East Waterford club Fenor will host the third All-Ireland series for the first time next weekend.
The Copper Coast venue will welcome Junior C, Novice I and Novice II champions from all four home provinces, Britain and North America. Semi-finals in all three grades will be played on Saturday and the three finals on Sunday.
The Junior C title is likely to be a contest between Ulster’s Joe Shortt and recently-crowned Munster champion Adrian Callanan.
Callanan beat Tony Carey in the last shot of the Munster final at Doneraile on Saturday. Carey was just ahead after four to the first bend and they were dead level after the fifth. Callanan won his first lead with his sixth. Carey won the next tip and they were locked together to Creagh Castle. Callanan edged ahead in the next three to the novice line and increased his lead to 50m in two more past the line.
In the All-Ireland semi-final, Callanan is likely to get the better of Peter Kirk. Kirk beat Martin Briscoe in the last Sunday’s Leinster final in Drogheda but Munster representative Callanan is expected to be far too strong.
However, Joe Shortt would be an entirely different prospect in the final. Shortt gave a master class in his dismissal of Shane Feighan in the Ulster final at Knappagh.
In the first Novice I semi-final Munster champion Dean Sexton will start strong favourite. That should lift some pressure off Brendan O’Donovan (Boston) and Ryan Fay (Tyrone) and a good start for either might put him in a place to cause an upset.
O’Donovan, who reached the 2014 Novice II final, was an impressive winner of the North American final against Roger O’Riordan in New York. He had plenty of power on the rising road, so he won’t be daunted by Sonny’s hill at Fenor.
He came very close to beating Peter Burns in the Novice II final at Aughagower in 2014. He was was only denied by Burns’ exceptional last bowl. In the semi-finals he had defeated both Francis Oliver and Peter Clinton. To win, Ryan Fay would have to show significant improvement on his Ulster form. Finishing ahead of one of his opponents would be a big achievement.
Sexton has the advantage of winning a highly competitive Munster championship. Although he took his foot off the pedal in the last quarter, his semi-final win over Frankie Kiely at Béal na mBláth showed a lot of class. He franked that form in the final against Paul Lombard at Clondrohid.
Mayo’s David Hughes could be the surprise package in the second semi-final in which he faces London champion Padraig Nugent and Dublin based Graham Sexton, representing Leinster.
Hughes won the 2013 Novice II title at Newtownhamilton beating both the Ulster and Munster champions. In the final he put in a gutsy performance to beat Paul Grimley and in the semi-final he pounced on a mistake by Cork’s John O’Regan to take an unexpected win.
Nugent is likely to be the favourite though. The former Armagh player has a lot of experience and plenty of bowling to compete at this level. Sexton may lack sharpness as he won’t have encountered players of this level frequently in the Leinster championship. Whichever of the three comes through, will face an even tougher challenge in the final.
Alan Long looks the fancy in the first of the Novice II semi-finals. The Leinster champion has been knocking on the door for a long time, with some degree of success, but with no All-Ireland.
In 2010, he bowled impressively to beat Wayne Kingston in the Junior C semi-final at Clashmore. The effort left him flat the next day when he lost to Adrian Lappin in the final. Lappin it must be emphasised is an exceptional talent at Junior C level.
In 2012, he met Florrie O’Mahony in the Novice II final. O’Mahony ranks as the all-time great of this series. Meeting him was more than unfortunate. In 2014 he hit another wall when he reached the Novice I final against Chris Faulkner, a young player with the potential to compete at a significantly higher level. In the semi-final, he faces London’s Danny O’Shea, who reached the 2009 final, and Ciarán Donnelly a former Armagh player now representing Mayo.
Cork player Stephen Sewell is hot favourite to win the other semi-final against Colm Doran (Armagh) and Travis Craig (West Virginia). Sewell gave some really outstanding performances in his Munster campaign. If he can transfer that to Fenor, then he would be very difficult to beat.
Doran didn’t set the Ulster championship on fire, but being a relative of the great Danny McParland he’s familiar with what’s required to win All-Irelands. Travis Craig represents a new breed of American born bowlers who are making their mark. He showed a lot of class and maturity in winning the North American title, if he brings that form to an Irish road then he could cause an upset.
Tonight, the names of Emma Hickey, Ciara Buckley, Megan Collins, and Maria Nagle will go into the semi-final draw for the Gretta Cormican Cup, the overall winner qualifies for the Queen of the Roads semi-final.
West Cork bowling lost one of its iconic figures with the recent death of Vin Forbes. He headed the administration of bowling in West Cork for decades as regional secretary. He was a charismatic figure who held the attention when he addressed any serious issue but could equally hold his audience as a warm and witty raconteur.
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