Junior World Indoor Championships
At County Antrim Indoor Bowls Club
With three separate world junior championship titles – men’s singles, women’s singles and mixed pairs – up for grabs at the Jim Baker Stadium in County Antrim, and with each competition down to the semi final stage by Thursday morning, there were three countries who still had their sights set on a notable clean sweep.
The host nation, perhaps not surprisingly, was in contention, as was England – but it was the professionalism and style of the Australians, with their smart green’n’gold uniforms, and bright yellow bowls, that marked them out as the most likely to achieve a monopoly for the titles.
Brianna Clark, who plays for the St John’s Park club in Sydney, and Nick Cahill, a member of the legendary Broadbeach club on Australia’s Gold Coast, accounted for Irish hopes Shauna O’Neill and Adam Rankin, 14-1 9-9, in the mixed pairs semi final and stayed on course for the clean sweep.
England’s Ruby Hill and Harry Goodwin also kept their hopes alive, and qualified for the final with a 10-5 6-6 victory over Scottish duo Kara Lees and Bradley Buchan, though it was only a late surge of four shots over the last two ends that gave them the tie they needed for a 1.5-0.5 win.
The mixed pairs final that brought the day to a close was notable for its topsy-turvy nature, with the Aussies dominated the first set, and the English pair in command in the second.
Having scored only one shot in the opening set, Hill and Goodwin claimed a full house of six shots on the first end of the second set and kept up the pressure to guarantee a tiebreak sudden-death shoot-out, which may not be what the players would choose, but is always a hit with spectators.
The scorecard – showing that Hill and Goodwin won 1-14 12-3 1-0 may suggest that the sets were ludicrously one-sided, but, in reality, there was some superlative play in both sets, followed by a tense and highly competitive tiebreak in which the England duo just had the edge.
England’s chances of a clean sweep disappeared earlier in the semi finals of the women’s singles, when Hong Kong China’s Yu Yee Sin edged home against Ruby Hill, who, after losing the first set in eight ends, fought back bravely to force Yu into a tiebreak. Yu prevailed 9-4 6-9 1-0.
The diminutive 24-year-old Yu, a product of the prolific Hong Kong Youth Development Scheme, will now face Brianna Smith in the (FRIDAY) final, after the Aussie foiled the hopes of home supporters with a desperately close 7-5 8-7 victory over Shauna O’Neill, from the Ballybrakes club in Ballymoney.
Australia’s Nick Cahill had his work cut out to beat Ireland’s 17-year-old Daniel Spratt, who put up an impressive display. Until recently, Spratt was on the books of the prominent Belfast football team, Glentoran, but opted out in order to concentrate on bowls. Cahill was glad to get home 7-5 8-7.
In the men’s singles final, Cahill will – for the fourth time this week – come face to face with England’s Harry Goodwin, who plays for the Swale club in Sittingbourne in Kent, but who learned to play bowls in Devon, where he came under the influence of World Champion of Champions titleholder Sam Tolchard.
Goodwin was pushed all the way in a thrilling semi final contest by Scotland’s Bradley Buchan, who hails from Fraserburgh. Shots were hard to come by, and there was only one brief occasion when the gap between them was more than two shots. Goodwin was relieved to return a 6-5 8-7 scorecard.
Now, of course, no-one can perform that mythical clean sweep – England could win two titles, and so could Australia. But no-one should write off the chances of a certain Hong Kong China starlet, who will do her best to derail Brianna Smith in the women’s singles final.
Photo: Newly-crowned World Junior Indoor Mixed Pairs champions Harry Goodwin and Ruby Hill are flanked by World Bowls chief operating officer Gary Smith and IIBC president Peter Brill.
Qualifying play-offs: Sec.A: Brianna Smith (Australia) bt Kara Lees (Scotland) 6-4 11-9; Sec.B: Ruby Hill (England) bt Ellie Dixon (Norfolk Island) 9-4 4-4.
Semi finals: Brianna Smith (Australia) bt Shauna O’Neill (Ireland) 4-11 9-5 1-0; Yu Yee Sin (Hong Kong China) bt Ruby Hill (England) 9-4 6-9 1-0.
Qualifying play-offs: Sec.A: Nick Cahill (Australia) bt Chow Ho Yin (Hong Kong China) 10-5 9-2; Sec.B: Bradley Buchan (Scotland) bt Ben Matthews (Wales) 3-9 10-2 1-0.
Semi finals: Nick Cahill (Australia) bt Daniel Spratt (Ireland) 7-5 8-7; Harry Goodwin (England) bt Bradley Buchan (Scotland) 6-5 7-6.
Semi finals: Brianna Smith & Nick Cahill (Australia) bt Shauna O’Neill & Adam Rankin (Ireland) 14-1 9-9; Ruby Hill & Harry Goodwin (England) bt Kara Lees & Bradley Buchan (Scotland) 10-5 6-6.
Final: Goodwin & Hill bt Cahill & Smith 1-14 12-3 1-0.