Former winners, St Mark’s (Portadown), go back on the hunt for the IIBA Club Championship – sponsored by Galway Bay Hotel – at the Watson Stadium on Saturday.
They managed to break the monopoly of the Cookstown clubs two years ago when they lifted the title for the first time.
The County Armagh club will again be fancied for an extended run in a tournament that has grown in stature in recent seasons.
They have also managed to avoid a posse of ‘big guns’ that were pulled out in the other half of the draw – they don’t go into action until November 21 – including the Cookstown duo, Parochial and High School, who have lifted the trophy a staggering seven times between them since 2005.
In fact, St Mark’s are one of only three clubs that have managed to gatecrash that party, with Clontibret being crowned champions in 2007 and Hillsborourgh Social in 2011.
It is was no mean feat when St Mark’s scribbled their name silverware by defeating Prochial in 2013.
They’ll begin their push for a place in the semi finals with an outing against Christ Church, from the Western zone.
“I suppose we are in a favourable half of the draw,” said Jal Richardson. “In saying that, you can take nothing for granted in bowls.
“But with the likes of the Cookstown clubs; Hillsborough Social, Ballylennon, Clontibret, and All Saints, in the other half, hopefully we can take advantage.
“We don’t know an awful lot about the Christ Church team, but we have enough experience heads, including Andrew Leckey, Gary Culbert, Pauline Beattie and Alan Roberts, to handle the occasion.
“We’ll focus on the game in front of us. But there is the incentive of facing either Balmoral or St Joseph’s in the next round.
“I think Cranagill could be our biggest threat in this half of the draw, but there are other good teams on show, including Ballinderry, Spa Golf Club and St Coleman’s. There is no point in looking too far ahead.”
Richardson was a member of the St Mark’s team that lifted the crown back in 2013.
“He adds: “It was a great team performance . . . it had to be to defeat a side like Prochial. We’ll require a similar type of display again this time, even to reach the last four.”
Meanwhile, Richardson will return to Bromsgrove Bowls Club next month to defend his Short Mat Players’ Tour World Fours crown.
He teamed up with the Morrison brothers, Andy and William, along with Lisa Douglas to win the inaugural event last season.
However, with the Morrisons unavailable to travel to England for the December event, they will be replaced by Gary Culbert and Marty Trainor.
They will be joined by two other rinks from Northern Ireland. James Newell, Stephen O’Neill, Paul Canning and Robin Beattie have already signed up along with Sean Trainor, Terry Crawford and Nathan Haire, with one name still to be confirmed.
“We managed to win it last year, so we’ll be doing our best to hold on to the trophy,” said Richardson.
“Gary and Marty have come in to replace Andy and William Morrison. We’ll be giving it our best shot.”
IIBA Club Championship: Whitecross (Oriel) v St Anthony’s, Craigavon (Armagh) or Sean McDermotts (Monaghan); Spa Golf Club (Mid Down) v Du Pont (North West); Ballinderry (Lisburn) v Rosemount (North Down) or Derryloran (Mid Ulster); Kinghan (South & East Belfast) v Mossley (East Antrim); Christchurch (Western) v St Mark’s, Portadown (Armagh); Drum (Monaghan) or Balmoral (South & East Belfast) v St Joseph’s (Mid Ulster); Roslea (Monaghan) v St Mary’s Aghadowey (North Eastern); Cranagill (Armagh) or Drummond (North West) v St Coleman’s (North Eastern).
Meanwhile the Irish Bowls Coaching Association is holding an Assistant Coaching Course in Ballybrakes Community Indoor Bowls club on Wednesday, November 25 and Wednesday, December 2, from 7pm – 10pm, at a cost of £20 per person.
Anyone interested in participating should contact the club secretary Donna McCloy by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile 07764 469006.
Alternatively contact the the Coaching secretary Helen Russell by e-mail: Helen@e-russell.com