Ulster’s champions recorded a double and Sean O’Mahony, representing North America, took the novice 1 crown as the 2020 championships concluded at a sun drenched Aughagower in west Mayo last weekend. Cork’s challengers carried high hopes and were well-supported but, as with the host county’s footballers, that elusive All-Ireland title stayed out of reach. Six semi-finals played out on Friday afternoon and on Saturday delivered finalists for Sunday’s deciders that promised perhaps more than they delivered.
Played out in contrasting fashion all three were won in comprehensive style as Paddy O’Neill, Aaron Hughes and Boston based O’Mahony had their All-Ireland victories well sewn up before the finish line. For Tieve Tara clubman, O’Neill, it was the ultimate success. A long-time campaigner in the novice D category and eligible too for veteran competitions, outright honours had eluded him and, having only come through his semi-final when home contender, Kevin Lavelle, squandered a big lead, he was the rank outsider against Cork’s Darren Kelly whose youth and power had made him strong favourite. What unfolded showed the sheer unpredictability of bowling. O’Neill made the better start, but Kelly showed his paces with a super third shot and they stayed close. An exciting finish beckoned when both lined big seventh shots. The next exchange had a vital bearing. O’Neill’s eighth was brilliantly tracked and wound by the bend at ‘Kinlooey lake’. It was a monstrous effort that Kelly missed in two conceding a bowl lead and it didn’t get any better for the Gaeltacht man as O’Neill’s next two almost doubled his advantage. A lofted attempt at the ‘bridge corner’ that stayed ‘inside’ removed all hope of a late recovery and Paddy O’Neill, whose consistency throughout was admirable, is the deserved 2020 All-Ireland novice 2 champion.
Wide is the age difference in Armagh’s new All-Ireland champions. In the junior C final played back on Sunday, young Aaron Hughes of the Navan Road Bowls Club certainly came of age. Barely eighteen, he came with a big reputation and, while not sparkling in his Friday semi-final win when he overcame Cork’s Alan O’Leary and local hot shot, Kevin McGuire, he turned on the style in Sunday’s decider when fellow Armagh native Padraigh Nugent representing London was in opposition. Nugent had been impressive in outlasting Louth’s Gary Shevlin in a gripping closing sequence to Saturday’s second semi and was well-fancied too in the whopping €30,000 total stake the final went for. This was Hughes’ day. A searing second shot brought him sight where some at the weekend took four. It gave him a bowl lead on Nugent who did nothing wrong. An error though by the London chamion with his sixth, played too wide, gave Hughes an opening to extend his lead and the manner in which he did so was explosive. A rocket-like fifth from the Navan Road youth pushed his lead to close to two and, when he followed with sixth and eighth shots delivered with power and precision, he had built an unassailable three-bowl lead with the score barely at the half-way point. Padraigh Nugent, the novice 1 champion at Fenor in 2016, accepting Hughes supremacy on the day, sportingly conceded. As junior C champion for 2020, Aaron Hughes has shown he is a force for the future and will almost certainly grace All-Ireland weekends at higher levels in the years ahead.
Cork’s big hope in novice 1, another in the teenage age bracket with plenty to offer, was Eoin O’Donovan of Belgooly. His joust with Sean O’Mahony brought the curtain down a great weekends bowling and they produced a stirring duel for a combined €4,900 total stake. These popular championships have showcased the bowling talents of the O’Mahony clan on many occasions. Sean’s father, Ballydehob native Florrie, has been a four-time winner in the various grades down through the years and now, two more have been annexed by his son who exhibited some wonderful shot making in the closing stages of both his semi-final and final. A winner previously in Aughagower in 2017, that bit of experience counted in his battle with the youthful O’Donovan. In a spirited opening, O’Donovan was desperately unlucky with his fourth and fell almost a hundred metres down to O’Mahony’s monstrous fifth. In top notch bowling O’Donovan looked to have levelled it with a brilliant eighth only for O’Mahony to beat it out of sight. The bowl of odds came between them after nine and when O’Donovan’s twelfth caught the right the margin extended to two. O’Mahony’s finishing prowess came to the fore with a smartly lofted thirteenth and, although O’Donovan fought to the finish bringing the margin under two, it is Sean O’Mahony who take the 2020 novice 1 cup which commemorates the Association’s late chairman, Jerry Desmond, back across the Atlantic.
With football foremost in all weekend plans, first time Friday semi-finals were the order for these championships. Local champion and chief organiser, David Hughes was first to throw off on Friday as he took on Cork’s Eoin O’Donovan in the opening novice 1 semi-final. Hughes came desperately close to causing a major upset as he reeled in O’Donovan’s early bowl of adds lead to forge in front for the last shots. From behind by forty metres facing the line, O’Donovan’s brilliant last effort got him through by a mere five metres. They played for a total of €2,860.
Cork’s hopes in junior C quickly evaporated when Alan O’Leary struck an off day in the first of the grades semi-finals. On the back of a splendid county success the North East man had support in the €6,020 (Munster-Ulster) stake but was on the backfoot chasing both eventual winner Aaron Hughes and Mayo’s Kevin McGuire after five. McGuire, a teammate of Lee Keegan on Westport’s senor panel really put it up to Hughes but the Ulsterman’s power was decisive over the closing stages.
Missed opportunities were Mayo’s lot in the novice 2 semi-final on Friday. Kevin Lavelle looked to have the hard work done rising a bowl lead on Paddy O’Neill and more than that on Leinster’s Noel Carr as tips were marked down owing to fading light on Friday. Lavelle left a golden chance slip on the resumption and O’Neill prevailed in a tense finish.
The second novice 2 semi was a two-hander as North America’s Travis McClintick didn’t make it and it was Darren Kelly of Cork, put to the pin of his collar in the early stages, who finished strongly to deny London’s game campaigner, Danny O’Shea.
In the second of the junior C semis North America’s Brendan O’Donovan didn’t bring his best form resulting in this three-way developing into a cracking shoot-out between London’s Padraigh Nugent and Leinster’s Gary Shevlin. Louth’s Shevlin tested his London rival in an exciting closing quarter, but Nugent kept him at bay and made it through in a last shot finish.
Sean O’Mahony had a bit to do to win his novice 1 semi on Saturday. Leinster’s upcoming talent, J P Clinton, was the fancy for many here and showed why with a superb third shot that rose a bowl on Ulster’s Padraigh Mallon and almost that on Sean O’Mahony. Unfortunately for the Leinster camp that form wasn’t maintained. O’Mahony’s struggles with his fifth and sixth wasn’t capitalised on and, when he lined the shots of the weekend, his tenth and eleventh down the incline and on to the ‘netting’, he overtook Clinton and brokered big odds on Mallon. He would not be denied in the closing shots. This novice 1 semi had a €4,500 three-way combined.
Although there was disappointment for the sizable Cork support, the All-Ireland weekend was a hugely enjoyable event, an endorsement indeed of those who had the foresight to initiate the series in 1992 designed to accommodate specifically those who promote our sport in outer regions.