We don’t always get perspective on a player of unique ability while they are still competing. We need the diluting grace and perspective of time to finally place them in the firmament of the greats.
In this week’s European Championships there are three bowlers who are in the frame for joining the gods like Mick Barry, Martin Siefken, Hans-Georg Bohlken, Bill Daly and Gretta Cormican – each of whom elevated themselves above mere mortals. David Murphy, Kelly Mallon and Silke Tulk are all on a shortlist to join them.
Having won three successive road gold medals, has Murphy already secured his place in that august company? Were he to extend it to four-in-a-row then he might even take a step ahead. This is akin to competing in four successive Olympics, as the European championships come around only every four years. The intervention of Covid-19 means it’s six years since Murphy won gold in the Netherlands.
That extra two years has lengthened the odds against him retaining the title. In bowling as in every other sport, his opponents won’t be thinking of helping him, neither will his Irish teammates. While everyone will be wearing the same colours next Sunday, each player will also be out for himself on the Süderhastedt road near Meldorf in northern Germany.
As is the European tradition, Murphy will be the last man out. A target will already be set. It could well be that his date with history could rest on his last throw, which would also likely be the last act of Euro 2022. With due respect to Italy and the German VSHB team, the gold medallist is almost certain to be Irish, Dutch or from the German FKV team.
Both Gary Daly and James O’Donovan are the kind of player who could hit a perfect ten in Meldorf. Ireland has huge players too in Martin Coppinger, Thomas Mackle and Murphy’s brother Aidan, but any one of the other four Irish could click on the day and win the most coveted international honour in Irish road bowling.
As the holder of both gold medals, Silke Tulk, will be in the spotlight in road bowling and Friday’s Dutch Moors. Kelly Mallon will only compete on the road, a strategy that secured gold for Carmel Carey in 2012. To win would be a sensational result for Mallon. It would be a spectacle of monumental proportions if they are out against each other in the last group in the hunt for the ultimate prize.
Claire O’Sullivan, Emma Fitzpatrick and Hannah Sexton will also have gold in mind on the road. Realistically, Tulk’s closest rivals in the Moors will come from within the Dutch team itself.
In the men’s Dutch Moors, James O’Donovan must be quietly confident that he can push on from his silver medal win in 2016. The order of play can have a huge bearing on the outcome. On a dry day the course plays much faster with each subsequent score. O’Donovan might have taken gold had he been in the last group in 2016. He’s second last of the Irish this time. Now he needs a dry day and for the vagaries of the grass course to be kind.
Martin Coppinger and Gary Daly would also have to be on the top of the list of likely Irish winners. It’s a pity that former winner Aidan Murphy, who is a specialist in this event, will sit it out. His brother, David, might have been willing to swap. He could keep the bench warm, his powder dry and avoid the risk of injury ahead of a genuinely historic moment in European bowling.
At underage level, we can only speculate as there is no comparative form to help. A road team with Caoimhe Rafferty, Margaret Sexton and Rachel Kinston has to be close to the mark. Equally, powerhouses like Tommy O’Sullivan and Darragh Dempsey must be among Europe’s elite. They can also challenge in the Dutch Moors, but in recent championship the Irish girls have found it difficult to get in the medals.
While the games are contested over three disciplines, the Irish rarely get a look-in when it comes to the very specialised discipline of German Lofting. This normally turns into a shoot-out between the two German teams VSHB and FKV. VSHB are the smaller cousins, but they are almost exclusively focused on lofting and have home advantage.