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Report on the All-Ireland Series at Ballyvourney

Held from the 22nd to 24th October '21

Arthur McDonagh is All-Ireland senior champion for 2020 after an epic four-and-a-half-hour battle with Thomas Mackle ended with a last shot victory for the Munster champion. The Cuil Aodha Road, Baile Bhuirne on Sunday last was the epicentre for drama and excitement on a grand scale as the game’s heavyweights fought to a standstill for the right to take the Hughie Trainor Cup home. At the end of the forty-shot marathon, McDonagh took the title, a deserved and hard-earned success if only for the manner in which he repelled Mackle’s fightback in the tension-filled last quarter. For the Ulster champion an agonising defeat, unlucky it has to said, given his early travails, but one in which he lost no caste having given his all to a memorable encounter. McDonagh scattered his opener to the left but hopes of an immediate early advantage for the Ulster champion were quashed when his well-played reply was accidentally stopped mid-road. The huge throng that descended on the Gaeltacht village made for a difficult opening phase for the players and Mackle’s second was also blocked. The contest developed into a classic from the fourth shot onwards as McDonagh, always on the front foot, followed searing drives from Mackle. Two ferocious efforts from McDonagh, his eighth and ninth, past the novice line yielded a bowl lead, but Mackle’s response was electric. A twelfth shot of unbelievable length to the end of the wood put the Armagh man back in the frame and by ‘Tigh Ui Riada’s’ after fifteen, just thirty metres separated them. McDonagh looked to have done enough with a superb eighteenth extending his lead at the last bend, but he missed the finish line from a good stand giving Mackle one last chance. That do-or-die effort carried power to burn but it cracked left off the centre too soon and Arthur McDonagh, this time, made no mistake with a well-pitched response that took him to a first All-Ireland senior championship.

The Tony Murray Cup commemorates the fondly remembered bowling man from Ballyvolane and is presented annually for the All-Ireland veterans championship. Cork’s Tony Carey is 2020 champion after taking advantage of Joe Shortt’s wasted opportunities in the closing stages of a contest of mixed bowling. The Carrigtwohill man had the upper hand for long periods particularly after the Ulster champion hit a poor seventh. Eighty metres up after ten, a Cork win looked inevitable, but a poor sequence saw Carey lose the lead after fifteen and it was Shortt who had it at his mercy throwing for the line with his eighteenth. He missed and the Munster champion from the novice ranks didn’t hesitate and lined a big last throw that won the title. Caoimhe Rafferty and Ellen Sexton battled heavy showers and water on the road as they contested for the All-Ireland U16 championship. The lead changed on numerous occasions. Ellen was almost a bowl up after five, but Caoimhe showed her competitive instincts with a fine rally and led for the final exchanges. The Monsignor Raymond Murray Cup returned to the popular prelate’s home county after Caoimhe’s last escaped the puddles to record a narrow victory over her game Timoleague rival.

Saturday’s finals also contained some magnificent exhibitions of bowl-playing and, in one case, another close-call finish. Eugene McVeigh had signalled intent on claiming the junior B crown with impressive showings at the King of the Roads festival and in a recent challenge victory over Vincent Kiely at the Baile Bhuirne venue, but the question was, would he produce in the heat of an All-Ireland duel with his U18 conqueror of two years ago, the in-form Cork champion, Wayne Parkes? The Eglish youth answered in the most emphatic and convincing fashion with a barnstorming performance that, at times, overwhelmed his rival. Certainly, the Ulster champion’s first five would have eclipsed most and they did give him a two-bowl cushion despite Parkes firing a second shot of the highest quality. McVeigh’s fourth and fifth were prodigious, almost senior standard, and they were the catalyst for this handsome victory. When Parkes had his seventh accidentally blocked, an uphill struggle became insurmountable. He fought the rear-guard battle well bringing the margin under two with a splendid eighth and he beat a massive tenth from McVeigh past the novice line, but the damage was done and thirteen over the finish mark for the confident and speedy Tyrone native ensured the Denis McGarry Cup was heading northwards. They played for a €9,200 total.

