Bowling’s All-Ireland finals series reach another milestone on this historic weekend at Ballincurrig. The sixtieth hosting is, perhaps appropriately, at one of the sports most iconic venues. In his foreword to Gretta Cormican’s seminal publication ‘Glory Days’ A Complete History of Road Bowling All-Ireland Finals 1963-2013’, the man at the helm, Seamus O’Tuama states ‘When the first All-Ireland was played in 1963, it set off a chain reaction in the sport of bowling that continues to have huge impacts today. The authenticity of that first score set a template for all subsequent All-Irelands’. In the same publication, Brian Toal, the most ardent advocate of the All-Ireland series, remarked that ‘Road Bowling had embarked on a new and exciting era’. It’s ten years on from when those words were written, and All-Ireland final weekends, now expanded to three annually, remain bowling’s cornerstone, the Mecca for all aspiring to write their name in the history books. This weekend is no exception as a seven score clar promises the best the game can offer. Fourteen finalists will vie for national honours in grades ranging from U12 boys to veteran (over 50’s) men. Feature of course will be the finale on Sunday afternoon when the battle for the Hughie Trainor Cup will be fought. Similar to 1963, when Danny McParland and Derry Kenny, enthralled thousands on the Cathedral Road, Thomas Mackle and David Murphy will vie for All-Ireland senior glory. The permutations are endless. Can Mackle make it third time lucky having lost out at Portmor-Blackwaterstown and at Grenagh in their previous All-Ireland head to heads? Familiarity with the road should not be an issue. Murphy has won six King of the Roads titles Mackle four and they have scored a win each in their final match-ups here. Murphy’s bowling for the most part in his Munster final win over Martin Coppinger was top-notch but he knows that any slippage will be punished by the defending champion who will be very much up for the fray. Phillip O’Donovan will be the hottest of favourites to win veteran given his almost senior-like performances in recent weeks. He takes on Johnny Kelly on Saturday. The lady’s intermediate final takes pride of place on Saturday. Armagh’s Aoife Trainor will be hoping too, its third time lucky as she has lost out twice in finals to Aileen Murphy and Maria Nagle but has shown ability in abundance in those deciders. Ciara Buckley is Munster champion, and if her performance at Whitechruch on Saturday is an indicator, this is a championship that should stay in Cork. In junior B, the confidence that comes from winning the toughest battles on his way to county glory will surely stand to Noel O’Regan when he pitches up against Jake Cullen who has All-Ireland experience having been runner-up to Darragh Dempsey in the U12 decider of 2015. Jake has also come through a tough campaign in Ulster.
The three under-age finals on Saturday promise a feast of exciting action. First off, Cork’s hopes in U12 lie with Eoghan Hickey of Durrus, who has proved himself a very capable county champion. Eoghan takes on Jack O’Reilly from the Madden club in Armagh in the weekend’s opening final. In U16 Oisin Gribben is back for another tilt having gone down to Liam Murphy’s power-play last year at Newtownhamilton. Cork though, have a quality champion in John O’Donoghue from Mitchlestown whose star has risen exponentially with each score he plays. Drinagh’s Emma Hurley will bring big support in her quest for U16 honours and will need to be at her best as Megan O’Reilly comes with a big reputation. Megan is the elder sister of u12 finalist Jack. Due to preplanned holiday arrangements by some finalists, the organisers have accommodated five of the weekend’s finals on Saturday with just junior B and Senior on Sunday’s programme. The full clar for All-Ireland weekend reads:
Saturday July 8:
10.00am Boys U12 final: Eoghan Hickey (Cork) v Jack O’Reilly (Armagh)
11.15am Boys U16 final: John O’Donoghue (Cork) v Oisin Gribben (Armagh.)
12.30pm Girl’s U16 final: Emma Hurley (Cork) v Megan O’Reilly (Armagh).
1.45pm Veteran Men final: Philip O’Donovan (Cork) v Johnny Kelly (Armagh).
