It's true what they say, you can't keep a good champion down - a point proven by Blackjack and World Champion Shannon McIlroy as he notched up an unprecedented sixth title at North East Valley, striding to his third consecutive singles win in as many years in Dunedin.
Late last season, McIlroy announced a sabbatical from bowls - citing work and family commitments, but when news broke that the Auckland-based participants wouldn't be able to make it south for the event due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, McIlroy chanced his arm and in his own words, ‘’rolled off the couch’’ to have a go.
But clearly, the Stoke icon wasn't just there to make up the numbers, far from it. Unbeaten throughout section play, McIlroy went on to dispatch his quarter final, semi-final and final opponents in clinical fashion - becoming the first player to register a three-peat in the prestigious event since its inception 31 years ago.
Such was his dominance over the four day weekend, McIlroy accounted for Andre Smith, Shaun Scott, Nick Tomsett, Andy McLean, Andrew Kelly and Shane Elliot, before going on to beat long-time friend and fellow international Gary Lawson in a hard-fought final, 25-17.
Despite the high profile appearance, it remains to be seen whether McIlroy will rethink his sabbatical, but even for a short period of time, spectators online and those enjoying the action rinkside would have been thrilled to see the top exponent plying his trade at an all too favourable hunting ground at the Valley.
Commenting on the win, McIlroy paid a special tribute to his support network and said he was proud to register another milestone in the sport.
“It’s pretty awesome to do it three years in a row . . . I’ve had a good run here, even the years that I haven’t won it, I’ve done really well. Yeah, it’s a good place for me, so I’m pretty happy and proud of this achievement,” McIlroy said.
“I’m pretty lucky that all my support network is pretty tight, my wife, kids, in-laws, mother and father and all family back in Gisborne . . . they all follow me and it’s their support (and the things people don’t see) that allows me to play with freedom.”
Former Blackjack Mike Kernaghan, who is now the lead coach for the Commonwealth Games in 2022, had a front row seat of the action, marking every game live streamed through the NEV Facebook page. Affectionately dubbed ‘Marker Mike’, it's fair to say he'll be impressed with what has played out, with six of the New Zealand High Performance Squad emerging from section play and reaching the top eight in a field that showcases the country’s very best.
Beaten semi-finalists included Sheldon Bagrie-Howley, who fell to Lawson and Victoria's Raymond Martin, unable to conquer McIlroy's consistency. Quarter-finalists comprised Roger Stevens, Bill Clements, Seamus Curtin and Kelly. Other post-section qualifiers eliminated in the first round included Scott, Shayne Sincock, Murray Scott and Sean O’Neill.
RESULTS AT A GLANCE
Speight’s NEV 10,000 Singles
Labour Weekend, Dunedin
McIlroy d Lawson: 25-17
McIlroy d Martin: 25-15
Lawson d Bagrie-Howley: 25-18
Shannon McIlroy d Bill Clements: 25-5
Raymond Martin d Roger Stevens: 25-10
Gary Lawson d Seamus Curtin: 25-15
Sheldon Bagrie-Howley d Andrew Kelly: 25-15