BOWLS: Ireland have big act to follow in Short Mat World Championships

Mark Sproule will compete in the Triples
Mark Sproule will compete in the Triples

Ireland have a big act to follow in the Short Mat World Bowls Championships at Leigh, Greater Manchester, over the weekend.

The battling Irish returned from Cardiff two years ago, having won three of the four titles on offer – they narrowly missed out on the Fours.

It’s the IIBA’s Champion of Champions winners over the past two years that go into action in the world event, so it means Kevin Conroy has another chance to enhance his impressive record at this level.

He is, of course, the current world singles title holder, picked up in Cardiff in 2014, but he will not defend the crown this time..

After enjoying victories in both the IIBA Champion of Champions pairs (2014) and singles (2015), he was forced forfeit his place in one discipline, under the British Isles rule book.

And, having been on the world winners’ rostrum in the singles, triples and fours in previous years, success in the pairs, where he will be partnered by his father Sean, would enable him to complete the set of medals!

“I had to agonise, but thought it was the sensible thing to do,” said Conroy. “I won the world triples way back in 2000. Then I got my hands on the fours in 2014 before my singles win two years ago.

“It would be great to complete a clean sweep, but you can take nothing for granted in this game. We have to focus on one game at a time to see where it takes us. Hopefully, the past experiences will stand me in good stead.”

Conroy’s place in the singles is taken by Ballinderry’s Raymond Stubbs, who lost out by only one shot in the CoC final at the Watson Stadium back in October.

Stubbs will be joined by Ballylennon’s John Quinn, who was beaten by Conroy in the semi final of the world singles two years ago.

It will be nothing new to Stubbs as he already has hand his hands on the world singles crown, back in 2000

Meanwhile, David Doherty and Norman Rutledge are surprise package in the Irish squad but are relishing the prospect of competing in their first world championships.

They roared from under the radar to win a maiden Champion of Champions pairs title at Shaws Bridge in October.

“The Champion of Champions pairs is a really difficult discipline to win, so we were delighted with our success,” said Rutledge. “There was a starting field of over 60 combinations – most of them former winners, national champions or international players, so too come out on top in that sort of company was a big thrill.

“But we must step up again as we will be facing the cream of world bowlers this time.”

Spa Golf Club’s Christie brothers – Graham and Peter – managed to bridge a 21 year gap by lifting the Champion of Champions triples title earlier this season. Joined by their Spa Golf Club colleague Derek McCann, they now have their sights fixed on a first world title.

They'll compete in the triples along with Drumgor’s Derek McCallion, Mark Sproule and Aidan Corrigan.

The Wilson brothers, Jonny and Derick, also also back on the hunt for world glory, having celebrated their finest hour back in 2009 by winning the pairs. They will operate in the fours this time, joined by their All Saints (Tullylish) team mates, Eddie Campbell and Andrew Leckey.

Ireland have a strong representation in the fours. Paddy Hanlon and Gerry McCabe won the triples back in 2012, so they’ll have a fair idea of what to expect when they team up with their Cooley colleagues Dairmuid McMahon and Stephen McMahon

“We have a very strong group travelling to Greater Manchester,” said IIBA chairman Harold Massey. “Some of them have the experience at world level previously.

“But they are all here on merit, having won their respective Champion of Champions titles, which is no mean feat in itself.

“We did really well in Cardiff two years ago, so this squad have a big act to follow, but they are all up for it.”

Ireland representatives: Singles: Section A: John Quinn (Ballylennon). Section B: Raymond Stubbs (Ballinderry).

Pairs: Section A: Sean Conroy, Kevin Conroy (Redeemer). Section B: David Doherty, Norman Rutledge (Sixmilecross).

Triples: Section A: Derek McCallion, Mark Sproule, Aidan Corrigan (Drumgor). Section B: Derek McCann, Graham Christie, Peter Christie (Spa Golf Club).

Fours: Section A: Diarmuid McMahon, Stephen McMahon, Paddy Hanlon, Gerry McCabe (Cooley). Section B: DJ Wilson, Eddie Campbell, Jonny Wilson, Andrew Leckey (All Saints, Tullylish).