Thomas Mackle’s tour-de-force in the rain earned him a fifth King of the Roads crown while Silke Tulk made it three-in-row Queen titles as the curtain came down on thrilling 38th hosting of the famed bowling festival. ‘The Boys from the County Armagh’ was sung lustily at Ballincurrig on Sunday evening last after Mackle delivered one of the truly great final performances to deny a gallant David Murphy who had contributed hugely too to an enthralling contest. There was a sense that the wet road surface might militate against the northerner given the speedy, lengthy run-in he utilises in his delivery, but, on the contrary, he showed no trepidation and revelled in the conditions. With the stake finally balanced at a €64,000 total, Murphy, with a powerful opener, took the first shot. Mackle was in front after two before a defining exchange stunned the road. Murphy lined a superb third to ‘Geary’s green’ and it looked sure to regain the fore bowl, but Mackle replied with an awesome drive and beat the tip by eighty metres. Relentless, Mackle fired another brilliant effort, his fifth of the day, to the second line at ‘Heaphy’s’ at which point Murphy, without making any errors, trailed by a bowl of odds. The defending champion from Brinny was a shade unlucky with a thundering drive on the ‘long straight’ and hung in doggedly to keep the margin to a bowl of odds as Mackle hit the ‘big turn’ in ten. Murphy’s power enabled him to cut an excellent twelfth up the ‘short straight’ keeping the pressure up but Macke was equal to it and came close enough to retain most of his lead. Murphy’s next went right and with it his chance of staging a comeback similar to what he had achieved the previous day against Gary Daly. Mackle powered on to the last bend in fourteen where a sporting Murphy was finally forced to concede his crown. The win has put the gloss on a magnificent season for the All-Ireland champion whose string of triumphs include, Bol Fada, championship, Joe O’Sullivan Acorn Life Cup and now the Hurley’s of Midleton King of the Roads trophy.
Dutch champion, Silke Tulk remains peerless at Ballincurrig. The wind and rain finally relented just as the Kingston New Homes Queen of the Roads final got underway. With no Irish involvement, the cup holder was the strong favourite against Anke Klopper but the German champion showed plenty in her semi-final win on Friday to indicate a strong challenge. That is how it panned out as Klopper sped away to a big early lead mainly fashioned by a super third shot. An upset was on the cards when she rose a bowl of odds with her fourth and then followed a massive sixth of Tulk’s to hold her lead to the ‘big turn’. It began to unravel a little for the FKV star in the shots down the ‘long straight’. Tulk knocked the bowl of odds and when Klopper failed to take advantage of an average eighth by the Dutch champion, the gap was down to thirty metres. The sheer power of the defending champion got her out of trouble at ‘the acre’ and a speedy run to ‘Hegarty’s’ brought her in front for the first time since the opening exchanges. Tulk extended her lead in the next shots and responded well to Klopper’s big fourteenth through the green with a powerful drive towards the line. There was no denying the defending champion her third on the trot and seventh crown in total. The stake at issue in Sunday’s final amounted to €1,700.
Brian Wilmot was another who made light of Sunday’s inclement weather. The Bandon native has also been enjoying a sublimely successful year on bowling roads north and south and captured the Jim O’Driscoll Cup in some style with a two-bowl victory over Ulster’s Shaun Donnelly in the opening score on Sunday. For a €6,000 total, Wilmot, hind in four to the ‘green’ looked in a spot of bother when his fifth went left off the play. Donnelly didn’t quite take advantage and only fifty metres separated them at ‘the lines’. Wilmot found his groove with big shots on the ‘long straight’ and took a bowl of odds lead with his eleventh to sight at the ‘big turn’. Donnelly fought it well beating big tips to keep it under the bowl as they played to the ‘sycamores’. Wilmot, assured now in every shot, held his lead to win the O’Driscoll Cup for the second time twelve years after his previous success when he won from Thomas Mackle and David Hubbard. The Proto-Mark Technologies Youth International Triple-Crown was a lively affair with bowling’s upcoming talent from the continent offering plenty but were ultimately forced to give best to Ireland’s U18 champions Tommy O’Sullivan and Ellen Sexton. It wasn’t going well for the Irish at the start as Dutch girl, Lotte Telgenof Oude Koehorst, brilliant all through, fired a super sixth to the ‘big turn; to go a shot up on both German and Irish partnerships. Ellen Sexton did well to keep it at that with a fine effort of her own to the ‘big turn’. Tommy O’Sullivan’s perfectly executed eighth shot around to the ‘long straight’ levelled it up and from there they held off the continental challenge. Germany’s Tonke De Viries was instrumental in her team coming second and indeed they closed on the Irish as the line neared. Ellen Sexton’s sixteenth to the ‘short straight’ ensured victory.
