Barry the greatest bowler of all time

Road bowling: Mick Barry, the greatest road bowl player of all time, died on Saturday just a few weeks short of his 96th birthday.

He occupied an unparalleled place in the sport and indeed his fame transcended bowling. In 2010 Cork City Council named a road in his honour. University College Cork, where he worked as head gardener, honoured him with an honorary degree and he was named Supreme Bowler of the Millennium by Ból-Chumann na hÉireann in 1999.

There’s an iconic photo of Barry crouched on his lawn at Waterfall surrounded by a plethora of cups and trophies. That photo says it all. Here was a supreme athlete, oozing confidence in possession of every award his sport could conjure. He lorded bowling like no player before or since. Yes, he was beaten from time to time, but ultimately he had the last word on every opponent.

From 1962 until 1975 he was Munster Senior champion in all but three years. He twice completed the four in-a-row from 1964 to1967 and 1969 to 1972. For a team that would be incredible, but he had to do it on his own in a highly competitive sport where one mistake could signal defeat.

At the start of that phenomenal period he was 43 and 56 at the end; is there any sports man in any code who could emulate that?

He returned to active competition in the 1990s, winning three Munster Vintage (over-60) finals, the most famous being his 1994 win over his great rival Denis O’Donovan at Crossbarry. At 75 years of age he covered the road in 18 shots, better than the majority of players could do at 25.

What awards he might have won had Ból-Chumann existed when he was 10 rather than 35, we can only speculate. What international accolades he would have amassed had the European championships commenced before 1969, when he was already 50, is another what if. He still managed a European gold and silver medal.

What is certain is Mick Barry was the greatest bowler of all time. The sport is littered with his records, like putting a 16 oz bowl over the Chetwynd Viaduct, lofting Mary Anne’s pub on Dublin Hill, it goes on and on. He did things that didn’t seem humanly possible. But more importantly he did those things with a level of integrity equally supreme.

On Saturday afternoon the news of Mick Barry’s death spread throughout the sporting community on both the traditional bush telegraph and on the social media. That it was flashing up on the Twitter accounts in sports far and beyond bowling is a reflection of his iconic status as one of that unique species of star that belongs to all sports.

Bowling fans know there will never be another to fill his shoes. That loss is amplified for his family Pat, Noreen, Kathleen, Michael, Anne, Seán, his brother Ned and sisters Rita and Theresa.


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