Redemption for Ireland’s bowlers came with spectacular performances on the Road at Suderhastedt on Sunday. A 16th European Championship, that after two days of competition in north Germany, had not quite lived up to Irish expectation, concluded with Gold Medals for Seamus Sexton, who beat fifty contenders to win the senior event thanks to a truly astounding closing sequence and for Darragh Dempsey and Rachel Kingston who, on Sunday morning reignited the Irish challenge with thrilling victories in the boys and girl’s events.
Seamus Sexton would not have been on many people’s radars to succeed David Murphy as European champion, but this is a stage that the great bowling family from North Cork have a natural affinity with. The new champion may have received some inspiration from above. His late father, Seamus (Sen) was a revered figure at these championships having won Gold on the road at successive games (1974 and 1977) and he was there to cheer his son to youth Moors success at Westerstede in 2004. Young Seamus Sexton would not have been overawed and, even if his opening brace did not signal what was to come, there was a sense that he was about to produce something special. He was on big figures after six passing 1,200 metres when a beautifully judged seventh around ‘the bales’ ran for a huge distance. Sexton was the fourth of ten senior men and the early target of 1909.5 posted by Netherlands Raymond Borggreve, in Aidan Murphy’s group had not been challenged. Sexton’s eighth on the rising road was perfect and he was within reach. Yet, it was his final two covering almost six hundred metres that not only beat the Dutchman’s mark out of sight but set a target of 2,323.9 that would not be matched by those that followed. Simon Quathammer of German association FKV in James O’Donovan’s group was magnificent too winning individual silver on 2,159 but the Bandon man, in score six, chased him down to within 23 metres and his reward was a podium place and a bronze medal. German, Ralf Look in the last score out, with David Murphy, who played after intensive treatment, did threaten Sexton’s mark after an explosive opening but finished fourth. The three-time champion from Brinny gave his all for the cause and was there for the youths too but was not at his bowling best. Thomas Mackle, many peoples fancy to win, was superb until his seventh shot and finished seventh. Michael Bohane was next best while Martin Coppinger started explosively but got derailed with a fourth shot that didn’t run. Gary Daly, Tim Young, Aidan Murphy and Eamonn Bowen ensured a team Gold for the Irish. Fittingly it was the Italian, Nicola Altea, who won the best first throw competition for a new trophy dedicated to the late Mauritzio Della Constanza, former President of the International Bowlplaying Association and chief organiser of the Pesaro games in 2012. Nicola opening cast measured 296 metres.
An individual Gold Medal at these championships is a coveted achievement and ensures a certain degree of immortality in the bowling game. The Irish contingent were still seeking a first when the girls Road Bowling event began on Sunday morning. Although Meghan Collins and Maria Nagle had been successful in the previous two internationals there was no guarantee of a repeat given the upsurge of interest in our game among the continentals. Rachel Kingston from Dunmanway faced down that formidable challenge with a superb display. Her magnificent eighth shot was the catalyst, and she won the Gold by sixty metres from her Dutch rivals Britt Rolink and Sophie Koebrugge in second and third place. Rachel’s total was 1,407.9 for her ten shots. Caoimhe Rafferty and Margaret Sexton in fifth and ninth place ensured Gold for Bol Chumann’s team.
Darragh Dempsey carries the burden of expectation on his young shoulders every time he performs. A groin injury required constant treatment throughout the weekend much of which was administered by physios from the European federations. A bronze on the Moors on Friday was followed by a brilliant fourth place in the German Loft on Saturday but the big one was his own game on Sunday. The Skibb boy delivered in spades. Twenty from the competing nations started, many powerful performers from the German and Dutch associations, but all were left behind as Dempsey scorched to 525 metres with two blistering opening shots. There would be no let up as shot after shot increased his lead. He had brought sizable support from his Carbery base and was cheered to the skies as he scorched to 2,143 metres in a relentless display of power bowling. Darragh’s nearest rival was Marian Jahnke of FKV 260 metres further back. Moors champion, Haulke Roolfs, also FKV was third. Tommy O’Sullivan, (7th), Conor Lucey (8th) and Jamie Kelleher (11th) were high enough in the ranking to give Bol Chumann team Gold by twenty metres from FKV.
Lindsay Leussink of NKB Holland has played in the shadow of Silke Tulk for almost two decades but the triplet daughter of former IBA chairman, Jos Leussink, had her day of glory on the Road on Sunday winning the women’s senior event in impressive style when carding 1,898.9 for her ten throws. Thirty started in six contests but Lindsay’s tally in the first out stood the test for the remainder of the competition. Anke Klopper another familiar figure at the Queen of the Roads competition came closest but over a hundred and eighty behind. Kelly Mallon, Bol Chumann’s great hope gave it everything in the final contest relegating favourite Silke Tulk to fourth, but still over 200 back of Leussink. A podium place with bronze was a fine achievement. Hannah Sexton had a great championship too winning her group and coming in in fifth place. Siobhan Mackle in twelfth, while Ciara Buckley, Claire O’Sullivan and Emma Fitzpatrick further back got Ireland a third in team placings.
