Shannon Mcllroy is once again king of the North East Valley Men’s singles – and has set a benchmark at the event that may never be challenged.
Mcllroy emerged triumphant from the Labour Weekend tournament, backing up his victory in 2019.
It was his fifth title at the prestigious event – no one else has more than three – since he first started competing there in the mid-2000s.
“It means a lot,” says Mcllroy.
“I’m hugely grateful and humbled that I have had the opportunities over the years. It’s hard to stay at the top and there are a lot of young guys coming through, but you want to make it difficult and make them work.”
His record haul at the Dunedin event is extra special, as the tournament will always hold a place in his heart.
“I really feel like it helped to shape me into the singles player that I am today,” explains the 33-year-old. “Playing at this tournament when I was so young, in my formative years was a massive challenge, but you learnt so much.”
Mcllroy describes the mid-2000’s as the golden era of bowls and says it was particularly tough at the North East Valley event during those times.
“There were eight in your section and seven guys who could win it,” says Mcllroy. “Then you would look across the field and there might be 20 who you thought, okay he could win the whole thing. You had names like Rowan Brassey, Gary Lawson, Mike Kernaghan, Paul Girdler, Russell Myer….so many.
In some ways it was probably harder than the nationals, because there was nowhere to hide.”
McIIroy won his first North East Valley title as a 19-year-old in 2006. He also won in 2009 and 2012.
“I was runner up in 2011 and I remember losing semi-finals in 2013 and 2014,” says McIIroy. “All up I’ve probably made the last four 10 times.”
As a result McIIroy is usually pretty confident as he sets out on the annual journey from his Stoke home.
“Most years I seem to go quite well,” says McIIroy. “I’ve got the singles discipline down to a fine art, with game IQ and tactical IQ. If I am going good, I know someone has got to play pretty well to beat me.”
However, the world singles champion felt a little apprehensive this time around.
That was partly due to the lack of recent match play, after the Covid enforced shutdowns and postponements for much of this year.
“Being Bowls fit is a bit different,” says Mcllroy. “After not playing for so long on the first day the legs were a bit sore. It had been a while.”
It was also just his second tournament since his switch to Henselite bowls, after a decade using the Aero product.
“There are little subtleties,” says McIIroy. “The weights you might be used to. It’s imprinted on your computer, but you need to trust your eyes.”
Despite his pedigree, it wasn’t a straightforward tournament for McIIroy. A couple of times during section play he shot out to big leads, only to see his younger opponents reel them in.
“That’s usually the case,” says McIIroy. “I’ve got a bit of a target on my back so people seem to play well against me.”
McIIroy beat Taieri’s Andrew McLean in the quarter final (21-6) before prevailing 21-16 in a tense semi-final battle with Finbar McGuigan (Stokes Valley, Wellington).
That meant a final against fellow Black Jack Andrew Kelly and the decider lived up to the occasion.
Kelly fought back from 8-0 down to level the match, which remained tight until McIIroy surged ahead on the 14th end and eventually closed it out 21-17.
“It’s great to win another one,” says McIIroy. “Hopefully it continues but it doesn’t get any easier.”
Tournament organiser Terry Scott was thrilled with the weekend, despite the inclement weather on the final day which left the greens flooded in the morning.
“We were delayed for a couple of hours but we got there.”
This year was the 30th anniversary of the event and Scott is proud of what they have built.
“We have really achieved something down here,” says Scott. “This year was a bit different, without the overseas based players but that meant an opportunity for a wider pool of New Zealand players, especially the emerging talents.”
Post-section Quarterfinals: Finbar McGuigan (Stokes Valley) 21, Sheldon Bagrie- Howley (Gore) 8; Shannon McIlroy (Stoke Nelson) 21, Andrew McLean
(Taieri) 6; Andrew Kelly (Canterbury) 21, Tom Taiaroa (South Canterbury) 4; Caleb Hope (Stokes Valley) 21, Murray Scott (Nelson) 15.
Semifinals: Kelly 21, Hope 4; McIlroy 21, McGuigan 16.
Final: Shannon McIlroy (Stoke Nelson) 21, Andrew Kelly (Canterbury) 17.