Northern Ireland won their second Commonwealth Games gold of 2022 as the men’s fours bowls beat India 18-5 at Leamington Spa.
Martin McHugh, Sam Barkley, Adam McKeown and Ian McClure were overwhelmed with emotion at the result, all four hugging each other as they were cheered on by the small but mighty Northern Irish contingent in the crowd.
It scored Northern Ireland’s first bowls gold in 20 years, and only its fourth on the greens.
At Kuala Lumpur 1998, Martin McHugh and Ian McClure were the youngsters in the squad; now it’s the wise old men who guide 23-year-old Sam Barkley and 22-year-old Adam McKeown.
It’s been a long 20-year wait for McHugh and McClure, and as Danny Boy filled the air in the Midlands and all four wrapped their arms around each other, it was apparent just how much it all meant.
“I can’t really put it into words,” said McHugh, who has now competed in seven Games.
“He tries to control your emotions, to control everything that happens. I’m just ecstatic for the three boys, it’s a dream.
“These Commonwealth Games have delivered. I knocked on the door several times. I just believed this time; it was that one.
The result quickly looked unmistakable at Victoria Park, with the quartet collecting five shots in the first two ends to secure a lead they never relinquished against an Indian side who shocked England in the semi-finals.
The victory was greeted with enthusiastic applause by a healthy crowd at Leamington Spa, and McClure praised the team’s relationship with those watching.
“The support has been absolutely tremendous from home and I think we’ve won 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 are building a great relationship with the crowd.
“It was evident today and we very much appreciate their support.”
This summer, the Northern Ireland team, supported by funds raised by National Lottery players, will bring together over 100 athletes, all vying for a medal.
Neither Barkley nor McKeown was born the last time Northern Ireland won a bowling gold medal, and Barkley, 23, hailed the experience of his two older teammates.
“This pair [McHugh and McClure] are legends, that’s the only way to describe them,” Barkley beamed.
“They are amazing and I can assure you they are not finished yet. There are still a lot of medals left in the pair.
It was an almost unprecedented two golds for Northern Ireland, as Gary Kelly played in the men’s singles final, but the Ballymoney native was beaten 21-3 by Australian Aaron ‘Disco Tech Wilson.
Kelly, who lives in Australia, never really got into the game, taking until the ninth inning to score, by which time it was 12-1.
“I’m extremely disappointed in myself,” Wilson said. : The performance was not good enough.
“But I’m not going to take anything away from Aaron Wilson, he was fantastic.
“He has proven why he is a true champion, all credit goes to him, and I hope he enjoys the celebrations.”
Kelly’s silver is Northern Ireland’s second in bowls from Birmingham, and the 33-year-old has dedicated it to those around him.
“I don’t see this medal for me,” Kelly said. “I’m based in Australia now, the management, the selectors have given me a lot of trust, faith and loyalty.
“To give me this opportunity, I just tried to thank them with this gold medal.
“This medal is not for me, it is for my country, my sport and my family.”
National Lottery players raise over £30million a week for good causes, including vital funding for sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers work wonders at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.