Saturday’s King semi-finals were tension-filled. Thomas Mackle had to call on all his considerable reserves of determination and skill to see off the challenge of Arthur McDonagh while David Murphy stared down defeat to win, maybe a shade fortunately, by less than a metre from a gallant Gary Daly. The Europeans in both, Ralf Look in the opening score and Bas Senger in the afternoon, were left trailing by over two bowls of odds. There is a real intensity to the rivalry between All-Ireland champion, Thomas Mackle and Cork’s Arthur McDonagh. Mackle, who lost to the Fermoy man in the 2020 All-Ireland at Ballyvourney, has now triumphed in three big ones this year. German challenger, Ralf Look is a proven campaigner at Ballincurrig and presented a challenge to both Mackle and McDonagh but could not stay with the northerner’s blistering start. For a €19,000 total (Mackle/McDonagh) and a further €450 three-way, Mackle blazed a second shot with awesome ferocity and followed with a spinning third almost to the end of ‘Geary’s green’. McDonagh’s second was short, and it was Look who held second place as the All-Ireland champion raced to a bowl lead at ‘the lines’. That would change dramatically in the next exchanges. McDonagh suddenly found his groove and fired two explosive efforts similar to Gary Daly in his qualifier with John O’Rourke, the previous week. From blind sight on the ‘long straight’ to sight at the ‘big turn’ in two brought him level with Mackle and a shot ahead of Look. The German faded in the next exchanges, but the battle raged between the front two. Mackle, with fierce determination, regained his bowl lead but then watched as McDonagh produced a miracle last shot and beat the finish from an impossible stand. Very missable in two, the northerner needed all his composure to make sight at the last corner and beat over a hundred metres with a sweeping final effort before his place in the final was assured. A recovered David Murphy was the hot favourite to defeat Gary Daly as the rain descended on Ballincurrig in the afternoon. Still the contest carried a €10,000 total alongside a three-way combined stake of €1,200. Bas Senger’s start had him in all sorts of trouble. Two short opening shots had him a bowl down as Murphy and Daly traded fore bowls at the front. Murphy led on the ‘long straight’ but not by much. Daly benefitted from two uncharacteristic errors by Murphy in the shots to the ‘big turn’ to rise commanding odds facing up the ‘short straight’. Daly delivered a big pressure shot at this juncture and it looked his day when throwing odds over twenty metres with four to go. Throwing at the point known as ‘din tough’s’, Daly caught the left and Murphy, sensing a chance, took it with open arms. With the odds down to thirty metres, Murphy fired a piledriver and took a sensational lead with two to go. Daly was back in front when Murphy’s second last caught in the water and it was down to a grandstand finale in the rain. Murphy’s last looked right but came off the green to give Daly a formidable task. Daly’s reply was played to perfection, but the rain sodden grass held it up just a few feet short of Murphy’s mark. The support scores on Saturday saw Cork’s partnerships record a double. After the opening King semi, Michael Ahern, Carrignavar, county novice 1 runner-up and David O’Brien, Dunmanway, novice B champion came with a blistering late salvo to deny Ulster’s, Anthony McVeigh and Frank Oliver in the Dairypower double. For a €4,600 total, O’Brien’s piledriver through the green three from home gave the Corkmen a lead they hadn’t enjoyed since the early stages. Ahern followed with another big one and O’Brien again beat a handy last shot of Oliver’s for victory. In the last of the day junior B county winner, Noel O’Regan, Togher Cross, combined with Junior C champion, Shane Collins, Rathcoole to deny Ulster’s Barry O’Reilly and Jake Cullen for a €5,200 total. This Charlie McCarthy Cup win hinged also on a strong finish by the Corkmen. All-Ireland junior B champion, Cullen, looked threatening as the Armagh men reeled in Cork’s early bowl advantage but were repelled by two exceptional efforts firstly by O’Regan to the ‘creamery point’ and then Collins with a powerful drive close to the finish line.
