Oriel’s Gerry O’Hare insists the favourites tag will sit easily on his team’s shoulders ahead of Saturday’s IIBA Men’s Inter-zone final against Western at Ballybrakes Community Bowls Stadium, Ballymoney (2pm).
They approach the showcase event hotly tipped to pick up the Boomer Cup for the second successive year, following on from last season’s win over Foyle. That was second time they’ve had their hands on the trophy - their breakthrough success was back in 2005.
But last year’s win was a significant milestone for the club due to the fact they lost out in the 2012 final to Mid Ulster in heart-breaking circumstances, before somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Armagh the following season.
“If anything, that helped galvanise the squad,” said O’Hare. “It made us even more determined. Everyone had a point to prove last season.
“It’s a young group, many of them are still learning the game. They were determined to put things right. I reckon if we could possibly keep this group together, we could well dominate the event for a few years. In saying that, we’ll be taking nothing for granted against Western.”
O’Hare added: “Admittedly, we’ve had our fair share of heartbreak, but we have experienced both sides of the spectrum, winning and losing. We’ve been made favourites in this final, but that means nothing.
“It’s six rinks against six and anything can happen as we found out to our cost. We were gutted to lose against Mid Ulster back in 2012. But the defeat by Armagh was even more difficult to take; we threw it away right at the finish.
“We’ve moved on and grown in stature. Those defeats have helped us refocus.”
On the road to the final, Oriel began with an easy win (86-32) win over Meath. But they had to rely on all their battling qualities to sneak a one shot success (54-53) at North West.
Northern and Armagh - they lost by an incredible 32 shots - were then dumped out of the tournament, with Western now in the firing line.
Oriel are a powerful unit which justifies their tag as favourites. They’ll have a plethora of established short mat players on show, including Kevin Conroy, Paul Duff, Sean Trainor, Sean Conroy, Paddy Hanlon and Gerry McCabe, guys who simply relish the big occasion. But it would be foolhardy to write off their opponents. They approach the final with nothing to lose.
Western will go on the hunt of their first Boomer Cup victory since 2007
“The pressure is all on Oriel,” declared convener Jean Parkinson. “But we will not be travelling to Ballymoney just to make up the numbers.”
Having benefited from an opening round bye, Western began their campaign with an impressive home win over Mid Tyrone (61-46). But they got stronger in the tournament, reflected by their 66-38 win over South & East Belfast before racking up an astonishing 54 shot victory over south Tyrone last time out.
“Anything can happen in a final,” added Parkinson. “We experienced that only last week when we went into the final of the ladies tournament as favourites against Donegal, but look what happened: we were beaten by two shots.”
Meanwhile, a top prize of £100 is up for grabs in the Kinghan Church Bowls Club’s singles tournament.
The competition gets under way on Wednesday, March 4. Games will be played on Thursday and Friday (5-6) and resume on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the following week (March 9-11).
Entries are limited to 20 per night. Two sections will run from 6.30 and 9pm, with one from each qualifying for the finals night, scheduled for Thursday, March 19.
Entries can be sent to James Newell, KC Bowling Club, Kinghan Church, 13 Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BT7 1JG. Cheques to be made payable to ‘Kinghan Church BC’. Entries also accepted via text message to 07795362299 or emailing email@example.com.
Closing date is Friday.