Stoke Stakes Men’s Pairs

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For as long as Seamus Curtin is involved in Bowls, it’s likely he will always remember his great escape with Shannon McIIroy at the 2020 Stoke Stakes Men’s Pairs.
Ultimately it came to nothing – with the tournament called off at the quarter final stage after persistent rain left the greens flooded – but their Houdini act in section play is still noteworthy.

The highly rated combination had struggled to find their groove at the event, and there was little room for error in such a strong field.
They lost their first match in section play, scraped the next by a shot then had consecutive draws.

“We didn’t go as well as we liked,” says Curtin. “But we had a couple of draws so I guess that left us with a chance of going through.”
But coming into the last round of section play on Saturday it looked like they would be packing their bags. Unlike many tournaments, the Stoke event doesn’t have Plate or other consolation rounds in post-section play; it’s top eight or bust.
As it turned out, McIIroy and Curtin couldn’t have cut it much finer.
“It came down to the last end of the last game,” says Curtin. “It was pretty crazy. We picked up a six on the last end – without that we wouldn’t have caught Jordan King and [Chris] Lowe.”

That final push left them tied with the 2019 National Men’s Pairs champions King and Lowe for eighth place, both by games won and points differential.

That meant a 10-end mini game, with McIIroy and Curtin prevailing to reach the last eight.
Unfortunately the tournament was called off on Sunday, after an overnight deluge, but Curtin takes away great memories from the event.

“It was a great opportunity for me, in terms of building experience with someone like Shannon,” says Curtin. “We didn’t start well but steadily improved.”
Halfway through section play they made a switch, with Curtin taking over as skip. That might look unusual – given Mcllroy’s pedigree – but it made sense.

“I wasn’t giving him much to be honest,” says Curtin. “We had to change something because things weren’t really working. He lead really well after that and took on a mentor role with me.”
Curtin says it was an education to play alongside the world and national champion.

“Just how he reads the head, how he attacks when he needs to but also understands when it is better to hold back,” says Curtin. “He always tries to make the opposition have the hardest shot possible.”
Curtin looks forward to another tilt at the Stoke Stakes Men’s Pairs next year.

“It was a great tournament, food was awesome and great hospitality,” says Curtin. “With such a high quality field it was like one big family down there.”

Curtin will also team up with McIIroy again at the National Pairs tournament in Auckland in January.
The 20-year-old Curtin started in the sport 10 years ago. He has several goals for the future but says his proudest achievement so far was making the New Zealand squad for the 2018 World Cup.

Away from the sport he is a youth worker, engaging with schools and also working for WithBox, which advocates for youth and tries to create genuine partnerships between generations.

“I really enjoy it,” says Curtin. “It’s about trying to make a difference for young people.”