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McIlroy national bowls champion

SHANNON McIlroy won his first national singles bowls title yesterday, a day before his 29th birthday.

The Nelson-based former Gisborne bowler beat fellow New Zealand representative Paul Girdler 21-11 in the final at the Burnside Bowling Club in Christchurch.

And before he received the singles trophy, McIlroy was confirmed as New Zealand’s male international bowler of the year. Another Nelson-based bowler, 2014 Commonwealth Games champion Jo Edwards, won the women’s award.

Victory in yesterday’s singles final is a boost for McIlroy’s hopes of claiming a world championship singles place.

“I had the singles berth at the last world championships and the last Commonwealth Games, but Mike Kernaghan is the incumbent,” the Stuff website quoted McIlroy as saying.

His aim for the national championship singles was to go as far as he could. He thought that if he won the title, it might help his chances of regaining the singles spot.

McIlroy, of Nelson’s Stoke club, beat North East Valley’s Kernaghan 21-14 in the semifinals.

McIlroy’s first-prize purse for yesterday’s success is $1200. The win also gives him entry into the world champion singles tournament in Australia.

It comes on the back of a good year in his bowls career.

McIlroy won an Australian Premier League gold medal in Brisbane, and picked up gold in the fours and bronze in the pairs at the Asia Pacific Championships in Christchurch in November.

His opponent in yesterday’s singles final, Girdler, is now based at Australia’s Tweed Heads but skipped McIlroy’s gold-winning four at the Asia Pacific Championships, and also led the winning New Zealand triples team.

McIlroy said he knew he would have to be at his best to beat the 51-year-old former Otago player.

McIlroy takes early leadAfter McIlroy built an early lead to be 10-4 up after eight ends, Girdler made a brief comeback, gaining four shots over the ninth and 10 ends to close it to 10-8.

Two shots to Girdler on the 12th end had him one behind at 11-10.

But from then on, McIlroy dropped just one shot — on the 17th end, which made the score 18-11.

His consistency was rewarded over the next two ends, when he gained the three shots he needed to reach the game-winning total of 21.

Although it was McIlroy’s first national singles title in the senior ranks, it was not his first national title. He was a member of the winning fours team in 2006, when he was 19.

He won gold in the national intercentre and the New Zealand Pathway Singles in 2010, and the NZ Open Triples in 2011.

In age-group competition, he won the Kittyhawk national under-21 men’s singles title in 2004. His wife Amy, then Amy Brenton, won the women’s version in 2008 and younger sister Holly won it in 2012.

As well, Shannon McIlroy was a finalist in the 2011 Australian Open singles. He has won silver in the Six Nations and the Asia Pacific Championship fours and triples, and bronze in the World Bowls Championship singles and World Cup singles.

McIlroy is the son of Bob McIlroy and Priscilla Teaturangi Nepia.

He learned his bowls alongside family members, starting at the age of five. He played at the Ruatoria and Kaiti bowling clubs and later at Te Karaka, where elder brother Adam is a stalwart.

Bowls commentator Trevor Mills recalls the young Shannon McIlroy having a two-handed delivery because the bowl was too heavy for him to send down with one hand.

A role model for youngstersAs McIlroy progressed in the game, he became a role model for other youngsters taking up bowls, Mills said. McIlroy attended Riverdale School, Ilminster Intermediate and Lytton High School.

He is in action again today, playing in the fours qualifying rounds with multiple national title winner Gary Lawson and fellow New Zealand representives Kernaghan and Tony Grantham.

In other national open championship action yesterday, Australian representative Kelsey Cottrell always seemed to be in control, defeating the Burnside club’s Tayla Bruce 21-15 to claim the women’s singles crown.

On almost every end that Bruce held shot, Cottrell would “steal” the end or cut down the number of shots Bruce could win.

Nevertheless, Bruce — with her second runner-up performance in this event — showed enough to suggest she would make a strong case for selection in the New Zealand team for the world championships in November.

Neville Forsyth and his son Ali beat Australians Andrew Howie and Greg Dale 20-11 in the men’s pairs final.

The Forsyths established a good lead early in the game and never let their opposition back into the contest.

Frequently, when the bowls of Howie and Dale looked to be in promising positions, Ali Forsyth drove, and he often succeeded in killing the end.

In the women’s pairs final, Christchurch sisters and defending champions Mandy and Angela Boyd defeated mother and daughter Leigh and Kirsten Griffin, of Wellington’s Victoria club, 17-10.

Neither pair could make a break until the 16th end, when the Boyds — playing on their home green — took four shots.

These two teams were to join forces today for the women’s fours.

The New Zealand squad for the Trans Tasman and Six Nations series in Christchurch in March will be announced at the end of the national tournament.

Those tournaments will serve as a selection trial for the world championships in Christchurch in November.

NEW ZEALAND CHAMPION: Shannon McIlroy with the trophy he received for winning the national men’s singles bowls title in Christchurch yesterday. Picture supplied