Ireland boss Roy McCune believes his young team face a massive test in the British Isles Under-18 Mixed Championships at the Ballybrakes Community Stadium over the weekend.
The Irish team have constantly punched above their weight in this tournament, having picked up gold medals over the past few years, but this will be the youngest side ever to pull on the green shirt.
McCune, however, insists is a ‘crucial learning curve’ for the players and they’ll gain an enormous amount of experience from the two-day event.
Shauna O’Neill, the daughter of short mat specialist Ryan, makes her Ireland debut. The Limavady teenager has a big act to follow as she replaces Chloe Watson, who struck gold in the pairs in Scotland last year.
Watson is now over age, but McCune reckons that O’Neill has the pedigree to make the step up onto the the Under-18 stage. Aaron Coleman, Reece Millar - he partnered Watson in the pairs last year - and Sam Barkley are retained in the squad, with Michael Hadley coming in for his debut.
“The competition is a all about learning,” said McCune. “Yes, they have done well in previous years in terms of winning medals, but the experienced gained at competing at this level is massive.
“You have to take into account that the other Home Nations have a vast player base to choose from, that’s why England, Scotland and Wales will have two teams on show.
“We are restricted in terms of numbers, but the kids we have coming through have showed they can compete with the best.”
Millar will feature in the singles - he is a former bronze medal winner that that discipline. He will then defence is pairs title along with O’Neill.
Coleman, Hadley and Barkley will perform in the triples with O’Neill joining that trio for the fours, coming in at second.
“This is another step up the ladder for our players,” added McCune. “We will again go into the two-day tournament as underdogs, but that suits us fine. It takes the pressure off in many ways.”
Ireland: Reece Millar, Shauna O’Neill, Aaron Coleman, Michael Hadley, Sam Barkley; Channel Islands: Ben Harven, Chloe Greechan, Jareed Brown, Anna La Page, Ben Le Feuvre; England 1: Noah Cummings, Ruby Hill, Lydia Cutmore, Harry Ward, Harry Woodwin; England 2: Thomas Towie, Shannon Grouch, Oliver Fowler, Imogen Jenner, Jack Groves; Scotland 1: Darren Weir, Bradley Buchan, Carla Banks, Graeme McLean, Jak Miller; Scotland 2: Alastair Nimmo, Kimberley Dodds, Magan Kevlin, Carrie McLean, Jack MacNab; Wales 1: Alex Brian, Ethan Humphries, Ryan Davis, Jodie McCarthy, Kristian Crocker.
Wales 2: Joe Phillips, Sophie Davies, Joe Coles, Sophie Wilcock, Eric Hughes.
p Former title holders, DJ and Jonny Wilson, will not only go in search of the IIBA Champion of Champions pairs title at the Watson Stadium on Saturday, but they’ll be looking to secure in the Short Mat World Bowls later this season.
The All Saints boys last had their hands on the CoC crown back in 2009 . . . and they went on to lift the world championship that same year.
They’ll now go on the starting grid with a massive entry of 67 title pretenders, hoping to enhance their reputation in the tournament.
The Wilson’s will begin their campaign with an outing against Ken Shirley and Aaron Tennant from St Coleman’s.
But the field is littered with the cream of short mat bowlers. Clark Hill and Alan Paul (Cookstown High) - they picked up the title two years on the bounce, 2010-2011 - are back in the mix, while Joe and Pauline Beattie, from St Mark’s, Portadown, who lifted in the crown the following year, are also involved.
The CoC triples discipline will be played in tandem with the pairs with a mouth watering clash between the 2010 champions, from Cooley, coming up against Jal Richardson, from St Mark’,s Portadown.
Champion of Champions pairs
N Hand v A Graham; J Wilson v A Tennant; A McKeown v J Shepherd; W Wilson v P Beattie; N Hutchinson v O Donaldson; G McKee v N Graham or D O’Kane; J Murnaghan v I Ross; W Harpur v N Rutledge; I Craig v P Duff; C Hastings v M Trainor; W Nelson v L Conlon; J Martin v S McMahon; A Reel v P McSkean or J Carson; M McGrath v R Kidd; A Steele v W Morrison; R Stubbs v D McAllister; K Bradshaw v A Paul; P Hanlon v PJ Gallagher; R O’Neill v D Hamilton; S Cavan v N Cox; E Forster v A McCombe; S Brown v N Mackin; D Walker v D Beattie; G Brian v J Fox; J Robinson or B Stubbs v S Traynor; K Blakely v B Scullion; M Trimby v T Vance; P McElvaney v S Murphy; N Gamble v C Scott; D Morrison v S Martin; J Rutledge v M Cunningham; F Dillon v J Gray.
Champion of Champions triples
A Corrigan v J Breadon or P Corman; D McElory v P Chrisite or S Jennings; N Haire v C Dillon or M Wilson; A Tanner v J Glackin; G McCabe v J Richardson; D McDonald v A Irwin or P Reid; J Quinn v G Burke; Quinn/Burke v N Conlon; R Cassells v R Murphy; C McHugh v G McNabb; A Johnston v S McKinley; Johnston/McKinley v K Conroy.