Waikato representative Tony Fabling has stunned the bowling world, beating reigning World Singles champion Shannon McIlroy in one of the greatest comebacks in living memory at the famed National Open Championships.
As the sun soaked the Carlton Cornwall greens on the penultimate day of the competition, McIlroy, in pursuit of back-to-back singles trophies, was in scintillating form as he dispatched the courageous Wellington youngster Logan Amer, 21-14 to move ever-closer to the target.
Though, what happened next, no-one could have predicted.
Leading Hillcrest’s Fabling 15-1 in the semi-final, attention had already turned to other games on nearby rinks, with McIlroy seemingly having sewn up the result early and looking odds-on favourite to make a second successive final.
However, Fabling, a former A-grade squash representative and NZ Open Singles winner, had other ideas, displaying the heart of a lion in clawing his way back into the fixture one shot at a time, before eventually taking the lead in the latter part of the game to move within two shots of victory.
McIlroy, as expected, maintained his calm and composed demeanour, with both Fabling and McIlroy continuing to trade blows and putting on an exhilarating spectacle, locking scores at 20-20 and at times rendering the commentators speechless.
The final end saw McIlroy nail his opening bowl, with Fabling’s first three efforts dropping short and over the head – though Fabling’s final bowl will be remembered and talked about in club houses for decades to follow.
Game down, Fabling dug deep and persevered on the draw, playing with added weight to arrive to McIlroy’s shot bowl, successfully pulling the jack away and rounding out the performance of his life.
Fabling will now meet 21-year-old Taylor Horn, who has been in equally commanding form dispatching Counties’ hopeful Roger Andrew and Musgrave Hill’s Chris Le Lievre – with Le Lievre, a multiple national champion, earlier accounting for former international Jamie Hill, 21-17.
Horn’s aggressive style of play and Fabling’s composed draw-game will make for an epic encounter in Tuesday’s final, with both players looking to secure their maiden national title in what will undoubtedly rate as their greatest bowls’ achievement to date..
Meanwhile, Hinuera’s Debbie White showed plenty of emotion as she won her way through to the Women’s Singles final, defeating former World Bowls representative Kirsten Edwards in a thrilling encounter, 21-19.
Both White and Edwards displayed pure talent and character in the final ends, though White proving the more consistent of the two, closing out the game with the two required shots.
White will meet hometown favourite and 2017 champion Selina Goddard, as Goddard overturned a small 5-0 deficit to eventually storm to the finish against Te Rangi’s Sarah Scott, 21-10 – though Scott will be proud of her consistent efforts throughout the week, also a beaten quarter-finalist in the women’s pairs with clubmate Bronwyn Stevens.
In other results, the vastly experienced Thames Valley pairing of Karl Garrett and Colin Gawith, twice former semi-finalists, will go head-to-head with the red hot form of Mangere Makos duo Chris Lowe and Jordan King – with the latter pairing seemingly untouched thusfar by any opposition, annihilating their semi-final opponents Dean Elgar and Gerry O’Sullivan, 22-5.
However, Garrett and Gawith, who earlier ended the three-peat hopes of Gary Lawson, will be confident with their chances and will be looking to finally secure the silverware at the top level – buoyed by their performance opposite Victoria duo Ray Martin and Richard Corry, who ended the title run of Maurice Symes and Tony Grantham in emphatic fashion, 19-8.
Across rinks, the Women’s Pairs will now see Blackjack Val Smith, who has clocked up more than 500 appearances for New Zealand, combine with star lead Lisa Prideaux to take on the well-performed side of Reen Stratford and Linda Ralph in the grand finale – with Stratford and Ralph proving too strong for the Blackjack-esque line-up of Amy McIlroy and Goddard, running out 17-10 victors..
Smith, who has won the title twice previously with Jo Edwards, will be looking to round out the title for the first time as skip, though will face a stern assignment in the form of Stratford and Ralph – despite Smith and Prideaux brushing aside Te Atatu Peninsula hopefuls Robyn Reihana and Marion Hakaraia in a clinical semi-final showing, 22-3.
The Finals’ action will commence on Tuesday, January 8 as the National’s draw to a close on the Carlton Cornwall greens and the 2019 champions crowned in all disciplines.