Over the weekend of the 13th & 14th April, 184 bowlers from 8 countries arrived at the Belfast Indoor Bowling Club to take part in the largest open Short Mat singles competition ever held. The players were split into 30 groups of 6, playing on 32 mats, with everyone playing 4 out of 5 group games on the Saturday.
We started with an early surprise as former World Champion, Colum McHugh of Ireland, lost his first 3 matches in group 25, consigning him to the Wooden Spoon competition on the final day’s play. Dick Almen of Sweden was one of many players to cruise through their group and progress into the Main Knockout competition on day two of the tournament. Dick won 4 out of 4 to leave him top of group 10.
Sunday morning arrived and the last session of group games started with places in the Main Knockout still up for grabs. In group 7, three players were all vying for the top 2 places. Simon Cavan of Ireland collected a vital 12-7 win against Bob Berriman of Cyprus to put him in a commanding position, but in a thrilling finish in the other 2 group games, George Crothers of Ireland snatched a dramatic 12-11 win against Michael Collister of the Isle of Man, whilst James Trott from England picked up a big 3 on the last end to win 9-8 against Ireland’s Nicholas Garvey. This saw James and George through on shot difference with Simon unlucky to end up in third place. With the group stages complete attention turned to the three tier knockouts. This consisted of the Main, for group winners and runners up, the Plate for the third and fourth placed players and the Wooden Spoon for the players finishing fifth and sixth. Also, this stage saw the introduction of the top four players in the world rankings, as they entered the Main Knockout hoping to gain enough points to finish World No. 1 and Order of Merit Champion.
It would however prove to be a tough morning for these players. In the last 64, joint No. 1 Joel Hager of Sweden lost heavily to inform player Michael Hand of Ireland 13-2. Also going out at this stage was World No. 4 Jal Richardson of Ireland. He lost on a tie break to compatriot Lee Jacob, in what was a fantastic match. A further seven matches at this stage were decided by a single shot, emphasising what a hard fought competition this was. In the last 32, the two remaining top four players succumbed to defeat, with UK Open Champion Mark Beattie of Ireland losing to compatriot Thomas Cannavan 11-5 and Dominic Reed of England losing to Gerry McCabe of Ireland 10-9. This meant that places at the top of the world rankings remained unchanged and Joel Hager and Mark Beattie were crowned Order of Merit Champions.
Going into the latter stages the Irish dominance was starting to show on home soil. The only overseas player left at this stage was Sweden’s Dick Almen and after beating Irish star John Quinn on a thrilling tie break, he eventually lost in the quarter finals to Cecil Dillon 9-4. The other quarter finals saw victories for seasoned internationals Raymond Stubbs over Michael Hand, Kevin Conroy over Leigh Harrison and Alan Paul over PJ McCrossan.
The semi final line up was now complete and this saw Kevin Conroy take on Cecil Dillon and Alan Paul take on Raymond Stubbs. Kevin started well against Cecil, continuing the great form he had shown throughout the competition and despite a mini comeback from Cecil, Kevin cruised into the final 11-6. The other semi final turned out to be a fantastic showcase of short mat bowls with both players playing at the top of their games. In what turned out to be an extremely tight match, after 12 ends the game was tied at 11 shots all. This meant a 2 bowl, best of 3 ends tie break. The first 2 ends were shared which meant it came down to a 1 end shootout with Alan laying shot in the ditch and despite Raymond’s best efforts to draw close Alan made it through. What a match!!
Kevin Conroy v Alan Paul
Alan made a strong start racing into a 4-1 lead after 3 ends with some great drawing bowls. After 6 ends Kevin had reduced the deficit by 1 but still trailed 5-3. The next 2 ends were shared but Alan moved into a commanding position by picking up a vital 2 on the 9th end. Kevin had it all to do in the remaining 3 ends and collected 2 shots on the 10th end to reduce the deficit to 8-6. The crucial 11th end saw Alan remove Kevin’s 2nd shot with his last bowl to lay 3 and claim the title.
Kevin Conroy 6-11 Alan Paul (Main Final)
Raymond Stubbs 6-12 Cecil Dillon (Bronze Medal Match)
Ryan O’Neill 11-6 Patrick Garvey Jnr (Plate Final)
Colum McHugh 12-6 Nathan Haire (Wooden Spoon Final)
A fantastic end to a great season. The new SMPT season starts again with the UK Open over the weekend of 31st August & 1st September. For more info on this and the rest of our competitions visit our website www.shortmatplayerstour.com/tournaments