Friday’s Queen semi-finals and Jim O’Driscoll Cup play-off set the tone for the weekend. That the continentals vanquished the Irish in the Queen semis does not tell the full story. With a modicum of improvisation in road play choices or a more generous supplement of that vital element of luck, Veronica O’Mahony and Geraldine Curtin could have been duelling it out for the big prize. Kelly Mallon was desperately close, and Ciara Buckley competed well. Both contests were epic encounters. Silke Tulk, Veronica O’Mahony and Ciara Buckley faced off in the weekends opening score. Ciara started well but did not crucially make sight at the ‘big turn’ in six whereas Veonica did to keep pace with the hot favourite, Silke. From this juncture, Veronica from Glashaboy in the North Cork division, produced a string of exceptional shots to take the lead over the imposing Silke and a raging battle ensued in the bowling down to ‘Heaphy’s’ as a huge upset seemed on the cards. With a great chance to consolidate her lead, Veronica played a shade too tightly with her tenth and lost the lead. With her fellow North Cork compatriot, Ciara, now two bowls behind, O’Mahony regained the fore bowl with four to go but her thirteenth didn’t run and Silke was back in front again. Ever determined, Silke produced an absolute rocket with their fifteenth and beat the line for a bowl of odds win that did not reflect a tight hard-fought engagement. Geraldine Curtin did the Cork challenge proud as well. The Munster champion had Kelly Mallon and Anke Klopper in the opposing camp in her semi-final. Brilliant third and fourth shots, both fired with great ferocity, saw her a bowl ahead of Kelly Mallon who was uncharacteristically off with some of her opening efforts. Anke Klopper was closer but also almost a shot behind. Had Geraldine made sight at the ‘big turn’ with her fifth she would have doubled her margin on both, but that crucial effort unluckily drifted right. Anke, got in front with a hue cast at ‘Leahy’s’ and Kelly gained ground with a terrific throw on the straight. The Cork challenger had no luck with a well-played tenth and now trailed her rivals. She regained parity with a tremendous shot to ‘Heaphy’s’ and just five metres separated all three with four to go. Kelly Mallon took charge in the next exchanges and led by forty metres facing the line. Again, luck deserted Curtin as her well-delivered last shot rode the entrance at ‘Moore’s gate’ and did not get justice. Anke Klopper put down the proverbial ‘miler’ and it won the day when Kelly Mallon’s reply drifted right too soon. In between on Friday, Brian Wilmot won the Cork Jim O’Driscoll Cup final defeating Tim McDonagh and Eamonn Bowen both by a bowl for a combined €3,600. Both McDonagh and Wilmot gained odds on Bowen in the shots to the ‘no-play line’. Bowen recovered on the ‘straight’ to lead Wilmot, but it was McDonagh who held sway in the shots to the ‘big turn’. McDonagh undid his good work with an extremely short bowl at the turn at which point all three were level. As he would on Sunday in the overall final, Brian Wilmot found his best form in the closing third. Four well-delivered efforts brought him sight at the last bend almost a host clear of both rivals and through to a place in Sunday’s decider.
The flag-raising ceremony at Scoil Naomh Eoin on Friday morning was a joyous occasion as Dutch, German and Irish interacted with the local pupils. It was a fitting send-off to a memorable weekend that even the most inclement of conditions could not put a damper on. As dusk fell on Sunday evening, Lone Piper, Padraigh O’Brien led the newly crowned King and Queen back to the presentation rostrum. There were tributes from all and sundry to Seamus O’Tuama, Mick Hurley and their Ballincurrig officials for their trojan efforts. The production of a colourful and informative programme booklet added much to the occasion as indeed did the presence of so many from Germany, Holland and Northern Ireland who came in droves to support their compatriots. The 38th King and Queen festival had lived up to its billing in every respect.