Northern Ireland claimed its second gold medal of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, as the lawn bowls men’s fours beat India 18-5 in Leamington Spa.
Martin McHugh, Sam Barkley, Adam McKeown, and Ian McClure were overcome with emotion as the result sunk in, all four embracing as they were cheered by the small but mighty Northern Irish contingent in the crowd.
It marked Northern Ireland’s first gold in lawn bowls for 20 years, and just its fourth-ever on the greens.
At Kuala Lumpur 1998, Martin McHugh and Ian McClure were the youngsters in the team; now they are the old sages guiding through Sam Barkley, 23, and Adam McKeown, 22.
It has been a long, 20-year, wait for McHugh and McClure, and as Danny Boy filled the midlands air and all four wrapped their arms around each other, it was evident how much it all meant.
“I can’t really put it into words,” said McHugh, who has now competed at seven Games.
“It’s trying to control your emotions, control everything that’s going on. I’m just ecstatic for the three boys, it’s a dream.
“This Commonwealth Games has been right up there. I’ve been knocking on the door quite a few times. I just believed this time; this was the one.”
The result quickly seemed beyond doubt at Victoria Park, with the quartet picking up five shots in the first two ends to give themselves a commanding lead they never relinquished against an India side who had shocked hosts England in the semi-finals.
The victory was met with rapturous applause by a healthy crowd in Leamington Spa, and McClure hailed the team’s relationship with those watching on.
“The support has been absolutely terrific from back home and I think we’ve won over a few fans here in Leamington,” said McClure, who is Northern Ireland’s most successful Commonwealth bowler of all-time.
“With our energy and the way, we play the game, the way we encourage each other, we build a great rapport with the crowd.
“That was evident today and we’re very appreciative of their support.”
This summer, Team Northern Ireland, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will compromise of over 100 athletes, all vying for medal success.
Neither Barkley nor McKeown were born the last time Northern Ireland won a bowls gold, and 23-year-old Barkley hailed the experience of his two older teammates.
“This pair [McHugh and McClure] are legends, it’s the only way you can describe them,” beamed Barkley.
“They’re unbelievable and I can assure you, they’re not done yet. There are many more medals left in the pair of them.”
It was nearly an unprecedented two golds for Northern Ireland, as Gary Kelly played in the final of the men’s singles, but the Ballymoney native was beaten 21-3 by Australia’s Aaron ‘Disco Tech’ Wilson.
Kelly, who lives in Australia, never really got himself in the game, taking until the ninth end to score, by which point it was 12-1.
“I’m extremely disappointed in myself,” said Wilson. :The performance wasn’t good enough.”
“But I’m not going to take anything away from Aaron Wilson, he was fantastic.
“He proved why he’s a true champion, full credit to him, and I hope he enjoys the celebrations.”
Kelly’s silver is Northern Ireland’s second in lawn bowls from Birmingham, and the 33-year-old dedicated it to those around him.
“I don’t see that medal for me,” said Kelly. “I’m based in Australia now, the management, the selectors have put a lot of trust, faith, and loyalty in me.
“To give me that opportunity, I just tried to repay them with that gold medal.
“That medal’s not for me, it’s for my country, my sport, and my family.”
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