3.15pm Women’s Intermediate final: Ciara Buckley (Cork) v Aoife Trainor (Armagh).
Sunday July 9:
10.00am Junior B men: Noel O’Regan (Cork) v Jake Cullen (Armagh).
2.00pm Senior Men final: David Murphy (Cork) v Thomas Mackle (Armagh).
Boys U12 Played in; Start line (muddy gap), finish (Moore’s gate)
Boy’s U16 Smart’s Bar Start line to novice line:
Intermediate women and Girls U16 Playing in Start at Novice line and finish at Moore’s gate:
Senior men; Junior B men; Veteran Men start at Smart’s Bar line and finish at O’Connell’s green.
All-Ireland weekend will encompass the unveiling of a new work of art dedicated to the sport of Road Bowling and followers of the game are invited to attend. A captivating exhibition of work by award-winning Cork artist James L Hayes exploring the traditional Irish sport of road bowling is set to open at Macroom Town Hall on Saturday, July 8. The Macroom exhibition, aptly entitled ‘The Score’ has been curated in collaboration with members and players from Bol Chumann na hÉireann, the Irish Road Bowling Association.
Championship action remains the focal point with three further county finals and a play-off all producing finalists for Ballincurrig.
Also, two of the South-West’s signature senior tournaments progressed with high octane clashes on Saturday at Shannonvale and Grange. Philip O’Donovan of Churchtown South has marked his return after a hiatus that has spanned more than a decade with a county title in the junior veteran’s grade. The former senior All-Ireland winner has been delivering performances not a million miles away from what he produced in his heyday and did so again at Terelton on Thursday when he saw off the spirited challenge of City champion, Noel Gould. A stakeless set-to saw O’Donovan take a while to gain leeway but, when the score opened up following a brilliant sixth from Gould, both men showed their prowess with some top-class exchanges best exemplified by their tenth and eleventh shots to ‘Kelly’s’. O’Donovan ran out a two-bowl winner to set up his play-off with novice champion, Paul Butler. That duly took place on Sunday morning at Ballincurrig with O’Donovan winning by two bowls. The former senior hit the ‘big turn’ in eleven shots which gives testimony to current form.
The boys U16 final at Ballincurrig was a grand exhibition from two of the game’s best upcoming talents. John O’Donoghue from the North East division maintained a superb run with a one bowl victory over a stylish opponent who has another year in the grade. O’Donoghue’s six to the no-play lines gave him commanding odds which he extended with another on the ‘long straight’. A bowl of odds lead at the ‘big turn’ was enough for victory. Ciara Buckley has been on the threshold of senior bowling for over a decade and will, most certainly, be a major addition in 2024 following a devastating display in the women’s intermediate final at Whitechurch on Saturday. Chloe O’Halloran had demonstrated in the run-in, a tremendous ability to overcome all challenges but could not stay with her Mallow rival whose accurate power-packed display augurs well for her All-Ireland ambitions this weekend. Whitechurch proved a tough route but both finalists started superbly with Ciara shading tips as they covered big distances with their opening three. Ciara’s fourth was also a sublime effort and it rose a bowl of odds. Luck did not favour the Innishannon lady in the shots down to ‘bula lane’ and Ciara extended her lead to over two. Chloe pegged it back with a big tenth but her follow up to bring it under the bowl did not run kindly. Ciara hit the high spots again in the bowling to ‘Downey’s line’ and won by over two. Ladies chair, Caroline O’Leary, presented the new champion with the John Harrington Cup and wished her well in her All-Ireland bid when she takes on Aoife Trainor for the national title on this Saturday.
