McGuigan off to fine start

Finbar McGuigan plays a draw during the opening day of the North East Valley 10,000 tournament...
Finbar McGuigan plays a draw during the opening day of the North East Valley 10,000 tournament yesterday.PHOTO: GERARD O’BRIEN
New Zealand Youth Bowler of the Year Finbar McGuigan (Stokes Valley) hit his straps early to safely make it through the first day of section play in the North East Valley Bowling Club's annual 10,000 tournament yesterday.

A semifinalist in the tournament last year, McGuigan (21), a groundsman at the Mexted Sports Turf in Wellington, was quick to master the demons in the early season rinks, taking control of his first round match with Nick Buttar (Queenstown) early to win 26-18.

McGuigan's victory and his ability to hold out a fightback from Buttar in the race to score 25 demonstrated his ability to top section 2 and feature in the knock-out stage again this year.

Succumbing to Shannon McIlroy 21-16 at the semifinal stage last year, McGuigan's reputation was enhanced further with the New Zealand Youth Bowler of the Year Award. He is currently a member of the final 14 development squad in contention for next year's Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

Other members of the 14 for Birmingham at the tournament include McIlroy, Andrew Kelly, Gary Lawson, Ray Martin, Keanu Darby and Sheldon Bagrie-Howley.

“I'm pretty pleased,” McGuigan, who had a bye in the second round yesterday, said of his award and being in the mix for Commonwealth Games selection.

“You always play against your peers and it's really good to get that recognition.”

McGuigan attributed his award to “consistency and making finals days”.

McGuigan won two Wellington Centre titles in the pairs and fours and made the semifinals of the singles and triples. He made it to the semifinal stage of the national singles championship, falling to Blackjack Rory Soden by “not much”.

As an 11-year-old, McGuigan followed in the footsteps of his father, who played at the Plimmerton Bowling Club, which was situated across the road from the family home. Two years later things started to get serious when he won the club's open singles title.

With young players such as Blackjack Seamus Curtin and Bradley Down spurring him on, McGuigan was quick to develop a competitive streak on the green, something which helped him make the New Zealand Development squad in 2017 and earned him a trip away to the transtasman tournament on the Gold Coast in 2018.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the draw, defending champion McIlroy had a great escape in his two matches of section play.

Against Andre Smith (Havelock) in the first round, Smith jumped out to an early 13-3 lead and despite McIlroy clawing his way back, Smith remained in sight of victory holding a 21-13 lead, but the “come-back kid” from Stoke, in Nelson, was not about to roll over and in a marathon 31 ends pulled the match from the jaws of defeat to win 25-21.

It was a similar situation in McIlroy's second round encounter with 2009 champion Shaun Scott (Bannockburn), the game going to 34 ends after Scott leaped out a 8-0 lead after the first five ends before McIlroy reigned him in and a classic see-saw, tit-for-tat battle ensued.

With both players closing in on the magic 25, it was Scott, a two-time New Zealand singles champion, who maintained the lead for seven of the last eight ends of their encounter.

Then, sitting on match point at 24-23, it was the cool head and experience of McIlroy that prevailed as he pulled back three shots on what was the final end to deny Scott the scalp of the defending champion.

Blackjacks McIlroy and Kelly (Christchurch) remain the only unbeaten players in the pool of death (section 1).

Among the other Commonwealth Games contenders, Gary Lawson, with a bye in the second round, made short work of Dunedin champion of champion singles player Brent McEwan. Ray Martin had a mixed bag, with a resounding 25-6 win over Sam Cooper followed by a 25-19 loss to Murray Scott (Nelson).

Fortunes were much the same for Darby (South Canterbury) and Bagrie-Howley (Gore) as they each lost in the first round, Darby to Southland's Brian Harvey 25-20 and Bagrie-Howley to fellow Commonwealth Games contender Curtin (Stokes Valley) 25-21.

Darby bounced back against Oliver Mason (Forbury Park 25-21, while Bagrie-Howley achieved a hard-fought 25-23 win over Tom Tairoa.

Play resumes with the third round at 8.30am today.

- By Wayne Parsons

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