The O’Driscoll’s, Brian and Michael, secured a rare novice All-Ireland double for Cork and, with Ulster’s Barry O’Reilly securing junior C, the games strongholds were the big winners as the curtain came down on a wonderful weekend’s bowling in East Waterford. On a difficult week for him Brian O’Driscoll in novice 1 was the star performer. The young Drimoleague man brought support in hundreds and was the hot favourite in both his semi-final and final scores. He showed coolness and composure in extricating himself from a sticky situation as he trailed his youthful Ulster rival, Anthony McVeigh, in Saturday’s qualifier and then displayed the full range of his capabilities in a three-bowl triumph over Leinster’s Alan Long, in Sunday’s decider. The last of the weekend’s finals was not as one-sided as the end margin indicates as Long fought a good battle in limiting the Cork man to a bowl lead for much of the way. Still the gulf in class was evident as early as the third shot. O’Driscoll’s perfectly executed effort pushed him a bowl clear, but he needed all his guile to hold that lead when Long fired a majestic seventh down the incline. The Cork champion followed in like manner and again defied Long in another good exchange to ‘Finnegan’s corner’. A beautifully lofted tenth, the shot of the weekend, earned a round of applause from those spectating and put him almost two up. The odds increased in the closing shots and, following his thirteenth over the line, the young Drimoleague champion was carried aloft by his delighted followers. He is the first Cork winner in the grade since 2014.
For Blarney’s Michael O’Driscoll it was also a weekend to remember. Not doing things the easy way, Michael claimed the novice 2 All-Ireland in the most dramatic of circumstances. Ulster’s Conor Lappin was the punter’s favourite to win this championship but did not take his chances in Saturday’s fraught semi-final. O’Driscoll’s last shot trickled over Lappin’s mark, and it was the Blarney man who was the overwhelming fancy to defeat London’s Danny O’Shea in Sunday’s final. He did eventually but it was another nail-biter. For a €1,000 total stake, O’Driscoll left himself with an uphill battle when throwing an opening shot of the extremely short variety. He recovered well to lead after four and, following a couple of misplays by the long-time London campaigner, the Cork man rose a bowl of odds with a well-lined fifth. O’Driscoll looked to be heading for a comfortable victory at the half-way point as he held a shot of odds and eighty metres with it approaching ‘the commons’, but a sudden change manifested itself when O’Shea hit a beauty around the ‘stonewall corner’. O’Driscoll missed that mark and threw just fifty metres odds with his next. O’Shea took the most unexpected of leads when the Cork champion totally misplayed his thirteenth and, sensationally, a first All-Ireland in twenty-two years of trying seemed imminent, when throwing over fifty metres with two to go. Unfortunately for the Clondrohid native, a misplay of his own gave O’Driscoll a glimmer. Having pulled off some remarkable recoveries on his way to the decider, the City champion with a Reenascreena background found the reserves to do it again. A last do or die effort was delivered with perfection and it won for O’Driscoll the 2023 novice 2 All-Ireland and the splendid Paddy Morgan Cup. O’Shea’s game reply missed by ten metres.
Ulster’s Brian O’Reilly was in a determined and focused frame of mind over the weekend. Two strong opponents, Cork’s Shane Collins and Louth’s J P Clinton faced him on Saturday, but he held his nerve and saw off the challenge of both. It was no different on Sunday even if his final opponent was his near relative, London champion, Padraigh Nugent. Outright winner in novice 1 in 2016, Nugent staged a fine comeback win over North America’s Brendan O’Donovan in Saturday’s semi and fired a big second shot to lead Sunday’s final. O’Reilly took back the lead with his next and wouldn’t be headed subsequently. The Ulster champion looked to rise a bowl lead with a brilliant seventh shot, but Nugent defiantly hit a splendid eighth to keep himself firmly in it. The high-powered exchanges continued with Nugent beating big tips to keep the margin under the bowl. O’Reilly didn’t waver and his All-Ireland goal was achieved with his thirteenth throw.
Killea bowling club had everything in ship-shape at this the most picturesque of venues. The hundreds who descended on Dunmore East were warmly welcomed by club chairperson, Margaret Healy, and the opening salvoes in the weekend’s nine-score programme were fired by Danny O’Shea, Leinster’s Timmie Cooney and North America’s West Virginia’s native Andy Shay in the first of the Novice 2 semi-finals. O’Shea was masterful in this victory defeating one of the favourite’s Cooney by a bowl and Shay by two. There was a €4,200 total stake in the second novice 2 semi between the north-south rivals Michael O’Driscoll and Conor Lappin while Connaught’s Kevin Lavelle also posed a threat. It was the Mayo man who led for the first five, but two poor ones saw his challenge evaporate and the contest developed into an absorbing battle between Cork and Armagh. Mistakes littered the score, but the excitement never flagged. Lappin looked to have it secure only for O’Driscoll to find one of his miracle shots, his twelfth to ‘Davey’s corner’, which brought him in front for the first time. Lappin fired a big last shot but, amid unbearable tension, O’Driscoll’s response rolled over his mark for the narrowest of wins. The first of the junior C semi-finals had the unwelcome sight of Mayo’s trailblazer, David Hughes, suffering a snapped tendon while throwing his opening shot. That put an end to his bowling weekend, and it was left to Padraigh Nugent and Boston based Brian O’Donovan to fight it out in a single-hand joust. For a €2,900 total, O’Donovan held a bowl lead and fifty metres with it only to lose it all to a fine comeback by Nugent who won in the last shot. The novice 1 semi-finals followed and, in the first of these eventual winner, Brian O’Driscoll, Ulster’s Anthony McVeigh and London’s Chris Kiernan vied for a final place. McVeigh made the early running gaining a bowl on both O’Driscoll and Kiernan. It took brilliant eight and ninth shots for O’Driscoll to wipe out McVeigh’s advantage and, with Kiernan, after a good start, fading in the contest, it developed into a gripping duel between the front men. O’Driscoll powered on to a superb finish and defeat his plucky rival by a bowl of odds. It was very close in the second semi with Alan Long, Kevin O’Riordan (North America) and Joe Sheridan (Connaught) all in the mix right to the line. Bantry native O’Riordan looked the more likely with three to go only for Long to stage a late rally. Sheridan too, having come from a bowl down, might have taken it, but Long had the final say beating both tips for a fine win. The stakemoney at issue amounted to €2,200 (Long-O’Riordan).
