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The six-hour marathon score that saw O' Leary and O' Keefe do battle 



It was the score of the day sixty-five years ago, a six-hour marathon before an audience of thousands. The protagonists were the then county champion, Liam O’Keefe, Waterfall, and a leading light from the west in the form of Humphrey O’Leary of Druminidy, Drimoleague. Bol Chumann’s founding father, Flor Crowley, describes the contest.

‘That' Humphrey O’Leary has really ‘arrived’ in a bowling score was proved beyond all doubt at Drimoleague on last Sunday afternoon, where, in a truly terrific finish, he beat Liam O’Keefe for the huge stake of £400,' Crowley wrote.

It was a score that was big in every way, the crowd was enormous, running into thousands I should think, the stake was the biggest in years, the score itself was the longest, running up four miles of road and requiring forty shots or more.

With regard to this last point, one must say there was not much sense to so long a score. A distance of two and a half miles should be the limit and last Sunday’s score imposed hardship on not only on the two bowlers, but on the spectators as well, for it is no easy matter to follow a contest that lasted for over six and a half hours and didn’t finish until the blinds of night had begun to fall over the hills.

It was one of the most gruelling tests I have ever seen on a bowling road. And to the credit of both of them, it must be said that they stood up admirably to that test. O’Keefe finished as strongly as he had started and for that I give him a special word of praise. O’Leary was untiring, his endurance seemed inexhaustible, and the farther he went the stronger he got.

O’Leary started badly but he finished like a lion. His bowling for the first mile was uncertain and unconvincing but I have rarely seen the man who would have beaten him in the last mile or more of the road. Every shot he threw over that last mile was close to record and two of them covered a distance enclosed by fifteen telegraph poles. His six bowls from a point 200 yards back of Kilmore gate to open the bend above the Mutton bridge were the six longest throws I have ever seen in any one score. There was no fluke about them, they were thrown and played to run.

As for O’Keefe’s display last Sunday, it was one of the best scores of his life, he has never been fairer or faster. I can recall only three throws that were ever so slightly off the ‘bit’ and those three were no more than a foot off-line. His speed was delightful to watch and he never lost it all the way. Even at the end when it was quite apparent that he could not beat O’Leary, he still played straight and fast, and it must be said there are few men who would have stood up so well against so overwhelming an opponent in so long a score.

O’Keefe was almost two bowls of odds up in the first seven shots and then O’Leary fought back to draw level at the ‘creamery’. But O’Keefe held his lead with some lovely playing beyond ‘Cronin’s gate’ and at Kilmore he still had a nice margin of odds.

At this point O’Leary got really into his stride. He took the fore bowl at ‘O’Driscoll’s’, lost it again at ‘the forge’, but his marathon throw down to the ‘mutton bridge’, the longest I have ever seen in a score gave him a bowl of odds. He held his odds up the hill although O’Keefe matched him shot for shot and won a mighty score by a bowl and 50 yards odds.

It was a grand score to watch and a pleasant score to follow. With two fine sportsmen in opposition and two fine sporting crowds backing them, not a single incident or unruly word marred the evening’s sport even though it was an evening of record stakes and heavy gambling. The one side won gracefully, and the other side lost with equal grace and for that both sides must be congratulated’. The score was played July 3, 1955.

Humphrey O’Leary was a major figure in West Cork bowling through the fifties, sixties and seventies. He played against the games best, Mick Barry, the O’Donovan’s, Fisher’s Cross and Bandon, Mick Murphy, Ballyvolane, among them. He won the county junior veterans championship in 1979. Humphrey went to his reward in May, 2010.

Liam O’Keefe from Waterfall is President of Ból Chumann na hÉireann. After a bowling career spanning five decades, he continues his involvement and as well as his role as President of Ból Chumann, he represents the City region as delegate to Executive meetings.  

As featured in The Southern Star on 20.02.21

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