Kelly Mallon ready for European Championship challenge

Just six months ahead of the European Championships in the Netherlands, Kelly Mallon is Europe’s top woman bowler.

In 2015, she won all the titles that count, and in the process beat her three strongest rivals, Silke Tulk, Catriona O’Farrell-Kidney and Carmel Ryan.

In April, she beat Tulk in the last shot of the Charlemont Arms Cup final at Keady in Ból-Fada. Sangfroid rescued her that day. She was cruising with a bowl to spare until the Dutch woman played a sensational last shot past the line. Mallon missed the line well, but then sent a perfect bowl past Tulk’s tip to take victory.

In the Queen of the Roads semi-final, she trailed both Tulk and Clare O’Sullivan to the halfway stage. From there to the end though, there was only one winner. Two exceptional bowls in succession gave her total dominance and from there to the finish Tulk could not lay a glove on her.

She also had serious wins over her two main Irish rivals. She emphatically defeated Catriona O’Farrell-Kidney in the All-Ireland final at Lyre and followed up with a similar win over reigning European champion Carmel Ryan in the Queen of the Roads final.

In the All-Ireland, O’Farrell-Kidney opened with a sensational bowl to lead by 70m. Mallon seized an opening when the Cork woman made a mistake with her second. The contest was in play until Mallon raised a bowl with her fifth shot. Though O’Farrell-Kidney rallied well, but there was never a chance she would catch Mallon.

Against Carmel Ryan in the Queen of the Roads final, she powered clear in the second half. Despite a mistake early on Ryan recovered and took the battle to Mallon into the final quarter. From there though Mallon just kept raising the bar. A good bowl from Ryan was met with an even better one. In 2007, she won Queen of the Roads and both the senior and under-18 All-Irelands, but in 2015 she was bowling at an even higher level.

Mallon is currently dominating her class to a greater extent than any other Irish bowler. Both O’Farrell-Kidney and Ryan will find it difficult to bridge the current gap in 2016 and it is hard to see any other Munster senior player moving up to that level in 2016. Clare O’Sullivan made a lot of progress. She was especially impressive in finishing ahead of Silke Tulk in the Queen of the Roads.

In senior men’s bowling, no individual made the same level of impact. David Murphy regained the All-Ireland senior title, Thomas Mackle won King of the Roads, but neither was totally dominant.

Mackle’s win over Murphy in the final of King of the Roads must rank as the single most compelling senior performance of 2015. He is a player that needs the big occasion to blossom. His targets for 2016 will have to be a first European senior medal and a first senior All-Ireland.

David Murphy suffers from a lack of consistent competition. His genius in undoing Gary Daly at Macroom in the Munster final was special, but he gets too few chances to shine.

In their Christmas list, Mackle should ask for a less crowded and more focused list of engagements in 2016. Murphy needs exactly the opposite.

Edmond Sexton was possibly the most consistent senior of the year. He won a stream of scores, but a few vital ones got away that would have given his year a very different look. He challenged David Murphy strongly in a key senior championship tie at Carrigaline, but he didn’t win. He did win the Mother Hegarty Cup final at Lyre, where he easily handled Thomas Mackle.

Gary Daly will cast a wry look back to his Munster final defeat by David Murphy in Macroom. Had he stayed in contention to Glasheen cross, might he now be All-Ireland champion or King of the Roads? James O’Donovan dethroned 2014 champion Aidan Murphy, but his season did not stay on an upward trajectory. By contrast, Killian Kingston’s mid-season went flat, but gathered a lot of momentum in the final quarter of the year.

Bryan O’Reilly and Conor McGuigan enjoyed some high points too. McGuigan claimed the Joe McVeigh Cup in Keady at Easter and O’Reilly had a great run in the Mick Barry Cup for a second successive year.

Michael Bohane will be joining the senior ranks in 2016 following an impressive Munster intermediate win, but an even more impressive double win in the Jim O’Driscoll Cup.

There is no doubt that he has all the necessary skill and power to make an impact at senior. Donal Riordan won so many important scores in 2015, but just missed the biggest cut when he lost to Raymond Ryan in the Munster semi-final. Ryan regained lost ground too and could make a serious impact in 2016.

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