season. We produced some great bowling in the qualifier and, if we can play to our ability, we have a excellent chance to win championship for the first time.”
Meanwhile, Armagh will have two new players on board as they strive to record their first championship success. Chris Coleman (Waringstown) and Kevin Donaldson (St. Patrick’s) are added to the team that lost out to North Down in the final 12 months ago.
“These two young players will bring even more strength to the front ends of the rinks,” said Armagh’s Paul Whittle.
“We were disappointed to be beaten in the final last year, but there is no reason why we can’t go all the way this time.
“We now have a panel of 18 players with the majority of the reserves under the age of 12, which will hopefully secure the future for junior bowling in County Armagh.”
Western are the only team in the last four to have had their hands on the title, being the inaugural winners back in 1999. They repeated the feat in 2008.
They were deprived of a possibly hat-trick 12 months ago when they lost out to Armagh in the semi finals.
“We came through a tough section,” said zone convener Jean Parkinson.
“We defeated South Tyrone, but lost out to Mid Ulster. However, South Tyrone then beat Mid Ulster, which left up topping the group.
“Even though we have seven new players in the team this season, on their day they are capable of going the distance.”
Title holders North Down have only one debutant -- Becky Taylor, the daughter of well know Bangor bowler Keith, and bother of Aaron.
“We’ll face big test to retain the title,” admitted Simon Cavan.
“Hopefully, last season’s experience will stand the side in good stead. We have strong back end players in the likes of the Hastings brothers, Curtis and Matthew, along with Cameron Gaw, Dean Mills and Ryan Cavan. It would be a closely fought contest again this season.” The IIBA’s Harold Massey praised the loyal backing of the sponsors, adding: “Once again the Association is indebted to Geoff Falconer of Falconer, Stewart,Chartered Accountants for his continued support of this championship, an event which is so vital to the development of the short mat game.
“The bowlers on show are the future of the sport and spectators are encouraged to come along and show their support.”
How they line out . . .
North West squad: James Caskie (Captain), Adam Rankin, Jordan Rankin, Stephen Kennedy, Graham Kennedy, Hannah Cochrane, Rachel Cochrane, Tamsin Elder, Lee Devenney, Shauna O’Neill, Jamie Cochrane, Laura Cochrane, John Crown, Keelan Nelson, Craig Marshall, Calvin Heaveron, Stephen Ferris.
Western: Rink one: Blaine Bradshaw, Gemma Nelson, Catherine Scott, Shay Cadden. Rink two: Nathan Nixon, Hannah Ferguson, Matthew Ferguson, Darin Graydon. Rink three: Lauren Ferguson, Rebecca Gilroy, William Parkinson, Brandon Power.
Armagh: Rink one: Rink one: Conchur Lenaghan, Bethany Whittle, Ryan King, Sean Breen. Rink 2: Kevin Donaldson, Teri Millar, Nathan Minish, James Robinson. Rink 3: Zoe Minish, Chris Coleman, Andrew Robinson, Ryan Adair. Reserves: Luke Frizzell, Chloe Wilson, Laura Cassells, Ciara Lenaghan, Ellen Boyd, Dillon Boyd
North Down squad: Matthew Hastings, Curtis Hastings, Aaron Taylor, Becky Taylor, Cameron Gaw, Ryan Cavan, Dean Mills, Andrew Moore, Jordan McBride, Alana McKee, Gary Monaghan and Christopher Patton.