On Saturday 21st March, one of the great names in lawn bowls passed away in Dunedin.
There wouldn’t be anyone playing bowls in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s, both here and overseas, who hadn’t heard the name ‘Kevin Darling’. As well as many outside the bowling fraternity. Such was the brilliance of the man they called ‘KD’ (or ‘Marty’ once he’d had a few).
“He was the Hurricane Higgins of bowls,” says long-time mate Steve Beel. “There was no mucking around. He knew instinctively what to play, and how to play it. He could see shots that most could not see, and then have the ability play them perfectly.”
Darling was not only lightning quick on the mat, not unlike Higgins in snooker, but Beel also reckons he was easily the most gifted player he had ever seen.
“He could send a bowl around the carpark and get a back toucher. Then with the next bowl go straight up the green and draw a front toucher. He could stand a bowl up and deliver it as smooth as silk. He had those little size 3 Hensilite Super Grips of his on a string, always saving his favourite bowl “chippy” for last. It was quite unbelievable.”
Blackjacks teammate Maurice Symes is equally effusive. “He could predict where his bowl was going to go. Even before he got on the mat, he would tell us what he was going to do … and do it.”
“I remember the last end of the final of the Countrywide Singles we were playing – he was game and match down in the third set and KD announced to that he was going to run the kitty into the ditch, knock my back bowl into the ditch as well, and leave himself holding four shots to win the match. That’s exactly what he did. It was incredible.”
New Zealand great Mike Kernaghan described KD as ‘the best player he had ever seen’. David Bryant, arguably the greatest, remarked that Darling was the best shot player he had even seen. “I heard Rob Parella say ‘If I had KD’s ability and my attitude, I’d be unbeatable,” says Beel.
Darling was not only a remarkable outdoor bowls player, but a brilliant indoor bowls player as well. “There’s a story that he’d once broken his right hand before a big tournament,” says Beel. “But KD just went on and played with his left. And won!”
Darling represented New Zealand in both indoor and outdoor bowls. “I remember being in a Trans-Tasman test series with him,” says Symes. “The Aussies were red hot favourites. I was skipping the Triples with KD and Phil Skoglund Junior. And with Rowan Brassey in the Fours. We ended up thrashing them 3-zip.“
“KD was a huge part of that win. He was one of the most outstanding players that ever stepped on a mat … the best player I ever played with.”
At club level it was the same.
“He had an astronomical number of club titles,” says fellow Caversham Bowling Club member, Ken Harris. “Yet he always had time for anyone and everyone. He never had a bad word to say about anybody.”
“KD was a bit of a flawed genius though,” laughs Beel. “He was a Georgie Best … brilliant on the green but could raise a few eyebrows off it!”
“I remember when I was playing with him at the Nationals in Christchurch one year, we won the required number of games to qualify, giving us the afternoon off. KD, or I should say Marty, got home at 3:00am in the morning. The amazing thing was that he still fronted the next day and played brilliantly, eventually getting us to the semi-finals.”
The Dunedin Centre. Winners of the Smoke Free Senior Intercentre Championship
Back row from left : K Darling, S Beel, I Dickison, T Scott, K Walker, M Kernaghan
Front row from left : S Jones, M Friend, J Crane, S McConnell
Inset : B King
“When we went away to the World Championships in 1992,” says Symes, “A nutritionist came with us as well. It was that time in all sport when It was decided we had to look after ourselves better. She made us drink 2 jugs of water for every jug of beer. It soon put a stop to the beer. But KD was okay with the new ‘nutrition’ regime.”
Former Bowls New Zealand board member, Brett O’Riley, is more euphemistic. “KD was so brilliant on the green and so often flawed off it, though mostly good fun. He was ultimately an amazing competitor and would have won many more national and international titles if he had stayed engaged at the top level.”
“I didn’t know Kevin personally,” says Bowls New Zealand Chief Executive, Mark Cameron, “But I have spoken to many people who said what a great bowler, and a great bloke he was. The bowls community will miss having him around.”
Kevin is survived by his long-time partner Marilyn, daughters Tania and Gwen as well as three grandchildren.
Kevin Darling was 70. He was born on 14th February 1950, and it was a continual source of amusement to him that a bloke with a surname of ‘Darling’ was born on Valentine’s Day.
You were a great source of amusement to us too, KD. And a great source of awe. Thanks for everything.
KEVIN DARLING AT A GLANCE
1990 New Zealand Commemoration Medal Awarded
1973 New Zealand National Bowls Championships Winner Pairs
1974 New Zealand National Bowls Championships Winner Pairs
1980 World Outdoor Bowls Championship, Melbourne Bronze in the Pairs
1980 World Outdoor Bowls Championship, Melbourne Bronze in the Fours
1988 New Zealand National Bowls Championships Winner Singles
1990 Commonwealth Games, Auckland Bronze in the Fours
1970 New Zealand Intercentre Winner Welch Trophy
1971 New Zealand Championships Winner Singles
1972 New Zealand Championships Winner Mixed Fours
1975 Australasian Championships Winner Men’s Fours