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James O'Donovan's Dutch of class leads to European gold after Netflix debut

May 27th, 2024 11:30 AM

By Kieran McCarthy

James O'Donovan's Dutch of class leads to European gold after Netflix debut Image
European Moors bowling gold medal winner James O'Donovan throws on his way to victory in Germany. (Photo: Gretta Cormican)

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JAMES O’Donovan never expected to play a role in a Netflix hit, and the Bandon bowler wasn’t tipped to capture European gold in the Dutch Moors discipline – but he’s achieved both.

In the same week he bowled to glory in his unfamiliar Dutch Moors at the European Bowling Championships in Germany, the new Netflix show, Bodkin, set in Union Hall and West Cork, was flying high in the Irish charts.

‘A fella in New Zealand texted me, “what are you doing on Netflix?!’,’ O’Donovan quips on the Star Sport Podcast.

The Bandon man was an extra on the show, which features a road bowling score between O’Donovan and John O’Rourke.

‘I wasn’t sure what to expect,’ he says, ‘and we were filming for about a week, and it’s great for the sport – it puts it on an international stage and gets people talking about, and learning more about it.’

O’Donovan excelled on the international stage at the recent Europeans, as his senior men’s Dutch Moors gold was the highlight from an Irish perspective, while Ballyvourney’s Liam Murphy also won U18 gold on the road. O’Donovan’s triumph is the stuff of legend, how the West Cork man beat the two previous champions, 2016 winner Rob Scholten and defending champ Daniel Wilken, to win European gold by just 15 centimetres.

‘After 1,068 metres it came down to six inches, that was probably the tightest score in the history of the game,’ he says.

‘There were ten different groups of five, and I was in the ninth group out so I knew what was leading and what I needed to do. I knew I was in a good position when I won my group, but I felt that Scholten and Wilken were coming on strong.’

It came down to the last shots and O’Donovan had to wait for the final verdict of the officials, who announced he had beaten Heiken by just 15 centimetres. Queue huge celebrations in the Irish camp. A silver medal in the Moors at the 2016 Europeans, eight years later he won the big prize in a sport he only practices ahead of the Europeans. 

‘It’s a Dutch sport, it’s on a grass course, you have a starting line and ten shots with a timber bowl filled with lead, just a bit bigger than the bowl we use here. It’s the person who goes the furthest in the ten shots wins,’ he explains. 

‘The courses vary. In Holland in 2016 that was one of the best courses because it’s their home sport, they keep it immaculate, it was like a golf course and the world record was set there that year.’

The key to success?

‘Technique – you need to deliver every shot about head height. If you drop them too close to you, they’ll dig into the ground. If you loft them too high, they’ll dig as well. You need it to skim off the grass as best they can,’ says O’Donovan, who ranks this success as one of his most memorable in sport, alongside winning the county premier intermediate hurling and intermediate football championships double with Bandon in 2016. He comes from a family steeped in road bowling, the tradition stretching back generations. ‘It’s bred into me,’ he laughs, and now he has a European gold medal on his road bowling CV. But after his Netflix cameo, Hollywood can wait though, as he turns his focus to landing the men’s senior crown here at home this year.

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