Thomas Mackle is bidding to become the first player to win four Hurley’s of Midleton King of the Roads titles in succession this weekend at Ballincurrig.
Last year he surpassed his uncle, Michael Toal, as the Ulster player with most King of the Roads. A win this year would also put him joint second in the all-time roll of honour. If Kelly Mallon were also to win the Global Catering Queen of the Roads, it would be a double four-in-a-row for Ulster. That would truly be an unparalleled historic acheivement.
On Saturday Mackle will be faced by Germany’s Harm Weinstock and Killian Kingston who qualified via the Mick Barry Cup. It is Weinstock’s first run over Ballincurrig, which will pose him a lot of challenges, especially in the company of two top Irish bowlers.
Kingston was impressive in the qualifying rounds and has the benefit of several runs over the road. He had a lucky win over Colm Rafferty, but when the opening came he pounced. He could be the player to derail Mackle. They’ve met in four All-Ireland finals including the 2015 senior final, with Mackle winning the last three. Those runs rarely last forever.
In a seven-year stretch between 2007 and 2013, King of the Roads was virtually owned by brothers David and Aidan Murphy, only Martin Coppinger in 2012 interrupted their success. David contested six finals in a row and there was a Murphy brother in every final up to 2015.
Amazingly though David won the last of his four titles in 2011. As All-Ireland champion he will be determined to change that statistic. The loss of Coppinger will give him optimism, but he has two serious hurdles to overcome.
Dutch champion Mark Muntel and Arthur McDonagh face him in Saturday’s semi-final. McDonagh got a last minute call-up when he beat Colm Rafferty in a playoff to replace Coppinger. He has contested the last two Munster finals, losing to Murphy this year and Coppinger in 2017. He is a player with the ability to go all the way, but he really needs to turn potential into success.
Muntel showed enough in last year’s semi-final, in which he was sandwiched between Mackle and Murphy, to suggest that he is capable of bringing his game to the next level. He is a young athletic player who, if he trusts his own ability and plays with rather than against the vagaries of the road, could cause an upset.
Kelly Mallon is bidding for a seventh Queen of the Roads. She will be strong favourite to beat German champion Anke Klöpper and Gretta Cormican Cup winner Claire O’Sullivan in the semi-final. She is a one in a generation player. She sets phenomenal standards in performance and results. She has eight All-Ireland senior titles and has contested nine in a row.
She will be on her guard against Klöpper. The German woman made two serious mistakes in succession in last year’s final. Apart from that she matched Mallon to the line and kept the lead under a bowl. Claire O’Sullivan will need a special performance to get past these two. If she plays with confidence and is on the front foot from the off anything is possible.
Carmel (Ryan) Carey and Dutch champion Silke Tulk will be seen as the big hitters in the first semi-final. All-Ireland Intermediate champion Veronica O’Mahony has the ability to change that dynamic. O’Mahony has form on the road having been part of the Irish team that won the Youth International Triple Crown in 2015, the same year she won the All-Ireland U18 final.
Tulk brought huge excitement to the competition when she won in 2009. She has contested six finals, winning three and losing three. One of her losses was by just a few metres in the titanic 2016 final with Kelly Mallon. She played Carmel Carey in successive finals in 2013 and 14, with a win each. Last year Mallon beat her in the semi-final, so we can expect a far sharper and more focused performance this time.
Carey has twice won the title and will fancy her chances of coming through here. In Munster she remains the dominant force, but it’s now five years since she was crowned Queen.
The late withdrawal of Conor McGuigan through injury changed the format of the Jim O’Driscoll Cup. Munster champion Éamon Bowen will now progress to the overall final on Sunday. All-Ireland Junior A champion John O’Rourke faces Wayne Callanan in Friday’s semi-final. O’Rourke has been a revelation right through the summer, but will have a big test in Callanan.
Irish U18 champions Colm McLoughlin and Geraldine Kiernan look a very strong combination for the Proto-Mark Technologies Youth International Triple Crown. They will be trying to win back the title from Germany FKV which is represented by Marian Jahnke and Lea-Sophie Oetjen. The Dutch team of Mirco Breuker and Suzan Zieverink are back for a second year. If they improve their shot selection they will be formidable.
The Charlie McCarthy Cup sees Seán Donnelly and Adrian O’Reilly take on Denis Cooney and Michéal O’Sullivan in what looks a well-balanced contest. All-Ireland Junior B champion Malachy Lappin plays East Cork champion Michael O’Leary in the East Cork Oil trophy.