WHEN Emma Hickey turned up to the Irish bowling trials for the European Championships on the last Sunday of September last year, she was met by a few surprised glances.
‘We didn’t expect to see you here today.’
‘I have my priorities right,’ she smiled.
Sunday, September 27th was Emma’s 18th birthday, but the night before, Saturday, instead of hitting the bright spots of West Cork with her friends, she stayed in and ordered a takeaway pizza.
Why? The bowling trials were on early Sunday morning.
That’s dedication for you.
Early-morning (8am) trials and then training at either Inchydoney Beach or at Castletown-kenneigh took her right through the winter up to the present day – but the sacrifices were all worth it.
Emma (18) is on the Irish senior women’s team that will compete at the European Championships in Ootmarsumin this weekend, and her progression up the ranks hasn’t surprised anyone who knows the game.
Her father Morgan is chairman of Durrus Bowling Club, and he is making the trip to Holland to support his daughter, along with Emma’s younger brothers Peter and James, and her granduncles Mike Kelly and Bernie Kelly, who are two of her biggest fans.
‘They (her father and granduncles) never travel anywhere! But they went to Italy with me four years ago and they’re coming to Holland as well,’ she explained.
The European Championships in Pesaro four years ago bring back great memories for Emma, who, 14 at the time, was on the youths’ team that won gold in road bowling and bronze in the Dutch Moors event.
‘I was so young at the time and I thought that they were taking a gamble on me, to be honest,’ she said.
‘When we were at the opening ceremony and I saw the size of the bowlers I was against, I thought I wouldn’t be able for it at all. But they named me as captain for the Moors’ team and that gave me the confidence to go on. It showed me I was there for a reason.
‘The youths’ team hadn’t done well in the previous few championships so we did very well to bring home the medals we did. It was the best performance of an Irish youths’ team in a few years.’
Emma is predicting an amazing few days in Holland this weekend as Ireland, the host nation, Germany and Italy battle it out in a variety of bowling disciplines, but this well-spoken and grounded teenager will take it all in her stride.
‘It’s hard to predict what will happen. I’ll enjoy it, stay calm, do my best and see what happens,’ she said.
Bowling has been good to Emma, and she has been good to it, and hopefully she’ll get the chance to make up for her missed 18th celebrations this weekend.
YOU don’t see bowlers with big bellies any more, All-Ireland men’s champions David Murphy laughs.
But he’s right, there’s been a change, especially at the top level of the sport, as fitness and diet are under the spotlight like never before. In terms of preparation for the European Championships, the Brinny bowler has seen a huge change in the approach to the competition.
Cork’s hosting of the event in 2008 was a turning point, explained David, who won gold medals in road bowling in ’08 and Pesaro 2012, so he’s going for a hat-trick this Friday.
‘Before 2008 we didn’t have an Irish road bowling winner since Dan O’Halloran in 1988, and then I won in in ’08. We did a lot of training for that championship. Ból Chumann brought in fitness trainer Mark McManus who had worked with Munster Rugby. Since then we have taken preparations more seriously, especially the road bowling because that is our discipline,’ David explained, adding that Pat Reynolds of B2A fitness has helped the Irish team’s preparations for this weekend.
‘Even myself, and I know from the other players too, we are doing our own gym work outside of bowling. There is no fella bowling now with a belly. There was before. But not now. Every fella seems to be fitter and stronger,’ he pointed out.
David’s not one for pressure and the chance of winning three-in-a-row isn’t weighing him down. He has performed on the big stage before, and been a serious contender in this competition since Meldorf 2000. A loss of form over the past few years was turned around dramatically last year as he won the All-Ireland for the second time.
‘I was suffering with a groin injury since the Bol Fada in Easter but it’s cleared up now,’ he explained.
‘I’m not even thinking about going for three-in-a-row. I’ll approach this like any other score. It’s short enough, you see. It’s ten shots. If you make a mistake you are in trouble straightaway. I’ll take it one shot at a time.
‘It’s hard to know who the main competition will be. The Dutch won’t be too bad. It’s on their home road and they will have been practicing on it too, and you have to look at the other nine Irish players as well – any one of them on any given day is good enough to win.’
The road bowling takes places on Friday.
JUGGLING her roles as a bowler and a coach to the senior women’s team for these championships hasn’t knocked Geraldine Daly off her stride, not when she has the legendary Gretta Cormican by her side, as a coach and advisor to the women’s setup.
‘What Gretta does for bowling is absolutely outstanding. She lives and breathes the sport. She is always there in the background and she is an amazing person who does it all for the love of the game,’ Geraldine explained.
‘People want to win medals but you need to realise why you are there in the first place – it’s because you love the game. You wouldn’t be on the team or trying out for the team if you didn’t love the sport. Gretta is an icon in road bowling and everyone aspires to be like her.’
Speaking to The Southern Star on Tuesday night as she packed her bag before the flight to Holland on Wednesday, the Bantry bowler was looking forward to her fifth European Championships.
This competition is a great outlet for the sport, she says.
‘Bowling has received a lot of media coverage over the last few weeks and that’s important because it helps to promote the game,’ Geraldine pointed out.
‘A lot of people have a negative view towards bowling – maybe because they have driven through scores and people won’t get out of their way – but unless you go to a score or see how much people put into the sport and how much it means to me, you won’t fully understand the lengths people go to in this sport.
‘Every year there are championships on the road here in Ireland but the European Championships every four years give you that little bit more focus and a level to aspire to.
‘It’s a great platform to make people aware of bowling and that it’s not just in Ireland that we play it.’