The Dutch Moors event at Kaltenhorn on Friday was a tough outing for the Irish. There were ominous signals from early morning when news came through that Darragh Dempsey, the captain and top qualifier on the boy’s team, was requiring physio treatment on a groin strain. He would eventually take part achieving a bronze individual medal with a performance full of commitment, but the impact of his injury was obvious. The Gold individual went to the powerful FKV youth, Hauke Roolfs, another in a star-studded line up who captured three of the four winner’s places from the team events. Tommy O’Sullivan was a star turn on the boys Moors team winning his group with ease and only losing out on an individual Gold to Roolfs by eleven metres. James Kelleher did well also, coming fourth overall while Bol Chumann’s Ulster representative, Philip Conlon from Armagh was fifteenth. The team had to settle for silver behind FKV.
Most of the drama of the day revolved around the senior men’s event. A brisk northerly ‘brise’ blew in from the nearby North Sea and it was accompanied frequently by showers of cold rain. The course itself was in splendid trim and when the sun shone so too did the leading lights of the NKB and FKV teams relegating our main men to secondary positions in the majority of the ten contests. Tom O’Donovan and Brian Wilmot played well in the opening scores but were not getting the vital runs. Tim Young won his contest in great style but his winning tally of just short of 1,200 would have left him short of an individual medal. Seamus Sexton came withing three metres of winning his contest, Michael Bohane was close too while Gary Daly hit a rut with his second attempt, and it cost him dearly. As if the confirm that the bowling gods were not smiling on the Irish, the team’s greatest exponent from previous championships, David Murphy, pulled a hamstring in his contest. Much treatment was required to allow him the opportunity of going for an unprecedented four in a row on the Road on Sunday.
Eamonn Bowen and James O’Donovan could not break the German and Dutch monopoly and it was then down to the final shoot-out. Martin Coppinger was the Bol Chumann ace but so too was Rob Scholten for the Dutch. Into the equation from an early stage came FKV’s Daniel Heiken. The hosts VSHB’s Knud Seiler and Italy’s Luca Brunetti were soon left trailing as the top trio fought it to a standstill. No more than a few metres separated them through the course in a thrilling showpiece for Moors Bowling. Both led Coppinger at different stages, but he reeled them in with some outstanding efforts. The finish was sadly disappointing. The German’s final effort was short by his standards but was alleged to have been impeded on its course by a spectator. The International Bowlplaying Association rules, differing to our home game, allow for a re-throw in certain circumstances as in this instance and, after much debate and, in the midst of a most unwelcome shower, Daniel Heiken threw his shot a second time. It proved a winner by a metre or two with Scholten second and Coppinger third. The official verdict of the IBA committee issued on the following day confirmed the result but it was a decision that did not meet with universal satisfaction.
Sile Tulk showed her mastery of Moors bowling by winning Gold for the third successive time at these championships. She had 118 metres to spare on her compatriot, Suzan Zieverink who was 18 metres in front of third placed Wiebke Schroder of FKV. Hannah Sexton was best of the Irish in seventh place while further down were Claire O’Sullivan, Meghan Collins, Hannah Cronin, Ciara Buckley and Maria Nagle. Bol Chumann was out of the medals in the team classification. In the girls competition it was FKV’s Hannah deVries who captured Gold. Rachel Kingston in sixth and the Sexton sisters, Margaret and Ellen, tried hard and gained a bronze team medal.
Saturday’s German Loft at Meldorf’s Sports Arena attracted a large gathering and, true to form, spectacular hoists were cheered to the rafters as the hosts and their rivals from FKV dominated throughout. The performances of the day came in the adult grades as, to the absolute delight of the locals, Mike Phlann on 252.65 for three throws, took the senior men’s Gold from FKV’s Soren Bruhn and Hendrik Rudebush who claimed silver and bronze. Martin Coppinger recovered enough from his ordeals of the previous day to post Bol Chumann’s best figures (208.80). Brian Wilmot and Tom O’Donovan were next best of the Irish who were overall the best of the rest and deservedly beat the Dutch and Italians to win the bronze medal for the third best team. FKV were all over winners of the senior women’s loft. Headed by Gold Medal winner Anne Christen Peters on 190.25, they filed the first six places in individual rankings. Hannah Sexton was best of the Irish in 15th place on 119.95. As on Friday on the Moors, Bol Chumann’s boys performed excellently. Darragh Dempsey and Tom O’Sullivan just out of the individual medals in fourth and fifth places, beat a host of FKV and VSHB contenders and, along with Conor Lucey and James Kelleher were worthy winners of the bronze team medal. There was a huge win in this category for the hosts as Janne Martens, with one exceptional loft of 85 metres included in a total of 235.80 captured Gold individual. In the girls lofting competition FKV filled the top two places with Jana Meiners winner on 168.20. Ellen Sexton was best for Bol Chumann on 89.90.
A colourful parade of participating nations introduced the Championships to the townsfolk of Meldorf on Thursday afternoon. The locals embraced these championships as thousands thronged the cobbled streets. Marching bands led the Associations to the town square where the official opening of the 16th European Championships took place. Local dignitaries welcomed all and Bol Chumann chair, Michael Brennan, speaking in the language of the host nation, expressed his delight that the championships had at last begun following a double cancellation due to the Covid pandemic. The thrills and spills on the Road on Sunday provided many highlights for the Irish teams. Thousands thronged the tree-lined course testimony too to the current popularity of our ancient game among the Europeans. For Seamus Sexton, Darragh Dempsey and Rachel Kingston the championships delivered moments to cherish. We remain kingpins at our own game but not by a big margin. All the Irish participants can be proud of their effort.
The championships return to Germany in 2024 when the larger Association, FKV, will have responsibility for the 17th hosting.
Darragh Dempseys homecoming celebrations in Skibbereen (photos by Dan McCarthy)