This years June bowls festival is a very different one for me as it my first as a non resident of the Island. I have always been filled with anticipation and excitement of the top class bowling an atmosphere the coming week held in store, but to actually be one of the visiting holiday makers has stepped things up to another level. I now understand what all the pro Isle of Man bowls week Facebook statuses from the UK bowling fraternity are all about, I literally can’t wait for it, so when I was asked to write the preview for it I was like a kid in a sweet store and grabbed the opportunity with both hands!
Some things never change however and as always when I run through each section of the draw to pick out the potential winner I am awestruck by the quality of the field and the number of potential victors. This is going to be a great competition.
In my heart I will always want a Manx winner and I think with events out of their control meaning they had to pull out of the County Championships it would be fantastic if we had one this time around. For most of them this year the two bowls festivals are their only real chance to have a seat at the games top table and take on the best of the best.
The first section of the draw is simply littered with players wanting to make their mark and claim the main prize. Visitors Paul Bailey (Meersbrook) and Callum Wraight (Castlefields) will fancy their chances of going a long way and the winner of Lee Johnstone (St Oswalds) and Danny Ferris (Norton BC) could also have a very good week, Jordan Cain (Onchan) and Stuart Garrett (Douglas) are two locals who are more than capable of making a finals day appearance.
It gets even more difficult to predict what will happen in the next section and you can never write off Andy Spragg (Callow BC). The charismatic Steve Freer (Castlefields) would be a very popular winner with both locals and visitors alike as he always brings his unique flair to the party. Mark Hughes (Crossgates) is now regularly making it to the latter stages and there is no reason why he couldn’t do it again. Young Conor Chamberlain could also go well if he finds his form. From a local perspective we also have a players capable of mixing it with the best in the shape of Kevin Quirk (Onchan), Dave ‘Dido’ Kelly (South Ramsey) and Rob Monk (Onchan).
There are former winners and runners up everywhere I look as I scroll down the page and defending champion Kez Smith (Crossgates) will have his work cut out to retain his crown with the likes of Kevin Shaw (Westhaoughton), Carl Armitage (St Oswalds), Chris Barton (Wirral) and Colin Kelly (Marown) all in close proximity. Don’t be surprised to if Stevie Kelly (Peel) turns a few heads and causes a few surprises.
There are chances in the next section and for me it’s wide open. Another former champion Gax Lalley (Crossgates) will fancy his chances of making it to the latter stages however in form Trevor Qualye (Port St Mary), who currently leads the local division one merit, has the potential to do very well indeed.
Wayne Ditchfield (Kirkham) and Dave Jackson (Railway) will both expect to make it to the latter stages however there will be only room for one of them, that is of course if the get past local David Bradford (South Ramsey) who on his day can beat absolutely anyone and everyone.
Jack Dyson (Thongsbridge) will be hoping to add his name to the trophy however with seasoned campaigners such as Martin Gilpin (Kendal Vic), Rich Goddard (Castlefields), Rob Fitzpatrick (Wirral) and Marown’s Neil Withers all on the same page it would be a very good week at the office if he was to leave with the crown.
Ian Nicholson’s (Kendal Vic) name jumps of the next page and hits me between the eyes as the man most likely to be in the final shake up from the next group, however it will be interesting to see how Billy Speed (Castlefields) and young Stefan Kelly (South Ramsey) fare.
Stuart Mort (Kirkham) and Matt Kelly-Wally (Belvedere) will both fancy a long run out over the week however experienced locals Dave ‘Barney’ Kelly (Peel), Phil Kerruish (Onchan) and Manx Championship runner up Pete Slinger (Onchan) will all be wanting their own day in the sun on Friday.
News has filtered through to me that local favourite John Kennish (South Ramsey) is unable to take part in the competition this year due to work commitments which really opens up the next section of the draw. I can’t even begin to work out who will make best use of this and it will definitely pay dividends for someone and Paul Chamberlain (Stretton Anglesey) may just be the man to cash in.
James Wilcox (Crossgates) is probably favourite to make it to finals day out of the final 32 in the competition however locals Matthew Quirk (Onchan) and Matthew Keggen (Marown) are both well placed to stop him.
Well that’s it for now, draw analysed and like me you are probably no clearer to picking a winner than I am. What should shine through, however, is the quality of the field and the week of bowls we have in store for us and as I said at the top I literally can’t wait for it to start.