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