Thomas Mackle retained his senior crown after an injured David Murphy was forced to concede after just four shots. Their much-vaunted showdown ended in anti-climactic fashion at a packed Ballincurrig on Sunday afternoon last and, while there was palpable disappointment among the huge crowd who came in anticipation, there was also an acceptance that such are the vagaries of sport and sympathy too for the Munster champion whose challenge was derailed in such unforeseen circumstances. There was consensus too that on the evidence of those few early exchanges to the ‘green’ at ‘Geary’s’ that Thomas Mackle was going to be very hard to beat. There was a ferocity in his bowling as he speedily beat a big opening shot that Murphy managed to deliver despite his limitations. Although clearly showing the effects of the calf injury incurred while training on Saturday, the Brinny man got reasonable purchase on his next two attempts, but Mackle simply blitzed his way to the ‘green’ and looked sure to take big odds to the ‘no-play lines’. The premature ending came then, and Mackle’s third senior title significantly swung the balance in Ulster’s favour as their champions took four of the seven national titles played for over the weekend.
The Ulster camp got their tails up in the shape of a youthful junior B exponent in Jake Cullen. The 2023 junior B championship has produced a spate of top-class scores with many of the thrills and spills coming from Cork’s superb champion, Noel O’Regan. He contributed mightily too to an enthralling All-Ireland decider only to be denied by an opponent who refused to yield to his latest comeback charge. Matching a stake of €3,300 indicated confidence in the Ulster camp and it was not misplaced as their man raced to a lead of almost bowl of odds with three great bowls to the ‘green’. O’Regan leaving his fourth too tight to the left contributed to this advantage for the northerner. The Togher cross campaigner was back within thirty metres with good play through the lines but got derailed again when his tenth on the long straight again swung left too soon. A bowl of odds separated them in twelve and thirteen to the ‘big turn’ but the best from both was yet to come. O’Regan lined a brilliant effort up the ‘short straight’ only for Cullen to follow in like fashion. The Cork champion came again with a tremendous fifteenth to the ‘sycamores’, but Cullen wasn’t fazed and came within metres of a huge tip. With excitement at fever pitch, the Ulster champion fired a ferocious fifteenth of his own to regain his bowl lead and with that final statement he was crowned All-Ireland junior B champion for 2023.
Bonfires blazed in Drinagh on Saturday evening as the village welcomed home their young starlet who claimed All-Ireland U16 glory and the Monsignor Raymond Murray Cup on her first appearance at the finals. Emma Hurley was the star attraction after a hugely impressive performance gave her a three-bowl victory over a game Ulster champion, Megan O’Reilly. A good start was crucial, and Emma was composed and strong when rising a bowl of odds lead with five big opening shots on the inward route. Megan stemmed the tide with a fine throw to ‘Leahy’s’ but Emma was in focused mode and a huge ninth down the left track doubled her lead. Megan did not give up the ghost and a wonderful effort by the ‘creamery line’ was one of her best of the day. Emma’s response was to line an equally fine cast that brought her on to the green with an unassailable advantage and after that the celebrations could begin.
When Phillip O’Donovan eased to the All-Ireland veteran’s championship in the following score, Cork were in the van to the tune of a three one lead in the head-to heads to that point. O’Donovan was the Cork banker given his storming performances on his county run and duly delivered but Johnny Kelly proved himself a worthy Ulster champion and kept it competitive almost to the end. Still the gulf was wide as O’Donovan raced to a bowl lead after three and doubled that margin with a big sixth to the no-play lines. That would be the extent of O’Donovan’s lead until the closing shots. Kelly matched the Corkman in the bowling to the ‘big turn’ a point they reached in twelve and fourteen. O’Donovan wasn’t getting traction on some well-played efforts and Kelly brought it under two momentarily. O’Donovan eased away to a lead of almost three shots as they played to the last bend and was a very convincing winner of the Tony Murray Cup.
It would be as good as it got for Cork’s champions as, in a result that constituted quite a shock, Aoife Trainor blazed a trail to defeat Ciara Buckley and claim the women’s intermediate crown. Ciara’s majestic performance at Whitechurch on the previous Saturday entitled her to favouritism but this was a day when not a lot went right for her. Aoife Trainor started well but did not build on that bright opening when missing sight with her fifth and handing Ciara the ascendancy for the first time. There was a determination about the Ulster champion and, when she lined a brilliant seventh shot down past ‘Leahy’s’ and on to the ‘long straight’, it was the start of a score-winning sequence. She followed with three more of the highest order and reached the inward ‘no-play’ lines a bowl and fifty metres up. Ciara fought it hard and produced some of her best bowling in the last third. Aoife, in her third final appearance, would not be denied on this occasion and matched Ciara’s best in those closing stages. It was a victory that thrilled her big Tullysaran following that travelled south in support.
