Aidan Murphy’s All-Ireland winning performance on Sunday was all about extending to the limits of his physical powers, sustaining an emotional charge for over two hours and at the end to have the self-belief, energy and skill to play a knockout last shot.
He started and finished as a champion, but was under a lot of pressure from Cathal Toal in the second half. It’s not easy to stay razor sharp for two hours and twenty minutes of bowling. It’s probably even more difficult if you are two bowls clear after just a quarter of the score. He might have increased his odds in the middle third, but Tullysaran is a peculiar bowling road.
To Knappagh Angles the road is glass smooth, it has several potential flukes and more purlicues than any other All-Ireland route. It needs to be cajoled rather than beaten into submission. When you lead you can’t be reckless and when your opponent starts closing the gap you have to hold your nerve. When the chips were really down Murphy stepped up to the plate with a sensational last bowl.
Toal will do a lot of soul searching this week. Before the All-Ireland he beat Thomas Mackle and was dazzling in the Ulster final. He will be haunted by his poor start. The chances of hunting down a player of Aidan Murphy’s calibre when you hand them a soft two bowls of odds lead are not great. Maybe the weight of expectation was too heavy in that opening quarter.
He can take positives from his bowling from the Orange Hall. He didn’t fold and while it took him time to gain traction, he had everyone on their toes in the final quarter. Getting out of Ulster in 2020 will be a massive challenge, with Mackle and his own brother Peadar Toal to contend with. After losing the 2009 All-Ireland it took Aidan Murphy five years to win the Hughie Trainor Cup and another five years till his second win last Sunday.
Toal he will have to seize two other big openings before then. He has King of the Roads next month and the European Championships in May. He is capable of winning in both arenas and exorcised a lot of last Sunday’s ghosts.
Maria Nagle has the ability to be in the shakeup in next year’s senior women’s championship on the basis of her performance in Saturday’s intermediate final. She played some really top class shots. Her bowl to the Orange Hall stands out as the sort of bowl a top senior needs to play. She delivered with fantastic speed uphill and pushed her bowl from right to left.
In 2016 she won her third successive All-Ireland underage title and the gold medal at the European championships. She’s the kind of player we could see getting into the senior medals next May in Germany. Her big challenge will be to marshal her incredible talent and deliver top class bowling consistently.
All-Ireland under-16 champion Darragh Dempsey is another player with a bright future. He played one bowl in excess of 340m, skinning the right dyke down to Kilpatrick lane and up the rise towards the village. That took technique and speed. He should be in the frame to win a youth medal at next year’s Europeans too. That combination of skill and mental strength is exactly what will be required in May.
Two young players with huge potential are Ethan Hughes and Cathal Creedon. What an incredible All-Ireland under-12 final they delivered. Creedon ended relinquishing the title he won last year, but he is capable of really making a mark. We should probably avoid heaping too much expectation on so young a player, but he has such incredible class.
Vincent Kiely finally won the All-Ireland title that eluded him for 30 years, ironically beating, Mickey Rafferty, the player that denied him in the 1989 under-16 final. The gods smiled on him, but Tullysaran is that kind of road. Rafferty bowled well for a player that had taken a long sabbatical in the middle of his career. He has the fluid effortless delivery, that should be in every coaching manual.
John Shorten had too much speed for Joe Shortt in the Veteran (over-50) final. Shannon Maguire and Margaret Sexton played some astonishing bowls in the Girls under-16 final. Maguire played a bowl uphill past the Orange Lodge that virtually ran to Kilpatrick Lane. Then both of them got colossal bowls to Todd’s Avenue to finish the contest.