THIS will be remembered as Rachel Kingston’s breakthrough year.
The talent was there. Talk to anyone locally in road bowling and the Togher teen was earmarked for big things. One to watch in West Cork. This year she delivered in style.
In May Rachel bowled her way to U18 women’s gold on the road at the European Championships in Germany. It was her greatest triumph yet, by a distance. She didn’t stop there. At the All-Ireland series in Ballincurrig in July she added the national U18 title to her list of achievements. The double was complete.
‘I had never won anything like these before so to win the two titles in the one year was a complete shock,’ explains Rachel, whose trophy haul was swelled with a deserved Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Sports Star Junior quarterly award last week. The huge crowd that thronged the Celtic Ross to support her highlights her popularity.
‘At the time I was saying that nothing could beat winning the European gold in Germany, but then when I won the All-Ireland, that was a really special day as well, to have so many from Togher there with me. They were both amazing days, I couldn’t choose between them,’ she says.
Up until this year West Cork wins were as good as it got, she says. Rachel remembers getting to a county U16 final, only to lose to Margaret Sexton. She impressed at the trials for the Ból Chumann team ahead of the Europeans, earning her spot on the plane to Germany. She pinpoints that as one of the reasons for her remarkable rise.
‘All the training for the Moors, the Lofting and the road bowling, that definitely brought me on a lot,’ the 18-year-old says. Then she hit the big time at the Europeans. She was superb in her biggest score to date. Her eighth shot on the road was the catalyst, as she swept to gold by 60 metres, ahead of Dutch rivals Britt Rolink and Sophie Koebrugge in second and third. Rachel totalled 1,407.9 metres for her ten shots. As well as individual gold, she led the Irish team to gold too, with Caoimhe Rafferty and Margaret Sexton in fifth and ninth places respectively.
‘I remember throwing the last shot,’ Rachel recalls, ‘No-one told me what I needed to do. They just said “throw your own bowl”. So I did. Then I heard the words “Rachel Kingston has won gold for Ireland”. I remember Hannah (Cronin) hugging me, Jim (Cronin) hugging me. Then Billy and Dan came up to me. I was lifted up onto shoulders. Mom (Lorraine) came up grabbing my hand. It all happened so fast, but it was so slow too.’
Rachel’s dream year wasn’t finished yet. There was an All-Ireland U18 title to contest for.
‘When I came back from Germany, I was thinking that was my big win. I was delighted, I hadn’t expected it, and then I was throwing my scores when I came back,’ she says.
‘There were a few bumps as I had just pulled my hamstring before I went over to Germany. Coming back I got Covid before my county final so that was postponed. It was then thrown the Thursday before the All-Ireland so it was very rushed,’ but the result was similar to Germany: gold.
Rachel got the better of Carbery’s Natalie Dempsey in the county U18 final and a few days later she shone in a comeback triumph against Ulster champion Caoimhe Rafferty in the All-Ireland showdown in Ballincurrig. Another special day, with a huge Togher and Dunmanway support there to cheer her on.
‘There’s always a good gang when anyone from Togher is in a score and it’s great to have that support,’ she says.
Her loyal band of supporters will be there also when she steps up to intermediate level in 2023. That will put her into competition against her friends and neighbours, Hannah Cronin and Louise Collins, but Rachel will take it all in her stride.
‘I have the King and Queen of the Roads soon to finish out my U18s and after that I’m in with the big gang,’ she explains.
‘There is a huge difference between underage and intermediate and then senior. I’d love to go up senior at some stage but I’m not expecting it any time soon. I am ready to be intermediate for a few years first and see how I get on there.’
Given what she achieved this year, and how the MICC Dunmanway Leaving Cert student passed all her big tests on the road, Rachel has what it takes to make an impact at intermediate level, too. Exciting times ahead.