Armagh got off to a winning start as their polished U12 champion, Jack O’Reilly took the laurels from Cork’s Eoghan Hickey. A tendency to leave a few to the right cost the Durrus boy leeway in the shots down from the ‘big turn’. O’Reilly was consistent hitting greens with regularity and rose a bowl of odds with a splendid ninth from ‘Heaphy’s gate’. The defining exchange came when Hickey lined a brilliant eleventh down to the ’pony gate’. There was an expectation that it would close the gap significantly but that did not materialise as O’Reilly answered superbly with a response that beat a massive tip. Jack was error free in the closing shots and assured in bringing yet another All-Ireland back to the famed Madden club.
John O’Donoghue got Cork on the winner’s podium with a powerful display in winning U16 from a determined Oisin Gribben in the weekend’s second final. O’Donoghue form Mitchlestown had been hugely impressive in winning his provincial title and need all his guile again after Gribben took an unexpected lead with a stinging third shot. The Munster champion responded in style with brilliant fourth and fifth shots which gave him the impetus to rise a bowl of odds. Gribben contested gamely and kept it to a bowl in the shots to the big turn. He tested O’Donoghue’s mettle further with a smashing cast up the ‘short straight’ but the Cork champion came close enough to retain most of his advantage. Despite suffering a fall throwing his sixteenth, O’Donoghue regained his bowl lead and won by that margin.
Association leaders Chris Mallon, Armagh, and Michael Brennan, Cork, spoke for all when acknowledging the exceptional organisational effort put in by the East Cork/West Waterford region over their two-year hosting. Seamus O’Tuama, Mick Hurley, and a hard-working team drawn from clubs in both counties had everything in ship-shape in terms of stewardship, parking facilities and traffic management. Christy Santry was involved in the production of a colourful and informative programme. The Cork All-Ireland series moves to the Mid Cork region for years 2024/25.
On Friday evening at Ballincurrig a couple of pre-All-Ireland contests whetted the appetite for the weekend. In the all North-East senior clash, Arthur McDonagh, making light at the ‘big turn’ in ten posted a two bowl victory over Gary Daly for a €20,000 total and in the return, northerner, Aaron Hughes, with a devastating display on the inward route, defeated James Cooney by two for €2,700. In a couple of scores on Sunday after the unfinished senior final, a doubles contest saw Tommy O’Sullivan and Finbarr Coomey combine for a win over Tim McDonagh and Richard O’Brien for a €6,100 total. In a singles contest O’Sullivan defeated Patrick Stokes, last shot, for €7,200.
County senior and junior action dominated the week in the lead up to Ballincurrig. The Lowney’s Jewellers sponsored women’s senior championship had it’s first semi-final at Beal naMorrive on Friday evening and it is last years intermediate champion, Denise Murphy, who will contest for the Brendan Roche Cup in a few weeks’ time. In the all North Cork shoot-out with last year’s county runner-up, Veronica O’Mahony, the Ballinagree lady built on a big opening shot to rise a bowl and fifty metres after five and six shots. It looked game over when Denise fired a splendid seventh to rise a second bowl of odds but an incredible sequence from Veronica threatened an amazing turnaround. Her eighth, ninth and tenth, were exceptional and whittled her rivals big lead to just fifty metres. Denise steadied the ship in the next exchanges and yielded no more in an exciting finale. She will play in the decider, the winner of this week’s second semi-final involving defending champion, Hannah Sexton and Geraldine Curtin, who meet on Wednesday at The Marsh Road, Skibbereen.
Also, on Friday the last of the junior A quarterfinals went ahead at Castletownkenneigh. North East’s Paddy O’Donnell, the reigning U18 All-Ireland champion and contesting in the same grade again this year, is a player of potential as his junior A status indicates. He faced West Cork’s Peter Murray who came with a reputation as a sticky determined operator. They played a cracking score at the Mid Cork venue that was only decided in the final exchanges. For a €2,400 total McDonnell won all the early exchanges but missed a chance to extend odds in the bowling to the ‘old pub’. Murray lined three exceptional efforts to take a first-time lead at they played to ‘Pynne’s corner’ and with Togher Cross on a roll, the omens were good. O’Donnell showing maturity stuck with his task and regained the ascendancy playing across the corners. It went to the last shot, Murray missed the finish line and O’Donnell back in front, beat it at the second attempt after his first was ‘called’. He plays Padin Stokes in the county semi-final at Ballincurrig.
