Thomas Mackle will be bidding for a special place in bowling history when he defends his Hurley’s of Midleton King of the Roads title at Ballincurrig next weekend.
He has a potential date with three destinies: A win would make him the first Ulster player to complete a three-in-a-row, it would move him one title ahead of his famous uncle, Michael Toal, as the most decorated Ulster player of all time, and he would join Pat Butler and David Murphy as a member of the three-in-a-row club.
A slight dip in form saw him lose his Ulster title earlier this year, but we can be certain he will be as sharp and focused as he’s been for the past two years come Saturday morning. He faces Martin Coppinger, a very impressive All-Ireland champion and winner of the 2012 King of the Roads, and Dutch champion Jos-Bert Aalbers.
Given that Mackle and Coppinger didn’t clash in the All-Ireland final adds an extra dimension. Coppinger will be determined to frank his season’s form as Ireland’s top bowler, while Mackle will want to demonstrate that his elimination in Ulster was an aberration. If they drop their guard, they may find that Aalbers, who has become more familiar with Irish roads, a serious challenger.
The second semi-final, between Gary Daly, Bryan O’Reilly, and Germany’s Ralf Look, is an intriguing contest. Look ran Mackle to the last shot in last year’s final and led for the first 16 shots. Given the volume of players and depth of talent in the German FKV association, it says a lot about his 2017 form that he’s back in Ballincurrig. He is a real contender for the overall title.
Gary Daly stormed through the closing rounds of the Mick Barry Cup, seeing off Arthur McDonagh in the final. He has momentum on his side and there is a history of Mick Barry Cup winners going all the way. Bryan O’Reilly will be there to win, too. He is the Ulster champion and will want to make up for a below-par All-Ireland final. In 2014, he took eventual winner James Buckley to the last shot in the semi-final.
Tomorrow, Lindsay Leussink brings excitement to an already high-octane Queen of the Roads semi-final, which also includes Kelly Mallon and Silke Tulk. Mallon has five titles and is hoping to complete a historic three-in-a-row. Tulk has won the title three times, the last in 2014. At home in the Netherlands, Leussink is her closest rival.
Mallon has been brilliant for the last two years and looked even better in this year’s All-Ireland senior final. She is favourite to retain her crown, but will have to show her best against this dual Dutch challenge.
Tulk ran Mallon to the last shot in the 2016 final. Leussink is Tulk’s strongest rival over the past few seasons, so their individual dual will be almost as tense as their battle with Mallon.
Munster champion Carmel Ryan, who has two previous wins, most recently in 2013, faces Emma Fitzpatrick and German champion Anke Klopper in the second semi-final. Ryan has prepared for this for months and, with her knowledge of the road, she will be a formidable presence. Fitzpatrick has a strong profile too. She dismissed Claire O’Sullivan and Mairéad O’Driscoll in the Gretta Cormican Cup.
Klopper, as winner of the most competitive championship in Europe, has to have a real chance too.
All-Ireland intermediate champion Michael Harrington will be hoping to add the Jim O’Driscoll Cup to a season that surpassed expectation. He faces a tough challenge in the Cork final on Friday against Donal Riordan and Paddy O’Donoghue.
Harrington beat both in the championship. Riordan was well off his best that day and will be better this time. O’Donoghue is a previous winner of this competition and has local knowledge on his side.
Last year’s winner Colm Rafferty will be waiting in the overall final on Sunday.
All-Ireland U18 champions Conor Creedon and Hannah Cronin will represent Ireland in the Proto-Mark Technologies Youth International Triple Crown on Sunday. Here they face Dutch U18 champions Mirco Breuker and Suzan Zieverink and German youth champions Jari Sturm and Julia Heiken. Traditionally, this is a close contest.
In the Charlie McCarthy Cup on Saturday, All-Ireland Junior B finalists Terry Mallon (winner) and Kevin McQuade face Munster Junior A champion James Cooney and Junior C winner Ger Connolly. This will be Cooney’s first outing since the Munster final, but he’s on home tarmac and has a competitive partner in Connolly.
In the East Cork Oil Trophy Munster Novice I and II winners Ciarán Nyhan and Séamus O’Regan play London-based Ulster player Pádraig Nugent and Ulster Novice I champion Colm Doran.
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