The Noel Phair Cup has been a staple for Shannonvale Bowling Club for many a year. A penultimate round score in the latest hosting on Saturday evening saw Arthur McDonagh take on Martin Coppinger for a €4,800 total. There was to be no winning comeback for the Bantry native following his Munster final defeat to David Murphy as his Fermoy rival beat a big last shot for a narrow win. Coppinger, who had defeated Murphy in the previous round, won the opening shot but missed chances in average fare to ‘Demond’s cross’. McDonagh, attempting a loft, hit a pole to record a ‘dead bowl’ at this juncture. Coppinger with the advantage again, did not drive on and McDonagh kept it level with a big cast to ‘Campbell’s’. In the shots to the line, McDonagh led by thirty for the final exchanges. Coppinger, to his credit, gave him a testing tip but it wasn’t enough to stall McDonagh and it will now be an all North-East final as Patrick Flood has come through on the other side of the draw. At Grange, James O’Donovan’s grip on the Willie Whelton Cup is loosened following a two-bowl defeat to Gary Daly in the latest hosting’s first round fixture. A three-time winner of the prestigious cup commemorating his former mentor and runner-up to Martin Coppinger last time round, O’Donovan will not have a say in its destination in its fifth running. For a €10,000 total, he did not follow up on a good opening shot when he beat a good Daly tip for his only lead. A wayward brace saw him go a bowl down to his more accurate rival in the bowling to the ‘stud farm’. In a remarkable sequence Daly clipped four more of the finest to reach the schoolhouse cross in seven whereas O’Donovan failed to get traction on most of his attempts and was close to three bowls in arrears at his juncture. The former cup holder didn’t give up the ghost and cut the odds significantly, but the gulf was too wide, and Daly is third through to the last four along with Aidan Murphy and Martin Coppinger. Also, in tournament action in the South West division, Brendan O’Neill, Enniskeane, won through to the Fearghal Beamish Cup final at The Pike by virtue of his two bowl semi-final win over Carbery’s Denis O’Sullivan and, at Ballygurteen, in the junior A tournament there, Bandon’s Denis Wilmot overcame North Cork opponent Edmund Sexton in the last shot of their first round fixture. There was a stake of €5,700 at issue at Ballygurteen. In club scores at Jagoes Mills Derrick Murphy and Fionn Dwyer shared wins from two contests. Dwyer won on the outward route for €700 while Murphy shaded the return for a stake of €1,300. In tournament action at Ballinacarriga, Adrian Buttimer defeated Ger Connolly by almost a bowl for €3,000. This semi-final clash hinged a super fourteenth over the ‘brow’ at Granure cross by the Gloun man and his win sets him for a final meeting with county B champion, Noel O’Regan, in what is a repeat of their West Cork championship clash at Kealkil.
With an eye to the second All-Ireland series which will be staged under the auspices of Bol Chumann Ard Mhacha at Eglish, Co Tyrone on August 5/6, the third of the inter-regional quarterfinal scores went ahead at Lyre on Thursday when City’s Paidin Stokes and Carbery’s David Shannon went head to head. For a €6,200 total they exchanged the lead in an average opening phase before Stokes went forty in front after five. Shannon responded with a brilliant effort to ‘Crowley’s wall’ to take a big lead only to lose ground with his next two as they played to the ‘corner’. Stokes regained the lead and was the bones of a bowl in front at ‘McCarthy’s bend’. Shannon fired three explosive efforts in a superb late charge but fell an agonising seven metres short of victory when his City rival beat a big last tip. Stokes plays the winner of Paddy O’Donnell (North East) v Peter Murray (West Cork) in the semi-final. Gaeltacht’s rising stars were on the front foot in county quarterfinal round scores with their City counterparts at Bweeng on Sunday. In U18 Cillian Kelleher stayed on a winning course with victory over City’s Paddy McCarthy while in U14, Ross O’Brien, last years U12 All-Ireland winner, won from Myles O’Connor.
