Northern Ireland players ready for title assault at Watson Stadium

Joe Beattie will be one of the front runners at the Watson Stadium
Joe Beattie will be one of the front runners at the Watson Stadium

The outdoor bowls season may have just finished, but it’s lift-off time for the Short Mat Player’s Tour that rolls into the Belfast Indoor Bowls Stadium over the weekend.

A posse of players that have just packed their wet gear away will be in action at Shaws Bridge, with lucrative prizes up for grabs in the prestigious Irish Open, sponsored by the Ramada Plaza Hotel. The tournament has reeled in a record entry of 162 competitors, hailing from eight countries.

And, for the first time, the SMPT ‘Show Mat’ will be introduced at the Watson Stadium. It was featured earlier in the year in the World Masters and it proved to be a popular concept, with both players and spectators. There is a cracking confrontation between Irish giants Andrew Morrison and Mark Beattie in Saturday’s opening match on the show mat !

In the final game of the day, Jal Richardson is down to clash with Kevin Conroy, which is another one to savour.

“There are 12 sessions of group games that will be played on day one on the show mat,” said SMPT official Phil Mills. “This line-up consists of players from five countries and includes 10 SMPT event winners; four multi SMPT champions; two World Cup winners as well as host of World, British Isles and National champions, past and present.”

Northern Ireland representatives certainly have a big act to follow because they finished in the Irish Open top three medal positions last season. PJ McCrossan defeated Jal Richardson in the final, while Joe Beattie took the bronze.

And, indeed, in the inaugural tournament back in 2013, it was Andrew Leckey who walked off with top honours.

Overall, local competitors have a proud record on the Shor Mat Tour. In the opening event of the season, last month’s UK Open a Bromsgrove, it was Gary McNabb who maintained the winning trend, beating Paul Pomeroy of England in the final.

In fact, Irish players have won 12 of the 17 SMPT ranking events to date, highlighting their dominance in the sport.

Leading the way are Joe Beattie and Mark Beattie with three titles each, while Cecil Dillon is tucked in close behind with two victories.

Irish Open title holder McCrossan has been handed a tough qualifier as he is drawn in the same section as Niall Hand, Michael Hand, Gerald Bates, Lisa Douglas and Chris McKnight.

Richardson, who will be looking to go one better this time, goes in with Conroy, Damian McAllister, Sean Trainor, Winni Wilson and Uel Finlay.

Joe Beattie will be favourite to emerge to the knock-out stage, but he must first see off Suzanne Finlay, Alan Thompson, George Tanner, Chris McWhinnie and Allana McKee.

Mills, meanwhile, is thrilled to have the Ramada Plaza Hotel on board as new sponsors.

He added: “The Ramada is now our official accommodation partners in Northern Ireland.

“The hotel is in ideal proximity to the venue which means that players and supporters can enjoy a fantastic stay only a few minutes walk away form the Stadium. In addition, the Ramada Plaza will donate a prize of a one night stay for two to the winner.

“The sponsorship package is the culmination of two years excellent partnership between both parties and is an example of our commitment to work with like-minded organisations.”

The ‘show mat’ schedule for Saturday is:

9am: A Morrison v M Beattie.

9.45: G McCabe v J Payne.

10.30: J Hager v S McSorley.

11.15: N Hand v PJ McCrossan.

Noon: W Morrison v S Conroy.

12.45pm: P McElvaney v G McNabb.

13.30: D Almen v P Bax.

14.15: S Gale v R Gamble.

15.00: N Haire v L Toelman.

15.45: V Witherow v A Corrigan.

16.30: O Kelly v P Pomeroy.

17.15: J Richardson v K Conroy.