Sinead Kiernan won the Michael McSweeney Cup for the second time after a thrilling contest with Hannah Sexton. First out at 9.00am on a cloudy Saturday morning both ladies were quickly into their stride. Hannah held a slender lead after three to ‘De Roiste’s’ and then beat a massive fourth to stay ahead. Sinead’s persistence paid when she took the lead for the first time with a great effort to ‘falla Seanie’s’. A magnificent exchange when Sinead beat a superb effort of Hannah’s at ‘tigh Ui Scannel’ was probably vital to the outcome. The Madden lady, from the same club as the great Kelly Mallon, showed defiance in beating huge shots to stay in the lead but eventually lost it to another thunderbolt from the Timoleague prodigy, her tenth of the score. Hannah didn’t quite take advantage of a small opening when Sinead’s next two went left but looked good beating a huge second last by twenty as they faced the line. It wasn’t to be on this occasion for the honours laden Hannah as Sinead’s big final cast won the day by a mere metre. There hardly deserved to be a loser after such a wholehearted set-to, but Sinead’s experience, she last won this championship in 2014, was important in a deserved victory.

Tom O’Sullivan kept the Cork flag flying when winning the U16 final from a game Philip Conlon. The hottest of favourites on the back of an U14 success on the same road two years ago, O’Sullivan closed with an unbeatable sequence to win by three. It wasn’t all plain sailing in the early stages as Conlon showed his talents with a brilliant opening salvo that included a second throw that would qualify as one of the best of the weekend. When that and O’Sullivan’s third were marked down, a bowl and seventy metres separated them in the Ulster champions favour and a shock of monumental proportions was on the cards. O’Sullivan dug himself out with a fourth that almost equalled his opponent second and, just as suddenly, the contest was level. From there it was all O’Sullivan as he rose odds with one powerful delivery after another. The cup commemorating Bol Chumann’s founding member, Denis McSweeney, Enniskeane, was going to the South-West division long before the finish.

Ben Cooney got the Cork camp off to a winning start in the first score in the All-Ireland series on Friday evening. Eoghan McVeigh proved a worthy Ulster champion and this U12 decider was an engaging tussle for three-quarters of the way. Ben, from Dungourney, representing the East Cork division, is son of former senior, P J, and also has close ties with the Gaeltacht division, his grandfather, Denis, a Cill na Martra native. Local support there was a plenty, the Bradley family, Macroom also close connections, and encouragement was needed in the early exchanges after Ben’s opener crossed right and was accidentally stopped. Eoghan McVeigh lined his to perfection and immediately opened a fifty-metre gap. The Ulster champion maintained his grip with an equally good second and when Cooney’s third went right again, trouble beckoned. McVeigh didn’t quite take advantage and suddenly Cooney found his grove with a magnificent fifth to ‘the island’. It was the shot that turned the score. McVeigh’s sixth was an excellent cast keeping the pressure up, but Cooney’s seventh and eighth showed why he is such a wonderful prospect for the decades ahead. Delivered with style, accuracy and speed, they turned a level score into a two-bowl victory and possession of the Dan Mackle Cup. The first Cork-Armagh confrontation of the weekend saw the money go northwards. All-Ireland junior A champion, Shaun Donnelly, took on Cork’s county runner-up, David Fitzgerald and an absorbing duel it proved to be. Having been on the backfoot in the early exchanges, Fitzgerald with a big closing salvo came withing a whisker of leading and eventually lost out by a metre in the last shot. They played for a €6,600 total. Also, on Friday at Ballyvourney, the Coffey’s Jim and Patrick played three scores. First out, Vincent Kiely defeated Patrick Coffey, one bowl, for €10,000 while, in the return, Patrick Coffey won from Shane Shannon, last shot, for €13,000. Conor Creedon defeated Jim Coffey, two bowls, for €4,000. Anthony Gould defeated Kenneth Murphy, last shot, for €6,200 and Darren Kelly defeated Michael O’Brien, one bowl, for €2,400.

The completion of the third series of All-Ireland championships covering the 2020 season was an important milestone for national governing bodies north and south. At the closing presentation ceremony in Eamonn MacSuibhne Hall, Cuil Aodha, respective chairs, Michael Brennan and Chris Mallon paid tribute to referees, stewards, markers, those who held up signs and representatives of Gaeltacht clubs who helped in the successful running of an action-packed weekend. For Micheál O’Ceallachain, Eamonn McSweeney, the Lucey’s Dan and Mick, Brownes, Bradleys and a host more, it was a triumph of organisation. Brendan O‘Callaghan, a leading light in the Gaeltacht division for many decades and a mainstay of the 2019 hosting, was wished well in his recovery from illness. Special mention too to piper, Domhnall O’Ceilleachair, who played the finalists into Mac Suibhne Hall as dusk fell on Sunday evening. The Cork All-Ireland series is due to move to Mid-Cork for the next two years but that will be finalised at January’s Ard Chomhairle meeting.


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