Ireland boss Jim Baker approaches the 2015 Home International Championships at Eddlewood Bowls Club in an upbeat mood in spite of losing a posse of experienced personnel!
The Irish travel to Scotland haunted by the fact that they failed to win a game at Leamington Spa 12 months ago, but Baker insists the morale in the camp has never been better.
“We haven won the title since 2009, so it would be good to change that,” he stated. “In saying that, we finished runners-up in Dublin two years ago when we lost out on shot advantage.
“And, we also finished second to Scotland at Sighthill in 2011, so we weren’t too far away on those occasions.
“It was disappointing not to have won a game last year. We lost out to England by 17 shots in our opener while Wales edged home by five shots in our second game.
“Unfortunately, we reserved our worst performance for the final game when Scotland won with plenty to spare. They were on a high because they knew victory would secure the title.”
Due to the retirement from representative bowls by several of the country’s most decorated players - including Noel Graham, Neil Booth, Mark McPeak and James Talbot, plus the fact that Graham McKee was ruled out due to suspension - the Irish named five new caps for the two day challenge.
Old Bleach’s Stephen Kirkwood has been handed his debut along with Andy Duncan (Ballymena), Scott Jess (Lisnagarvey) and St James’s Gate pair Shane Leonard and Gareth Pierpoint, the former Balmoral player who is now based in Dublin.
“Yes, we’ve lost a lot off big players, but it opens the door to a number of the younger guys,” added Baker. “It’s always difficult replacing such experience, but we have the talent emerging from the Under-18 and Under-25s.
“Due to the situation, they probably have been fast-tracked to a certain degree. In many ways the injection of young blood will help freshen up the squad.
“The young lads brought in all featured well in the Inter-Association Championship and they have scored well in the assessment days.
“It will be a new challenge for them playing against the best players in Britain, but I’ve no doubt they have the ability to make an impact. They have certainly helped to bring the average age of the team down quite a bit.
“We’ve proved before that on our day we are a match for any team.”
Kirkwood, is due to represent Ireland in the Youth Commonwealth Games later this season, is drafted in at lead in the rink skipped by Ian McClure.
Jess and Pierpoint have been handed similar roles in the combinations skipped by Robert Hastings and Clifford Craig.
Duncan is due to play third to his former Ballymena colleague Andy Kyle, with Leonard also in a third to Gary Kelly.
Ireland: Rink 1: S Kirkwood (Old Bleach), N Robinson (Ballymena), S Bennett (Belmont), I McClure (Portrush).
Rink 2: S Shields (Ballymena), C McCartan (Dunbarton), A Duncan (Ballymena), A Kyle (Larne).
Rink 3: P Daly (Belmont), S Martin (Belmont), S Leonard (St James’s Gate), G Kelly (Ballymoney).
Rink 4: S Jess (Lisnagarvey), DJ Wilson (Dunbarton), B Browne (Whitehead), R Hastings (Bangor).
Rink 5: A Tennant (Ballymoney), G McCloy (Portrush), M Wilson (Cookstown), B McAlary (Ballymoney).
Rink 6: G Pierpoint (St James’s Gate), B Kane (Dunluce), N Mulholland (Lisnagarvey), C Craig (Balmoral).
Reserves: R Maher (St James’s Gate), S Gibson (Balmoral).
Saturday: Wales v Ireland (J Tomlinson v I McClure, M Wyatt v A Kyle, R Weale v G Kelly, J Greenslade v R Hastings, S Harris v B McAlary, K James v C Craig).
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England v Scotland (R Newman v C Walker, D Bolt v D Oliver, S Farish v N Spiers, J Walker v G Logan, R Catton v D Peacock, S Tolchard v I McLean).
Wales v Scotland (S Harris v D Peacock), K James v I McLean, J Tomlinson v C Walker, M Wyatt v D Oliver, R Weale v N Spiers, J Greenslade v G Logan).
Ireland v England (B McAlary v R Catton, C Craig v S Tolchard, I McClure v R Newman, A Kyle v D Bolt, G Kelly v S Farish, R Hastings v J Walker).
Sunday: Wales v England (R Weale v S Farish, J Greenslade v J Walker, S Harris v R Catton, K James v S Tolchard, J Tomlinson v R Newman, M Wyatt v D Bolt).
Scotland v Ireland (N Spiers v G Kelly, G Logan v R Hastings, D Peacock v B McAlary, I McLean v C Craig, C Walker v I McClure, D Oliver v A Kyle).
Northern Ireland Women’s Bowling Association Senior League: Whitehead 1pt Dungannon 6; Donaghadee 6 Holywood 1; Divis 6 Lisnagarvey 1; Banbridge 5 Lurgan 2; Ballyholme 5 Newcastle 2.
Northern Ireland Women’s Bowling Association Junor League: Ardenlee 5 Antrim Lawn 0; Carrick 5 Newry 0; Castle Park 5 Lagan Valley 0; Curran 0 Gilnahirk 5; Dromore 4 Ward Park 1.