Pickie’s Dean Mills and Portglenone player, Mark Jones, have been handed an Ireland shirt for the first time in the 2015 Under-25 Home International Series, staged at the Oxford Bowls Club over the weekend.
It’s a much-changed Irish side after a posse of players made their exit following last season’s action at Belmont, but manager Michael Nutt is confident they can make an impact.
Mills’ team mate Ryan Cavan is also new to this level -- he is listed as one of the two reserves, while five players have been recalled . . . Bangor pair, Matthew Crawford and Matthew Hastings; Ballymoney’s Chris Brogan; Jack Montgomery, from Whitehead, and Balmoral’s Mitchell Albert.
“We lost quite a few from last year because of the age limit,” said Nutt. “But we have a steady flow of players coming through the system, so they now have the opportunity to make the step up.
“The new boys showed up well over the two days of the Under-25 Inter-association Championship.”
Ireland turned in an an impressive showing on home soil 12 months ago, starting with a thrilling win over Wales. They then pushed the experienced England and Scotland to the wire, but had to settle for a third place finish.
Nutt his hoping to up the ante at Oxford. He added: “The highlight was a fantastic performance by the team against Wales in the opening match. That is the high standard of play which we are aiming for every time we compete at international level.
“We were disappointed not to claim runners up position after losing an early lead against Scotland in the final match.
“The boys have put in a great deal of preparation, which included a game against Banbridge as part of their 75th anniversary celebrations. “They were together again at Belmont last Sunday. It was encouraging to see a number of the players engaged in the national championship finals at Coleraine last weekend.”
Although there are quite a few changes, Nutt believes his new charges can handle the occasion.
“Most of the players have already experienced the unique atmosphere of bowls at international level. The new caps, Mark Jones, Dean Mills and Ryan Cavan, are also experienced and talented players and I am confident that they will make the transition to this new level and give an excellent account of themselves.”
There is also a big incentive for the Irish lads as many of them will hope to follow of the likes of Gary Kelly, Stephen Kirkwood, Scott Jess and Andy Duncan, who are now involved in the senior set-up.
Ireland’s finest hour in the tournament, of course, was back in 2010 when they paraded the title for the first time ever in an unforgettable weekend at Londonderry.
Nutt added: “Players have seen, particularly in recent years, that good performances at this level can quickly lead to senior international opportunities also.
“The development aspect is important, but our aim is to be competitive every year and we believe that we can regain the trophy last won at City of Derry.”