World singles champion Shannon McIlroy has created history at the 2019 Speight’s North East Valley Invitational Men’s Singles, halting an unbeaten run from fellow Blackjack Seamus Curtin to take out an unprecedented fourth title at the premier event.
Now in its 29th year, the NEV 10,000 is recognised as one of the best premier singles events in the southern hemisphere, attracting some of the best players throughout the country and across the ditch, with Ryan Bester, Mark Watt, Australian jackaroo Aaron Wilson, Richard Girvan and Broadbeach-based Scot Ryan Burnett all making the trip over the Tasman to compete.
In a star-studded field that comprised international representatives, national champions and promising up and coming talent, spectators are always promised an incredible exhibition of bowls throughout the long Labour Weekend.
What started off as cold, wet and dicey conditions on day one in Dunedin soon became pleasant, hot conditions, with players, spectators and markers all enjoying ideal circumstances, right up until the final.
With four sections of eight, each player contests seven games of qualifying with the section winner automatically booking their spot in the last eight, and the next two best placings from each section playing off for an opportunity to keep their title hopes alive and secure one of the other four places up for grabs in the quarter-finals.
Section winners included current Blackjacks Jamie Hill, Shannon McIlroy, Seamus Curtin and New Zealand development representative Keanu Darby – all players proving impressive in section play and moving closer to the $5000 winners’ cheque.
In quarter-final number one, a draw bowls masterclass was put on by Gary Lawson, Lawson demonstrating his ruthless ability against Bester, with the Canadian international virtually forced to attack every head, such was the class and consistency of the 13-time national champion.
Other play-off fixtures saw a thrilling conclusion between Burnett and Watt, with Burnett creeping over the line 25-24 and withholding a spirited comeback from Watt.
In the battle of the North Harbour, Rory Soden proved too strong for former national singles champion Tony Grantham – defeating his fellow provincial representative and progressing through to the last eight.
The remaining playoff saw Andrew Kelly’s campaign come to an end, with a powerful performance from Auckland’s Jordan King resulting in a 25-19 win to the Mangere hopeful, rounding out the 2019 quarter-finalists
Storming out of the blocks in the semi-final, Curtin, who up to this point had an unblemished record (seven from seven), continued to demonstrate his consistency, accounting for Darby in comfortable fashion to progress to the grand final, 25-14.
The other semi-final saw a typically composed McIlroy hunting his fourth NEV crown, completing the job against fellow Blackjack Jamie Hill, 25-17 and setting up an eager contest with the young charge, Curtin.
Quarter final results saw Hill put paid to Lawson’s run, 25-13, McIlroy dispatched Burnett, 25-20, Curtin defeated Soden, 25-18 and Darby overpowered King, 25-18.
The final saw McIlroy assert measured dominance through the later stages of the game, keeping the Wellington representative on 12 shots, powering home in wet, green soaked conditions, 25-12.
During the final, play had to be temporarily abandoned while squeegees were out in force clearing the way for the 2019 final to be played out in full, though Curtin was unable to keep pace with McIlroy at crucial times, registering his only loss of the event.
The win means McIlroy, who also won NEV 10,000 titles in 2006, 2008 and 2012, now moves in to a class of his own, leaving the three-time winners Mike Kernaghan and Rowan Brassey with a goal to catch and match his efforts.
Notable mention must go to Curtin, who at 19-years-old, almost became the seventh player in history to sweep the field unbeaten, joining Ken Walker (1990,), Tom Ellem (1996), Jim Scott (2001), Aaron Wilson (2017) and McIlroy himself, (2006).
The North East Valley 10,000 Invitational Men’s Singles will return next year to celebrate three decades of the calendar showpiece – an occasion where McIlroy will no doubt be looking to secure an unthinkable fifth crown and Curtin will be hoping to go just that one step further.
Results at a Glance
2019 Speight’s North East Valley 10,000 Men’s Invitational Singles
Dunedin – New Zealand
McIlroy d Curtin: 25-12
McIlroy d Hill: 25-17
Curtin d Darby: 25-14
Jamie Hill d Gary Lawson: 25-13
Shannon McIlroy d Ryan Burnett: 25-20
Seamus Curtin d Rory Soden: 25-18
Keanu Darby d Jordan King: 25-18
by Sam Morton