Kevin Courtney is West Cork U14 champion for 2023. The Bantry boy scored semi final and final wins on successive evenings on the Inch road, Dunmanway and will now carry the regional banner to the county rounds. Kevin got the better of U12 county winner, Eoghan Hickey, in the penultimate round and then overcame Tadg O’Farrell in an exciting finale. Drinagh’s Emma Hurley is a dual West Cork champion too having won U18 after a cracking score at Drimoleague with Emer O’Connell. In a competitive girls U14 contest at The Clubhouse Katie Coakley won from Ciara Lennon. In the novice A semi-final at Kealkil, Chris Cronin defeated Ciaran Nyhan. In novice B, a cracker at Bantry saw Sean O’Leary of Whiddy end the good run of Kevin Murphy. They played for a total of €1,400. At The Clubhouse in another quarterfinal on Saturday evening, David O’Brien overcame Michael A Cronin for €1,440. In a big novice C shoot-out at Drimoleague on Thursday, Mark Deane defeated Brian Horgan by two bowls. With €2,000 at issue the U18 champion rose a shot of odds after four and increased his lead by the no-play lines. He will play either Brian Murray or James Russell in the decider. In a novice D semi-final at Drinagh, Johnny Kelly won from Kieran O’Driscoll.
Owen McCarthy won the Sonny Daly Cup on offer for the South West novice B championship at Grange on Saturday evening. Playing a formidable rival in former Carbery man, Enda Connelly, McCarthy started in a blaze lining four big shots on the outward route. He held a bowl lead down by ‘Hodnett’s’ and held off Connelly’s best thereafter. In novice D semi-finals at Fisher’s Cross, Matthew O’Driscoll defeated Paudie Footman and Jack O’Driscoll defeated Richie Lawton. In a South-West novice C semi-final at Lyre on Monday, Ethan De Burca won from Diarmuid Murphy.
Newcestown hosted the Mid Cork novice A final on Tuesday and a €10,000 total was played for between Belgooly’s Eoin O’Donovan and Castletownkenneigh’s Jack O’Callaghan. In a score of mixed bowling a big second last won it for O’Donovan who was presented with the Jackie Hickey Cup by Michael Hickey. O’Donovan will contest again for county honours having been successful in novice 1 in 2020. The Mid Cork novice C final was on in Templemartin mid-week, and the winner here was Kilbrittain’s David Desmond. For a €3,800 total, local contender, Barry Coughlan, led for the first six but came hind of Desmond’s big cast to the ‘nooks’. The Kilbrittain man rose a bowl of odds in the bowling to the ‘school house cross’ and it was decisive. At Dunderrow in a big money novice D semi-final, Donnacha O’Donovan defeated Fionn Dwyer by two bowls for €7,200. Also, in Mid Cork Anna Deane was crowned U14 champion having edged out a gallant Ava O’Sullivan at Ballinacurra, Upton, on Tuesday.
Gaeltacht’s novice A semi-final was a belter on the Coolea Road on Wednesday. Youthful exponents Cillian Kelleher and Colm McLoughlin fought a magnificent shot for shot battle that Kelleher won at the death. He plays Noel Murphy in the final at Inchigeelagh. Also, at Ballyvourney in novice D, Mickey O’Callaghan defeated Darren O’Leary in the last shot and in a challenge score, Denis Paul Bradley defeated Shane Cahill for a €1,440 total.
In North Cork another successful under-age evening was held at Kilcorney on Monday with a fine gathering from the region’s under-age sector showing their paces. On Tuesday at Firmount a junior C semi-final play-off saw Olan Noonan and Kevin Manning go head-to head for €1,200. A bowl up early, Noonan had to withstand a good comeback from Manning to win by the fore bowl. He plays Shane Collins in the decider. Back the road here, Mickey McAuliffe and Pat Fitzgibbon won from Stephen and Donnacha Spillane, last shot, for €1,200. In a novice A quarterfinal at Peake on Wednesday, Simon O’Connell defeated Kevin Ruby for a €500 total. In a score back, Pat Fitzgibbon won from Denis Murphy for €860. In a novice C quarterfinal at Beal na Morrive on Thursday, Daniel O’Sullivan defeated Billy Healy for €1,800. In a doubles back, Dave Crowley and Liam McCarthy defeated Sean Moylan and Sean Kiely, last shot, for €1,840. In another novice C quarterfinal at Beal na Morrive on Friday Stephen Spillane defeated Clifford O’Flynn by almost a bowl for €1,400. Ross Lynch defeated Pat Fitzgibbon in a return. At Peake on Saturday, Conor Lucey could not recover from a ‘dead’ bowl in his novice B semi-final with Tony O’Flynn. Coachford man O’Flynn won by two for a €1,040 stake. Back in Simon O’Connell defeated Eamonn Murphy for €1,100. There was a €4,400 total at issue in Kilcorney for the novice D semi-final between Will Harrington and Jamie Collins. Harrington emerged the winner here. In a return, Cathal O’Hanlon won from Dave Harrington, last shot, for €800.
