A LURGAN team reached the final of a major tournament last weekend.
The rink finihsed runners-up in the prestigious 68th Bangor Open Bowling Tournament.
They were Dick McClune, Reece Millar, Wilfie McCullough and David Millar (Skip). Three of the team play in the Lurgan B team in NIBA Division 6 with Reece Millar the only A team bowler playing in NIBA Division 1.
The team’s primary goal on entering the rinks competition was, initially, to better their record in the previous year’s competition when they had lost all their matches in the group stage.
In the group stage they won their first match 24-4 against a team from Whitehead, lost their second 9-8 to a team from Londonderry Park and then won their third 16-8 against a rink from Castle Bowling Club. Their results and total shots tally saw them qualify fifth overall out of 24 teams and progress into the knock-out stages.
In the quarter finals they were drawn against a Castle A team rink skipped by Matt Stevenson which was played on the Castle green. This didn’t worry the Lurgan team one little bit as they dominated the game and outbowled the Castle rink to win 20-4 with Castle conceding in the fourteenth end of the sixteen end match.
The semi-finals were played at Pickie on the Friday evening in front of a large crowd. The Lurgan team were drawn against a rink of three Londonderry Park A team bowlers. The rink was skipped by Bangor’s Thomas Canavan who won the top male player of the tournament. The talk in Bangor on the day was that the Lurgan rink had no chance of winning against these four Division 1 bowlers.
The Lurgan team started well and after five ends were leading 6-2. They seemed to be taking great delight in silencing the vocal home support and giving their own small group of dedicated supporters something to cheer for! After 10 ends Millar’s rink was still up 9-6 but by the fourteenth end the experience of the Bangor skip had seen the game move to a lead of 11-10 for the home side.
The Lurgan team simply refused to give up. On the fifteenth end the crowd went mad when Canavan drew the shot with his last bowl. David Millar had last bowl and fired through a gap to take the jack into the ditch to take shot to bring the game to 11 all. The next two ends were shared by each team taking one end a piece.
The eighteenth and final end saw an exciting and dramatic end to the match. Dick McClune, Reece Millar and Wilfie McCullough drew in close and left Lurgan lying three or four shots. John Marshall of Londonderry Park who was playing third threw his last bowl, got a ‘wick’ and came into the head to lie shot. Neither Canavan nor Millar were able to improve the head for their teams with their first bowl. After a lengthy team debate Canavan’s rink decided to block the firing hand. What they were not aware of was the Lurgan rink had decided not to fire as this was the riskier shot and the jack could have gone anywhere, giving the game away.
Canavan played his bowl with perfection to close the gap and his supporters went crazy on the sidelines believing game was over. Millar had the last bowl of the match still to play. He drew on the backhand and stood on the mat watching his bowl close in on the head and hearing his team mates urging the bowl to ‘run’. The crowd at the side waited expecting to see Millar’s bowl miss. Millar’s bowl rolled in close to the jack and an eternity seemed to pass as his team mates studied the head. He was only aware that he had drawn the winning shot to take the match by 13-12 when Dick McClune and Reece Millar jumped the bowls and ran up the green in celebration. The home support was silenced and the Lurgan supporters yelled with delight. All four of the Lurgan bowlers had produced their best game of the tournament and probably of their season so far.
Having set out with the goal of winning just one match in the tournament the Lurgan four had just one match left to play and that was the final!
The final was played on Bangor’s rink on Saturday morning with the Lurgan team facing a rink skipped by Neil Belch from Pickie and which included Simon Cavan of Belmont.
Millar’s rink found the green in Bangor trickier than that of Pickie the previous evening and was down 8-3 after five ends. This was due to Belch having taken out two Lurgan bowls laying shot in the fourth end and giving his team four shots as a result. By the end of the tenth end Belch’s rink had extended their lead to 10-5. On the twelfth end Lurgan were again laying two shots when Belch caught the jack, pushing it to his bowls to get three shots and a lead of 14-5. The Lurgan rink worked hard to the end and played some great bowls to lose 15-10 in the end. A check of the score card showed the Lurgan side had won 10 of the 18 ends, the difference between the teams being the change in fortune in the fourth and 12th ends.
A Lurgan team that had set out to win a solitary match in the tournament were now runners-up in the major outdoor competition of the season.
The four Lurgan bowlers can hold their heads high with the effort they gave. They played better than anyone at the tournament could have foreseen and showed the talent that is developing in Lurgan Bowling Club. The Lurgan team would like thank those who posted messages of support on Facebook or sent texts. Most of all they are very grateful for the support they received from club members who travelled to Bangor to watch them throughout the tournament and in the semi-final and final.