Blackjacks Shannon McIlroy and Jo Edwards showed the country exactly why they are ranked as
some of the best singles exponents worldwide, snagging the National Singles crowns in front of a
bumper crowd at the BLK National Open Championships on day 10.
McIlroy, 31, of Stoke proved tenacious in victory, determined to overturn an early match deficit and
re-apply the pressure on runner-up Andrew Kelly, 29, representing Canterbury.
Finding himself 10-1 down in the race to 21 shots, the Nelson-based World Champion drew on all his experience to turn the screws and hit the front - a lead he never relinquished right up to crossing the line for yet another national title, running out victorious at 21-15.
Across rinks, Edwards went toe-to-toe with the continually impressive Katelyn Inch, a fellow Blackjack playing out of the Broadbeach Club on the Gold Coast. Inch held her nerve throughout executing some telling shots to keep herself in the match-up, though it was the vast experience and composure from Edwards that won on the day - romping home to 21-16 victory and claiming her Gold Star to reflect five national titles.
Leading up to the grandstand finish, McIlroy held his nerve against a strong challenge put forward
by 19-year-old Gore protege Caleb Hope, while Kelly outclassed the fiercely talented 17-year-old
Seamus Curtin in the other semi-final. The women’s singles saw Edwards comfortably progress past
long-time pal and fellow Blackjack Val Smith, while Inch got the better of Waikato teen sensation
Meanwhile, Blackjack skipper Ali Forsyth and former New Zealand representative Gary Lawson indicated why between them they have dominated the nationals pairs arena for many years - though this year a stroke of luck in the fact Ali’s father Neville and Lawson’s lead from last year were unable to attend this year’s event, bringing the powerhouse duo together to form yet another winning side.
But they didn’t have it all their own way, negotiating their way past 1995 national pairs champions Peter Belliss and Lance Tasker, who between them have more than a dozen national titles in their own right.
Getting out the blocks early, Belliss and Tasker were relentless in applying the pressure with Forsyth
and Lawson trailing 14-7 with six ends left to play. A stellar performance in the final third from
Lawson and a sour result for Belliss on a 15th end upshot to gift Forsyth a five, proving all the difference in what was a thrilling finale at the Taieri HQ, 21-14.
The win continued to advance Lawson’s national titles tally standing alone at the top now with 12 titles - while Forsyth moves forward adding his ninth, pushing ahead of his beaten opponent, Belliss.
In other results, Canterbury veteran Bev Morel turned it on in the women’s pairs combining with
fellow clubmate Sherrie Cottle to halt the defending champions at the final hurdle. A vintage
performance from Morel and Cottle saw last year’s winners Dale Rayner and Ashleigh Jeffcoat settle
for runner-up, with Morel proving an obstacle too strong to overcome.
With the score in favour of Morel 7-4 after 9 ends, few would have expected the Elmwood Park pairing to score a full count on the 10th end to propel them nine shots clear and closing out the game 19-6, though that’s exactly what happened before Rayner conceded defeat on the 16th end.
With the first Finals Day concluding the men’s and women’s singles and pairs, all eyes will now be fixed firmly on the fours finals with Sandra Keith taking on Mandy Boyd and Ali Forsyth going toe-to-toe with the youthful dynamic of Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, Taylor Horn, Seamus Curtin and Jesse Russell, in what is certain to be a memorable showpiece.
The earlier rounds saw Forsyth’s “Dream Team” quartet of Lawson, McIlroy and Melbourne
Commonwealth Games medallist Justin Goodwin dispatch any further national glory for prolific
fours winner Bruce McNish, while Bagrie-Howley and his team lived up to their “young guns” billing,
defeating Blackjack Mike Kernaghan and the previously unbeaten line-up of Ryan Burnett, Tony
Grantham and Rory Soden, 19-7 in a complete performance that had the crowd applauding in awe.
While Lawson and Co, who boast an estimated 500 international caps between them, will be looking
to put the youngsters to the sword early, rest assured the determination and ability from
Bagrie-Howleys men will ensure their up for the fight as they all eye their first National Open title.
Results at a Glance
BLK National Open Men’s Singles Champion:
Shannon McIlroy (Stoke) d Andrew Kelly (Canterbury); 21-15
BLK National Open Men’s Pairs Champion:
Ali Forsyth, Gary Lawson (Composite) d Peter Belliss, Lance Tasker (Composite); 21-14
BLK National Open Women’s Singles Champion:
Jo Edwards (Pine Rivers) d Katelyn Inch (Broadbeach); 21-16
BLK National Open Women’s Pairs Champion:
Bev Morel, Sherrie Cottle (Elmwood Park) d Dale Rayner, Ashleigh Jeffcoat (Composite); 19-6
Fixtures at a Glance
Men’s Fours Final:
Ali Forsyth (Composite) vs Sheldon Bagrie-Howley (Composite)
Women’s Fours Final
Mandy Boyd (Composite) vs Sandra Keith (Composite)