Paddy O’Donnell will campaign on two-fronts having won the North East U18 decider at Glenabo from Jamie O’Donoghue. O’Donnell is also junior A champion and as defending All-Ireland U18 champion will have a busy schedule in the lead up to the Armagh August finals.
Tommy O’Donoghue won the North East U14 final at Corrin defeating Mickey McDonagh in the last shot. Also, in North East, Willie O’Donnell defeated Richard O’Brien in the last shot of their junior C quarterfinal contest. They played for a €5,000 total. In junior ladies at Carrignavar, Denise O’Donovan won from Joanne Murphy. In a score back Ballincurrig after the U16 final, Birol Kat defeated Dillon O’Brien, last shot, for €3,800.
Two men who have served the bowling game with distinction through a lifetime’s involvement have gone to their reward in the recent past. Noel Buckley was a founder-member and long-standing official with Whitechurch Bowling Club. Under his stewardship the club prospered. Noel, along with his great friend Joe Bowen, was to the forefront as Whitechurch hosted some of bowling’s greatest showpieces, most notably the World Bowling Events of 1985 and ’87 and the Cork All-Ireland finals series 2013/14. Sympathies are extended to the Buckley family. Jim Geasley of Cobh was one of East Cork’s all-time greats. His passing evoked memories of a phenomenal bowl-player who, in his heyday in the sixties, excelled in high-octane clashes with the best of his era. Jim won the county junior A championship in 1961 defeating the great Caheragh exponent Teddy O’Sullivan at Enniskeane and followed up with an intermediate county in 1965 defeating Mick Sexton at Ballygarvan. He was the first man to win a county title in two grades. Jim exploits were given prominence by bowling’s great chronicler, Flor Crowley, in his Southern Star column. The following are extracts following his county intermediate final victory in 1965. ‘‘If there were no bonfires, no flaming barrels in Cobh last Sunday night, there should have been. If there were no hands out to greet Jim Geasley, no reception committee of the citizens of Cobh to greet him as the conquering hero he was, there should have been. If no civic reception awaits him in the weeks ahead, no formal mark of approval and appreciation of his fellow citizens in the Capital of Cloyne, there certainly should be, for on last Sunday Jim proved himself as gallant a man as any that ever emerged from the town of Cobh’. ‘It might be true that Jim Geasley’s gallantry was shown only in a humble score of bowls, that his achievement was nothing more than merely the winning of a bowl-playing championship. But in that score, in the winning of that championship, Jim put forth an effort that would have done credit to an Olympic champion. He put forth an effort that marks him pound for pound, one of the greatest, coolest, steadiest battlers ever to engage in a score of bowls’. ‘It was the last shot of a big championship competition, a hard test on any road at any time, but doubly hard at that particular time and place on a road that could be treacherous and before a crowd that was worked up to the last degree of excitement’. ‘Without varying his run-in a hairs breath, Jim let go his bowl with perfect coordination and it was a winner all the way from his finger-tips’. ‘The play was prefect as it had to be to win, there was no trace of a spin one way or the other and there was speed to burn’. ‘The men from Cobh began their victory chorus before the bowl had gone a dozen yards from the time it hit the road knowing that it was going to be a winner’. Flor finally describes the scene afterwards. ‘Friend and foe – and I use the word only in a competitive sense – gathered around to congratulate the man who had thrown so great a shot and beaten so seemingly impossible a tip’. Ar Dheis De go raibh a Anam dilis.