Green shoots as Ireland prepares to host Archery World Championships

The real-life Arya Starks, Katniss Everdeens and William Tells will storm Killruddery House next week as the best archers in the world gather outside Bray in Co Wicklow.

Some wear Olympic medals, but the manicured shooting ranges of Rio will be left behind as the rugged woodland terrain provides the challenge for the World Archery Field Championships. More like Winterfell or Sherwood Forest so.

Chairman of the organising committee Kevin MacDermott paints the scene for the 300 competitors and 3,500 expected fans: “There’ll be the spectacular backdrop of the manor house, the Wicklow mountains behind you and the formal lawns and trees, where the finals will be held. It is unique from that point of view and it’s an ideal location for an event such as this.”

Certainly plotting their way around the three 24-target courses on Killruddery Farm will provide a challenge for all the archers’ senses in what is as much a psychological as physical test.

The targets will merge with the treescape, causing heightened importance for factors like moving from light into shade, aiming uphill and downhill, shooting across water and measuring the wind effect. Plus the first qualification round will be unlike the others as no course distances will be marked out. Take the caddie and yardage book away from Rory McIlroy and see how he likes that.

“It’s like a game of golf in the woods, played with arrows,” sugggests Ireland’s 1996 Olympian Keith Hanlon. “There’s huge, fast technicalities in it. It’s brilliant.

“It’s set out in the woods, unlike the Olympics, and there can be ups and downs. Some of the downhill shots, you could be aiming 20 degrees down. You’re nearly leaning over and shooting at the ground, but it’s a 30-metre downhill shot.”

Hanlon will be taking on the defending champion Brady Ellison in the recurve category, an archer who took home a silver and bronze medal from Rio to add to his London 2012 silver. Ellison will be joined by 41 other US archers as 32 countries’ competitors travel to Wicklow. Among that number, Belfast youngster Patrick Huston, born the year of the Atlanta Games and already an Olympian with Team GB, also competes.

“The highlight for everyone involved will be the final days on Saturday and Sunday week (October 1-2), when we see the members of the public coming in and watching spectacular archers doing what they love doing in such a unique setting,” says MacDermott.

The finals will move from the farm to the gardens around the house, with team deciders taking place along the two long ponds in front of the manor. Individual finals will be set in an overlooking hilly area, which allows for better vantage points.

However, McDermott is protecting the actual course layout like a state secret.

“We’re keeping the courses a closely guarded secret but the ponds may feature in one or two of the shots alright.

“Our course designers love playing around with things like light, so you might have a shaded target in under a tree, but the point from which you shoot would be in sunlight. That differing light can cause problems for archers and make them think a little bit harder about the shot.”

The rain can make it difficult too as the event goes on through hail, rain or sunshine. Although MacDermott jokes that they’ve a few tactical “Child of Pragues out in the gardens.”

Between the publicity of the Olympics and a first World Archery Championships on Irish soil, the hope is that it inspires a growth in membership from the current 1,200 enthusiasts.

“For us to be running a competition like this is a big deal,” says Hanlon. “We’re not the biggest of organisations but there’s over 300 participants coming, the largest ever recorded by World Archery for a field shoot.”

As for his personal aims, “If I shoot to my potential, I’m hoping I can make the cut for the top-16 to go through to the elimination rounds.

“Once you’re there, it’s just a matter of keeping yourself together and shoot.”

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