Still on county round scores, West Cork’s U18 and U14 champions took major steps in their county bids with quarterfinal victories over strong North Cork opposition at Clondrohid on Thursday. Dunmanway’s Mark Deane set his stall out with a hard-earned U18 win over Jonathan O’Callaghan and Kevin Courtney, West Cork’s Bantry based U14 champion won his joust with Ian Coleman, Rathduff. At Templemartin in U14, North East’s Tommy O’Donoghue defeated South-West’s Rory Twohig.
Mid-week regional action was at fever pitch as novice championships, some on the go since February, reach the concluding stages. Ballygurteen’s Garoid McCarthy, a former Carbery U16 winner, produced a blinding finish at Lyre to overturn Ethan DeBurca’s long held lead and claim the Thomas O’Driscoll Cup on offer for the South-West novice C championship. Since his transfer, McCarthy has regularly been involved in championship closing rounds in his new division and was runner-up in C last year. For a €4,600 total, he looked in trouble as DeBurca opened in style and the Shannonvale man was close to a bowl up after two. Although McCarthy levelled in the shots up the ‘Mason’s hill’, DeBurca was the sharper in the bowling to ‘Cormican’s cross’ and led by a shot of odds facing the home stretch. From the point at the ‘post box’ McCarthy delivered a thunderbolt all the way to ‘the creamery’. It reduced DeBurca’s lead significantly and gave the Ballygurteen man the spur to take a first-time lead with another super effort. There was no stopping the new leader as he closed out a thrilling last shot victory.
Drinagh Bowling Club are celebrating a new champion. Following on from Emma Hurley’s success in U16 and U18, Katie Coakley is another new star on the rise and claimed the West Cork U14 crown for 2023 after a superb contest with Bantry’s Amy O’Donovan. Katie was marginally ahead after the first phase to ‘O’Brien’s corner’. Amy responded in style and led for the last shots. Katie’s splendid last shot won it, and she will go to the county rounds and a quarterfinal meeting with North Cork’s Jena Healy. Also, in West Cork, a cliffhanger at Derrinasafa saw Brian Murray emerge with a last shot victory over James Russell and book a place in the regional novice C decider. For a €1,780 total, they matched each other in eleven each to ‘darkwood’ before Murray’s fine effort to ‘Walshe’s lane’ gave him big leeway. Russell rallied with a super cast to ‘Hon’s’ and little separated them for the last shots. Murray won that vital exchange and will play U18 champion, Mark Deane, in the final. On the Inch road, Dunmanway, Marie Russell kept the family flag flying with a hard-earned junior ladies win over Kate Murray. West Cork bowling was saddened by the passing of Con Hurley, Togher Cross. Con was a popular and respected follower of bowling for many decades.
Donnacha O’Donovan won the Mid Cork novice D final at Dunderrow defeating Brian Crowley by a bowl for €1,700. In a score back here, Donnacha O’Driscoll defeated Fionn Dwyer, last shot, for €5,000. Jack Allen won the U14 final after a great score with Tadg Hickey at Ballinacurra, Upton. In the Mid Cork novice B championship at Templemartin, Owen Flynn defeated Ronan O’Donovan for a €1,100 total stake. In Mid Cork junior ladies at Beal na mBlath, Ciara Allen won from Jane Coughlan. In the same championship at Ballinacurra, Upton, Siobhan Kelleher won from Chloe Desmond.
Plenty of action in the North East division where all remaining championships are concluding. At Corrin in the junior C semi-final, Tommy McDonagh defeated Martin Daly by two bowls for €500 and in novice C here, also a semi-final, Michael Murphy defeated Billy O’Rourke by a bowl for €500. Abbie McDonnell won the North East U14 championship for 2023 edging out Carrie O’Donovan in the last shot of a great score at Carrignavar. In North East junior ladies at Carrignavar, Elaine Connolly won from Sonia Ahern.
