As 2018 comes to a close, we can reflect on a year of top-class bowling, but even some of those who achieved most will have a few regrets as the Christmas pudding is served.
Five of the senior men will be among those in reflective mood.
Thomas Mackle had a crowning moment when he created history by becoming the first player in history to win four King of the Roads titles in succession at Ballincurrig in September. He has doubled his uncle, Michael Toal’s, career total already, and looks well short of being done.
He started the year by defeating David Murphy in the Joe McVeigh Cup and then went on to regain the Ulster senior crown. The ghost of 2018 that will haunt him is the All-Ireland senior final at Grenagh in July. Here he showed flashes of his best, but lacked the consistency to defeat David Murphy.
With another All-Ireland senior crown in the his war chest David Murphy, might be expected to be basking in another year well done. His win over Mackle was certainly a highlight, especially as he had been battling with injury all year. Those niggling injuries are something he will hope to leave in 2018. He rescued what might have been a disappointing year when he snatched a last shot win over James O’Donovan in the Munster semi-final at Baile Mhuirne.
That defeat will be James O’Donovan’s greatest regret of the year. Had he taken a different option, had his bowl not been just that close to the right, then he’d have been through to the Munster final. What a golden road that might have opened up, could he have added the Munster, All-Ireland and King of the Roads.
Arthur McDonagh has an end of year cocktail of promise and disappointment. The promise is of reaching a second successive Munster final and also getting to the final of King of the Roads. All testaments to his potential future.
In the King of the Roads semi-final, he gave a compelling performance to see off David Murphy. In the final he recovered from a disastrous start to come within metres of a famous win over Thomas Mackle. He will think long and hard on the ‘what ifs’, if his second bowl had not careered into a road sign.
Fate intervened to thwart Martin Coppinger in one of the most glorious runs of form in his career. He had broken virtually every record at Ballincurrig in the Mick Barry Cup and looked set to take the King of the Roads by storm. Before he could get to the starting line though, he tripped in practice, damaged his foot, and attended the festival on crutches as McDonagh’s road shower.
Even Kelly Mallon who won a record eighth All-Ireland senior title will have some regrets from 2018. At Tullysaran she franked her status as Ireland’s number one woman bowler when she beat Carmel Ryan in the All-Ireland final. She now has to be considered possibly the greatest woman bowler of all time.
Her big regret from 2018 is not winning a four-in-a-row in Queen of the Roads. She opened with a record first shot against Silke Tulk in the final and the stars looked to be aligned. Tulk hit back with a monster second bowl and when Mallon appeared to be creeping back into it she got a short shot at the creamery.
Not even the greats win all their contests, and we only measure all-time greats against those they faced in the heat of battle. Silke Tulk was definitely Mallon’s foil in 2018.
Tulk will be very pleased with her 2018. She made two trips to Ireland and went home both times having beaten Kelly Mallon.
She also beat her great rival in the Charlemont Cup at Keady on the Easter weekend. Within six days of Queen of the Roads though Mallon reversed those results at Wompatuck State Park near Boston.
The hosting of the third All-Ireland series by the Boston Club was a huge success. Many things can be learned from that experience. Firstly the state park authorities consider one of our national sports sufficiently important that they make a fully tarmacked forest road, with ample parking, available to the Boston club.
Perhaps Caoilte might consider a similar ventures here in Ireland. The course runs in a circle, bringing players and spectators back to the place they started. The event had phenomenal support from the Irish-American community in New England. It was crowned by a super Junior C final in which Munster champion Timmy Murphy beat Malachy Lappin, a native of Keady, but representing Boston where he now lives.
John O’Rourke had the year of his life towards winning the All-Ireland Junior A title. With each round of his campaign he kept getting better, flaunting that wonderful fluid swing and classic short run that also epitomises his first-cousin David Murphy.
Colm McLoughlin emerged from virtual anonymity to being All-Ireland u18 champion. He was not on the shortlist, nor perhaps the long list of potential Munster champions, yet he beat one of the biggest stars, Jordan O’Sullivan, in the final at Firmount. Within a few days he beat Ronan Toal to win the All-Ireland.