The 31st Annual King & Queen of the Roads festival will break off tomorrow at Ballincurrig, with Europe’s leading bowlers vying in the two flagship events.
On Saturday, All-Ireland and European champion David Murphy will launch his bid to regain the Hurley’s of Midleton King of the Roads in the second semi-final.
He last held the title in 2011 and went on to retain his European title a few months later in Italy. He will be hoping for the same confluence of history this time.
He plays German champion Ralf Look and recent Mick Barry Cup winner Éamon Bowen. Look first came to the notice of Irish fans when he won the European youth road gold medal at Tubbergin in 1996, the same year Bowen finished fourth in the youth Dutch Moors. Both Bowen and Look will be confident of victory, but Murphy is still the player to beat.
Bowen has a series of wins from the Mick Barry Cup to bolster his confidence, but when Murphy hits his stride at Ballincurrig, he operates at a different level.
Last year’s champion James Buckley contests the opening semi-final against Ulster Champion Thomas Mackle and Dutch champion Jos-Bert Aalbers. Buckley’s preparations have been interrupted in the past few months, but then he came into last year’s semi-final with an injury and he thrived over the two days.
Although Thomas Mackle won the Ulster championship, he has not really produced a stream of top quality performances in 2015. He lost in the last shot to Aidan Murphy last Sunday in Ballygurteen in a score in which his form was mixed. He will need to produce from the off on Saturday on a road that is unforgiving of mistakes. He has done that in the past and two wins here would give a very different complexion to his year.
Aalbers will suffer from lack of road knowledge, which has proved a major obstacle for success for both Dutch and German visitors in the past. He has the quality to win, but the more serious question is will he have the flexibility to adapt.
The clash of former Queen of the Roads winners Carmel Ryan and Catriona O’Farrell-Kidney against German champion Anke Klöpper will ensure an early start for bowling fans on Friday.
Both of the Irish women have regularly won European, All-Ireland, Munster and Queen of the Roads titles. They are both at home and on top of their form. A win here could be the springboard for ultimate success on Sunday. Klöpper has yet to deliver on her German form at Ballincurrig, she would need a much more consistent performance than we’ve seen in her previous visits.
Defending champion Silke Tulk opens her defence in the second semi-final against All-Ireland champion Kelly Mallon and Claire O’Sullivan. This one is poised to be a battle between Mallon and Tulk, as O’Sullivan has not yet reached the stage where she is regularly winning head-to-head with the top players.
Tulk is the ultimate athlete with the physical presence to dominate, while Mallon is a player who refuses to countenance defeat.
This may come down to Tulk keeping a clean sheet in terms of mistakes. If she plays consistently it’s hard to see Mallon countering her superior speed. If Tulk leaves the slightest opening though, her reign will end abruptly.
Munster intermediate champion Michael Bohane will be hoping to go all the way in the Jim O’Driscoll Cup and wipe out the disappointment of his defeat by Ulster’s Paul O’Reilly in the All-Ireland final.
First he will have to beat Wayne Callanan and Dave Fitzgerald tomorrow. Callanan has shown good form over this road in the qualifiers and when Fitzgerald is in the zone, he is a force of nature.
Europe’s top under-18 players will have a chance to show their talent ahead of next year’s European Championships in the Proto-Mark Technologies Youth International Triple Crown.
The Dutch have yet to win this, which is a box they might wish to tick before hosting the games next May.
The lineup is Alex O’Donovan and Veronica O’Mahony (Ireland), Fabian Schiffmann and Feenja Bohlken (Germany) and Mark Muntel and Lisa Jonkers (Netherlands).
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