James Buckley bowled like an Oisín returned from Tír na nÓg in Sunday’s Hurley’s of Midleton King of the Roads final at Ballincurrig, we hadn’t seen anything like this from him since the 1990s.
Before the weekend the stars did not look aligned for one of the greatest stylist to ever grace the sport. To begin with he got a very bad fall the previous week at Ardcahan and was struggling to get fit during the week.
On Saturday he looked to have his final place secured till Bryan O’Reilly played an extraordinary second last shot to snap a totally unexpected lead. Buckley turned crisis into glory with an exquisite last bowl that was virtually impossible to beat. Conventional wisdom would suggest that such a demanding score was bound to sap him of both psychological reserves and freshness for Sunday.
His supporters seemed to share that view, as they were surprisingly subdued in the build up. Once he had the bowl in his hand though Buckley showed a very different face. Right from the first shot he was fast, he was sure and he was full of fight. For such a gifted player he is surprisingly understated, but once he winds up to bowl he delivers not just poetry of movement but the precision of a rifle.
The early stages were intense as Aidan Murphy sternly defended his crown. But all battles have a tipping point, some obvious in hindsight some at the moment of execution. That tipping point came earlier than anticipated and almost as unexpectedly as Buckley’s exuberance.
He flashed a lightening fast bowl right on the edge of the right hand bend at O’Riordan’s. It was classic Buckley after which victory seemed inevitable. Such precision, speed and audacity is an unstoppable force. It reached the top of the long straight and put him almost two clear.
Nothing after that was going to change the destination of the 2014 title. Buckley moves to second place in the roll of honour with four titles. He bridged a 19-year gap to 1995 and beat a star of the new generation. He also became only the second player to contest nine finals. Of all the wins in his glittering career right back to his 1982 All-Ireland u-16 win, few were more compelling or satisfying.
Silke Tulk’s victory over Carmel Ryan in the Global Catering Queen of the Roads was more of a war of attrition. She led all the way and virtually every shot she played hit its target. To her credit Ryan battled to stay in contention, no small achievement given that Tulk was on the way to beating the line in 14 shots.
Ryan’s honest Facebook account of her feelings after defeat show just what this title means and what she went through in 2014 to hold onto it. A disconsolate Jochem Wennink at the end of the Maas Engineering Youth International Triple Crown was equally graphic. Having tasted glory last year the Dutch were undone by the gutsy Irish pair David Devlin and Mairéad O’Driscoll.
PJ Cooney had two of the best wins in his career in the Jim O’Driscoll Cup. On Friday a brilliant fifth bowl past the creamery brought him back into the score with John Shorten and Seamus Sexton and ended with him outgunning Sexton in the last shot. On Sunday he gradually got to grips with James Oliver and would have won very comfortably, but for a slip at the sycamores.
On Saturday Armagh players had a good double over Cork opposition, both in the last shot.
In the Charlie McCarthy Cup Eugene Kiernan and Ruairí O’Reilly beat Thomas Boyle and Patrick Butler. The Cork pair got the better start and had almost a bowl after three to the sycamores. They missed light in two more though and Armagh edged the next few shots. Kiernan got a brilliant bowl to O’Riordan’s, which put them almost two bowls clear.
Butler and Boyle fought back and knocked the bowl at the pony’s gate. They kept challenging and when Boyle got a good bowl to Geary’s they were back in it. Butler played a great last bowl, but it didn’t cross the centre line and O’Reilly beat it well.
In the thrilling East Cork Oil Trophy Shane O’Neill and Austin McKeown beat Bryan O’Halloran and Peter Burns. Cork led the early shots, but a big third throw from McKeown put Armagh into a solid lead. They were almost a bowl clear at the top of the short straight. O’Halloran and Burns levelled with two great bowls to the top of the long straight. Cork were almost a bowl in front to O’Riordan’s.
After O’Halloran played a brilliant shot to the creamery it looked over, but Burns failed to beat McKeown’s good bowl to the green. O’Neill edged O’Halloran in a great exchange onto the last straight. Burns then played an absolute miler, but McKeown beat it with an astonishing reply. Ten times All-Ireland champion Michael Toal will make a guest appearance against Christy Mullins at the Marsh Road next month as part of a Co-Action fundraiser.
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