Shannon McIlroy takes a sabbatical from International Bowls


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In a major surprise, Shannon McIlroy is taking a sabbatical from competitive lawn bowls so that he can devote more time to his family and his business.

It’s a surprise because Shannon is seemingly at the top of his game … he just keeps on winning and winning and winning …  like some sort of Energizer bowler.  And there seemed no end to his battery life.

But it’s NOT a surprise when we think of the sacrifices that young sportspeople like Shannon can make to get to the top of their game .. and stay there.

It can be a 24/7 ‘job’ … a commitment that isn’t necessarily sympathetic with juggling time with a new family and a new business.  The papers are full of stories about rugby players, cricket players, league players and more who are grappling with balancing life with their sports success.

“My dad was always there for me when I was young,” says Shannon.  “And I want my kids to feel the same.  I want to be able to take them fishing … take them camping … take them to get to know their cousins in Gisborne.   We’ve been here in Nelson quite a while now, yet there’s a whole lot of awesome places around here we still haven’t seen.”

“I also want to give Amy (his wife) a chance to play more bowls.  And support her in her new role as an early childhood development teacher.  She’s spent a lot of time looking after me, and looking after the family while I’ve been tripping from tournament to tournament.  It’s her turn now ... to achieve what she wants to.”

But even Shannon can’t put his finger on how long his ‘sabbatical’ will be.

“I don’t know.  I just want to be a fulltime family man for a while.  It may be two to three years … who knows?  What I do know is that I’m not giving up bowls forever … and I will be back.”

But Shannon isn’t entirely going away.

“I’ll play out my existing commitments, and that includes the National Fours and Mixed Pairs down at Alexandra at the end of the month.  More than likely I’ll probably still continue to play club pairs with my mate Dave Parata … and I’ll still be down at the Stoke Bowling Club with Amy and the kids for a roll-up occasionally.  I love the club.”

So why the sudden decision now?

“I guess I’ve been thinking about it a lot over Christmas.  Time with the family made me realise how much they were sacrificing for me to play bowls.”

“Plus the timing felt right,” he says. “With COVID, the international bowls calendar has been so uncertain.  But even if things like the Comm Games go ahead in Birmingham next year, I wont be making myself available for selection.”

But fans of Shannon McIlroy shouldn’t despair.

“I turned 34 last month,” he says. “So there’s still plenty of time for me to come back, and play bowls competitively again when the time feels right.  Hopefully I’ve still got years to play bowls!”

Meantime, Shannon and Amy will be ones to watch in the Mixed Pairs in Alexandra at the beginning of March.  “It may be a fantastic swansong,” laughs Shannon.

Shannon McIlroy at a glance

2004            Champion      Fours           New Zealand National Bowls Championship

2007            Silver               Fours           Asia Pacific Bowls Championships                          Christchurch

2009            Silver               Triple           Asia Pacific Bowls Championships                          Kuala Lumpur

2012            Bronze             Singles        World Outdoor Bowls Championships                     Adelaide

2015            Gold                Fours           Asia Pacific Bowls Championships                          Christchurch

2015            Bronze             Pairs            Asia Pacific Bowls Championships                          Christchurch

2015/16       Champion      Singles        New Zealand National Bowls Championship

2016            Bronze             Pairs            World Outdoor Bowls Championships                     Christchurch

2016            Gold                Singles        World Outdoor Bowls Championships                     Christchurch

2017/18       Champion      Singles        New Zealand National Bowls Championship

2017/18       Champion      Fours           New Zealand National Bowls Championship

2018            Gold                Singles        World Champion of Champions                             Sydney

2018            Q-finalist          Singles        Commonwealth Games                                          Gold Coast

2019            Gold                Singles        Asia Pacific Bowls Championships                          Gold Coast

2019            Gold                Pairs            Asia Pacific Bowls Championships                          Gold Coast

2020            Selected                             World Outdoor Bowls Championships                     Gold Coast