Five individual gold medals from a possible 12, and two individual silvers as well as a bronze.
Winning all four team events in your national discipline and the senior men’s team title in the discipline of a country with several times your population. That was Ireland at the 14th European Championships in Italy.
Individually and collectively, few Ireland squads, in any sport, perform as well as the Irish bowlers. What was achieved last weekend in Italy will be lost on the vast majority of Irish sports fans and indeed there are still some bowling supporters who have yet to fully realise the scale of their national team’s success.
The situation is markedly different on the continent where German, Dutch and Italian bowlers see Ireland and the Irish style of bowling as the absolute gold standard. In the past two European championships, Ireland has regained a reputation that seemed to be slipping during a period of 20 years when there were oases of brilliance in the midst of indifferent results.
Ireland now has a new level of professionalism. The team has taken on that sort of collective will that epitomised Munster rugby a few years ago. For a sport primarily driven by individual competition at home, it’s amazing it can also galvanise itself into a collective that can beat the best in Europe. It certainly all came right for Ireland on Sunday at Fenile di Fano when they won all four individual and four team titles on the road. But the bowling on the Moors on the Saturday was just as impressive. Aidan Murphy’s new European record and his sheer brilliance when winning gold was a performance for the ages.
Éamon Bowen just missed a bronze and then there was a cluster of Irish men in his wake. For the senior women Catriona O’Farrell-Kidney dug deep to win the bronze, not just for herself, but to boost the team ranking, and Kelly Mallon finished fourth. Cian Shorten was fifth for the youth team. David Murphy now has iconic status on the continent. On Sunday he broke the two-kilometre mark at 2,073m—that’s an average of over 200m for every shot, including bends, hollows, cambers, the lot. It is also 63m more than his fantastic 2008 score. This was from a man who had a family event in Cork on Saturday and had to make an 11-hour dash across Europe before arriving at the team hotel close to midnight.
Raymond Ryan in his first senior international and after a poor opening shot, was just 100m behind Murphy. James O’Donovan who reached 1,848m was sitting in silver until he was pushed to bronze by Ryan and later into fourth by Murphy. Many of this team were in their third straight day of competition — long days of up to 12 hours on the course — yet they had the reserves to make a combined total of 17,927m and win the team title with 200m to spare on Holland.
Meghan Collins gave Ireland the perfect start on Sunday when she became only the second Irish girl to win a European road gold medal. The previous winner was Louise Daly at Meldorf in 2000 — on the same weekend a young David Murphy won gold on the Moors and silver in the German lofting. Collins won’t need much more inspiration than that as she prepares for a senior career.
Winning the team prize was a real boost for the girls who had not enjoyed the best of championships until then. It is a significant result as this is the one sector in which Ireland has struggled in recent championships.
In the youth event, Cian Shorten’s score of 1,918m would have him just shy of a senior bronze medal. Ethan Rafferty was 160m behind, but he made an impression too. Brian O’Halloran, recently returned from injury, and Cian Boyle bowled strongly to make sure Ireland also took the team title.
Carmel Ryan’s gold winning 1796.2m would have placed her near the top of the men’s section. She also had both Silke Tulk and Kelly Mallon in her wake. Although she missed gold, Tulk was very happy to be ahead of Mallon and to secure the Dutch nomination for Queen of the Roads.
Both Mallon and O’Farrell-Kidney may have been robbed of a bit of zip following their exertions on the Moors. Aidan Murphy was a little sluggish too. Neither of Ireland’s senior road winners took part in the Moors. Saving players for a single event is not a luxury any national team can afford, however.
Germany’s Keno Vogts was the outstanding athlete of the weekend. He won gold in both the German Loft and the Dutch Moors and finished third on the road. He is a player in the mould of David Murphy. Roberta Rosetti became the first Italian to win an individual medal when she took bronze for the girls on the road.
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