Heart stopping singles action had the crowd on the edge of their seats on day nine of the BLK National Open Championships in Dunedin, as World Singles champion Shannon McIlroy and former Blackjack Andrew Kelly won their way through to set up a grandstand finish on finals day in the men’s singles.
Showing exactly why he’s the best in the world, McIlroy cut a cool, calm and composed figure in the semi-final, as he run out the victor 21-19 fending off a gutsy display from 19-year-old Gore protege Caleb Hope, in swirling conditions throughout.
Hope had earlier turned heads defeating Commonwealth Games hopeful Tony Grantham in the last eight, driving the bare jack into the ditch after facing game down with the scores locked at 20-20. Grantham, sitting with shot and anxiously on the rinkside awaiting Hope’s final delivery, could do nothing more than stand tall and congratulate the teenager on his effort as the bowl nestled next to the jack in the ditch.
A familiar story ensued in the match-up opposite McIlroy, with Hope answering plenty of questions as he held his own against the country’s top singles exponent, - though a perfectly weighted shot from McIlroy on the final bowl stole the show - albeit with a fortuitous slide from a front bowl -acknowledged by McIlroy, but clearly devastating the Southlander as he was seen shaking his head and rueing what might have been.
Across rinks, the other semi-final saw experience overturn the youthful brilliance of 17-year-old Stokes Valley hopeful Seamus Curtin, who despite earlier accounting for the Scottish international Ryan Burnett - had no choice but to succumb to the relentless pressure of the 29-year-old Kelly, ending his heroic run as third equal in the country, alongside Hope.
In what proved a drawing masterclass, Kelly - a former Blackjack in his own right, put the pedal down to overturn a 12-4 deficit and run out with the spoils 21-14 in a clinical display at Taieri HQ - indicating his hunger for more national success.
Meanwhile, world number one Jo Edwards was in irrepressible form as she brushed aside long-time pal and fellow Blackjack Val Smith, 21-5 in the women’s semi-finals, while the 22-year-old Broadbeach-based Blackjack Katelyn Inch continued to amaze, hanging in with sheer determination to defeat Waikato starlet Ashleigh Jeffcoat in a thrilling semi-final encounter, 21-19.
Inch, who is clearly reaping the rewards from her immersive bowls lifestyle on the Gold Coast, proved in fine fettle and will now test herself at the top level against fellow squad member Jo Edwards in Sunday’s final in what is certain to be a tournament highlight.
In other results, international giants, both past and present, Ali Forsyth and Gary Lawson continued on their rampant run to the finish, holding off a strong charge from Burnside pairing Mike Small and Barry Williams 19-14, before nudging past the experienced duo of Paul McKinnel and Graham Low in the semi-final, 14-11.
Standing opposite them will be no stranger to success, with eight-time national champion and Hall of
Famer Peter Belliss and Lance Tasker posing formidable opposition - with Belliss earlier putting paid
to the title hopes of McIlroy and Justin Goodwin in a down-to-the wire classic.
As the famous proverb goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” - a phrase defending
champions Dale Rayner and Ashleigh Jeffcoat appear to have taken to heart as they felled title
favourites Edwards and Smith at the second time of asking, with a opening round section play defeat
seeming a lifetime ago as they advanced to this year’s final.
Waiting for Rayner and her young lead will be the vast experience of Canterbury representative Bev
Morel and lead Sherrie Cottle, who highlighted their abilities as they put a halt to the title charge of
Inch and fellow Blackjack Tayla Bruce - running out the winners with a comfortable four-shot
Morel, who boasts 35 Canterbury titles, will prove a tough hurdle to overcome for Rayner and Co, but
with the prestigious back-to-back titles within serious reach, expect a strong charge to the finish
from the reigning champs.
In other action on day 10, the men’s fours will see the remaining quarter-final fixtures played out, with Victoria’s Raymond Martin taking on the dubbed “young guns” skipped by Sheldon Bagrie-Howley and Blackjack Mike Kernaghan going up against a strong challenge from the Lance Pascoe skipped quartet featuring his brother Shane, father Trevor and provincial team mate Robbie Reed.
Upcoming Finals at a Glance
Shannon McIlroy (Stoke) vs Andrew Kelly (Canterbury)
Katelyn Inch (Broadbeach) vs Jo Edwards (Pine Rivers)
Ali Forsyth, Gary Lawson (Composite) vs Peter Belliss, Lance Tasker (Composite)
Dale Rayner, Ashleigh Jeffcoat (Composite) vs Bev Morel, Sherrie Cottle (Elmwood Park)