The second junior C semi-final, the last on Saturday’s programme was the big one in money terms. Shane Collins had come through the wringer in winning his Cork title and brought huge support to his All-Ireland bid. In the opposing camp though was Ulster’s Barry O’Reilly who was on an unbeaten eight-score run in tournament and championship scores in his region. Louth’s J P Clinton, an impressive All-Ireland novice 1 winner last year, had a big following too and was capable of taking a final spot ahead of the favourites. With a €14,200 between O’Reilly and Collins and a further €3,300 (three-way) at issue, the Leinster man fell a bowl down after three and, having gone further behind in the next exchanges, didn’t figure at the front thereafter. O’Reilly’s meticulous preparation and knowledge of road-play helped him stave off Collins brave challenge and it was the Ulster who prevailed by a good fore bowl.
Killea bowling club, at the after-score presentations, were the recipients of congratulations and good wishes on a superb hosting. Respective chairs Chris Mallon and Michael Brennan were effusive in their praise of the organisational skills of Margaret Healy and Kevin O’Donoghue who ensured a smooth-running event. Referees, markers, stewards, sign bearers, residents on the road, Garda authorities, the proprietors of Aggie Hayes thatched Bar which was a welcome focal point, and local First Aid all contributed to a hugely successful All-Ireland series catering for the lower Junior C and novice grades. Thirty-one years on from the inaugural hosting in Westport in 1992, the championships continue to be a crowd puller and a gateway to national honours for the outer divisions all of whose representatives gave of their best. The sunny South-East lived up to its billing as bowlers and supporters basked in glorious sunshine and the participants on the road delivered too in some never to be forgotten close quarter engagements.
The week leading up to the All-Ireland series saw Shane Collins deservedly win the county junior C crown at Grenagh on Tuesday evening. Although it was edgy at the finish against City’s Jimmy Quilligan, the contest did not hold the drama of Collins’ epic comeback victory against John A Murphy of the previous week. Surely buoyed by that success, Collins started well at the North East venue, leading in all the early shots before rising a bowl of odds with his sixth following average shots from his City rival. Quilligan fired a good eighth but then total misplaced his ninth to go two bowls down. Collins kept it at that following a good exchange by both, but the gap narrowed in the shots to ‘bula’ where only a bowl separated them. When Collins missed Quilligan’s next tip, a close finish was in prospect with only three shots left. The man from Rathcoole banished any doubts as to his finishing prowess when he unleashed a powerful fifteenth shot to sight at the last bend and it gave him a second county title in four years. Collins won novice 1 in 2019 but lost out to Armagh Chris Fields in the All-Ireland final at Drogheda. He will be hoping to go one better at Killea this weekend.
Also, in county action a ladies junior quarterfinal at The Clubhouse on Tuesday, had U18 champion, Ellen Sexton representing the South West division and Carbery’s new champion, Triona Murphy, in opposition. It was evident from the start that the Timoleague lady has lost nothing of her All-Ireland winning form as she strives for a double in the adult grade. Super second and third shots catapulted her into a bowl lead. Triona, for her part, tracked her opening two accurately on the centre but did not get the expected run. The Skeagh girl held it to a bowl lead at ‘chips’ and made further inroads with a good cast from this juncture. Ellen, after a blip with her seventh, lined an impeccable brace that brought her two shots in front as they played to ‘Clon cross’. Good exchanges ensued in the shots to ‘Murray’s’ and on to ‘O’Riordan’s’ with Triona beating big tips to keep the margin at two. It is the South West champion who goes through and a cracking semi-final is now in prospect against whoever comes through from the Gaeltacht/City last four clash. In the vintage grade at Jagoe’s’ David Walsh advanced in section B to a quarter-final meeting with Drinagh’s Connie Connolly with a hard won second round success over Mick Murphy.
Ballincurrig with the King and Queen extravaganza just three weeks away is never far from the limelight in September. City’s Wayne Callanan was in fine form in a mid-week Jim O’Driscoll Cup qualifier. The underdog in the €1,140 total, Callanan fired nine fine shots to ‘Leahy’s’ and had a chance of the ‘big turn’ in ten. His eleventh made it out a bowl of odds in front and he defied O’Sullivan’s best to double his lead in an impressive performance.