In the North Cork novice B semi-final at Peake on Monday, Paul O’Rourke defeated Tommy O’Donoghue in the last shot of a tight score that carried an €860 total stake. In the novice D semi-final shoot-out at Ballinagree on Tuesday, Paul Twomey and Jack Oldham had a thrilling set for a €2,260 stake. Although hind in the early stages, Oldham raced to a bowl lead with brilliant shots around the bridge. Twomey, from Carrigadrohid, rallied in splendid style to come ahead for the last shots and then duly won those vital exchanges. Twomey then took on Coachford’s Will Harrington in the decider at Ballinagree on Saturday. Twomey won that contest by a bowl of odds for a €5,040 stake. In a score back, David Crowley defeated Tony O’Flynn, last shot for €5,000. At Beal na Morrive in the novice C semi-final Daniel O’Sullivan defeated Martin Kelleher, one bowl, for €1,880. Back here, Mickey McAuliffe defeated Paul Kelleher, last shot for €700. In a score back Beal na Morrive after the senior semi-final, John MacSullivan defeated Liam McCarthy by a bowl for €2,200. In the novice A semi-final at Peake on Thursday, Eamonn Murphy defeated Damien Burns, last shot, for €2,800. Back the road here, Tony O’Flynn defeated David Crowley, last shot, for €3,100.
In club action at Jagoe’s Mills Thomas Maloney and Stephen Murphy shored wins from two scores. Maloney won the first for €1,000 while Murphy got his revenge in the return for an €800 total.
Bol Chumann notes with regret the passing of Hans Jacobs of the VSHB German Schleswig-Holstein Bowlplaying region. Hans was a major figure within the International Bowlplaying Association who was dedicated to the promotion of European Championship competitions from their very beginning in 1969. From 1973 to 2001, Hans was head of the 7,000 strong VSHB organisation and was, on his retirement, appointed honorary chairman. He served as President of the International Bowlplaying Association from 2002 to 2006. He was a frequent visitor to Ireland and attended the thirteenth championships in Cork in 2008. His tireless commitment and creative power made him one of the most influential figures in international bowling for over half a century.
Bol Chumann mourns the passing of one of its most passionate advocates. Billy McAuliffe was a Road Bowling icon. From playing days during which, he took the laurels on many an occasion to administrative duties performed with diligence and distinction, he has left his mark on the game to an enormous degree. Billy was a man of humour and substance, authoritative when he needed to be, persuasive and cajoling, a man you could trust with responsibility. He always possessed that glint in the eye along with that endearing quality of putting people at ease with a humorous aside. He came late to our bowling game but when he did his commitment was total. Billy was an accomplished sportsman in his youth with our Gaelic games of football and hurling his main passion. He made his mark as a senior footballer with his home club Glanworth and played at inter-county level with Cork intermediates. It was perhaps good grounding for a long stint as a bowl-player and administrator. On the road, in an era of top junior bowl players, he became a leading exponent. The junior A championship is the premier regional competition and Billy captured his home divisional trophy on several occasions. He reached the county final in 1987 only to lose narrowly after a mighty battle with Kieran O’Gorman at Crossbarry. That competitive nature stayed with Billy and reward came when he won All-Ireland veteran (over 50's) championship with a thrilling win over Tom McKeever on the Cathedral Road in Co Armagh in 2003. Compensation for his junior A loss would come too in 2019 when his son, Billy (Jun) won the county and All-Ireland title in the grade. On the international stage Billy was a leading light too. He was part of successful Irish teams who competed at the 8th European championships in Norden, Germany in 1988 and was again very much part of the home internationals held in Cork in 1992. His involvement didn’t end there as he regularly made the trip on subsequent European expeditions most particularly when his daughter Shirley and son, Billy (Jun), participated in the youths' internationals. It was a proud moment when Billy (jun) claimed a podium place with a bronze medal in the boys U18 Moors event at Tubbergen, Holland at the championships tenth hosting in 1996. Billy served as chairman of the North East division and formed a particularly effective unit with a capable and supportive team that included Billy O’Sullivan, Austin O’Neill, and the late Derry Blake and John Peter Kelleher among others. Billy’s contribution to bowling was acknowledged when he was inducted into its Hall of Fame at the Association’s presentation night at Springfort Hall, Mallow in 2018. Billy was a larger-than-life personality whose presence enriched many an after score gathering. As one of his longtime colleagues said, ‘There’s many a good story to be told if you met the right man’. May he Rest in Peace.