Massive Christmas programme in jeopardy unless thaw sets in

All the major fixtures in last weekend’s bowling programme were abandoned because of the continuing severe weather. The massive calendar of events planned for the Christmas period could also fall by the way unless a quick and sustained thaw sets in.

The pause in activity allows for a prospective look at 2011 in the light of last Wednesday’s annual Senior and Intermediate grading. There were no major surprises in either, but both grades will benefit from the infusion of exciting younger talent.

The Munster senior championship is currently enjoying one of its golden periods. In 2011 it will have the defending All-Ireland champion Martin Coppinger; European champion and King of the Roads, David Murphy; European Moors champion Philip O’Donovan; two current World Champions Aidan Murphy (Road) and Éamon Bowen (Moors) and new entrant, Gary Daly, who is a World silver medalist.

It also includes James O’Donovan who contested this year’s Munster final and is a young player with huge potential. It has an older guard of players like James Buckley, Pat Butler and Bill Daly who have impressive national and international credentials. Deep though this reservoir of talent is, David Murphy is still the player to beat.

His performance in the King of the Roads final in October was one of the most exquisite demonstrations of bowling seen for a very long time. That said he can be beaten and the 2011 line-up is full of players who could do just that. Martin Coppinger as defending champion has to be at the front of the queue. He was majestic in the Munster and All-Ireland finals, but he didn’t look nearly as impressive in the King of the Roads.

Aidan Murphy is the other obvious pretender to Coppinger’s titles. He has been there before in 2009, but lost the All-Ireland final to Michael Toal. He doesn’t have the devastating power of his older brother, but he is not far behind as he proved by winning the World title earlier this year in Holland. His win underlines the current status of Irish bowling – not having won the European title for 20 years – Ireland won both the European and World titles in quick succession.

James O’Donovan who reached last year’s Munster final in his first campaign is another to look out for. Éamon Bowen was impressive both in Munster last year and in winning the World Moors title. These five would have to be the top fancies. Should Philip O’Donovan or James Buckley get a good run in the qualifiers then they could be contenders too.

John Creedon, Edmund Sexton, Gavin Twohig and Christy Mullins are probably next in line, but would need to improve on their consistency, while Gary Daly may need a season to bed in.

Former champions Bill Daly and Pat Butler could be in the shake-up if they stay injury free. Éamon Bowen Snr is in the same position. Nicholas Carey is at the opposite end of the age spectrum, but he has not been able to compete seriously since 2008. Willie O’Donovan and Patrick O’Donoghue, winners of the last two Intermediate championships are unlikely to be able to consistently challenge the top five.

Michael Toal got the first serious win of 2010 when he beat David Murphy in the Joe McVeigh Cup at Ból-Fada at Easter, but announced his retirement soon after. Having won a World Title, ten All-Ireland senior titles, two Kings of the Roads and several other accolades he leaves a huge void in the Ulster championship.

Eddie Carr, won the 2010 Ulster title, but he has never caught the public imagination nor managed to maintain the consistent level of performance that Toal achieved over two decades. Two of Toal’s nephews, Thomas Mackle and Ethan Rafferty, look most likely to succeed him in the long term, but in the meantime it is likely that Munster will dominate the senior championship.

The Munster Intermediate championship got an infusion of five new players. All-Ireland Junior A champion, Killian Kingston, is the youngest of the set. He has the Leaving Cert to contend with, so the date of his first championship score could decide his fate. Wayne Calnan and Brian Wilmot, both of whom could make big impacts, join him from Junior. Trevor O’Meara and Donal Riordan who drop down from Senior are also very strong intermediates.

Last weekend Ból-Chumann lost one of its most popular and historically important figures with the death of Barney Jennings. Barney and his brother Willie were the twin forces, which helped form the London association in 1969 and were its driving forces for many years. They created an important focal point for the Irish diaspora at Launders Lane in Dagenham, where bowling has been played since 1940.

They immediately brought the London bowling community into the mainstream. Their work led to the historic London All-Ireland double in 1976 at Ballyshonin, when Billy Hurley won the delayed 1975 Junior A final and the 1976 Intermediate crown on the same weekend.

Barney returned to Ireland in 1989, the same year his brother Willie died in a road accident. He continued his involvement in bowling, most recently as the main figure in the Kildee club, but also as a keen and generous fan and adviser to players and officials at all levels of the sport.

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