MARIA Nagle held the bowl in her hand and looked nervously down the Tullysaran road as she contemplated winning a first-ever adult All-Ireland road bowling title.
Armagh was the venue for Nagle’s first appearance in an intermediate bowling All-Ireland decider, so nerves were to be expected. But this 20-year-old UCC Arts student is no ordinary bowler having been in similar positions whilst claiming multiple underage titles many times before.
Bowling out of the Ból Chumann Carbery region, Nagle won an U12 championship in 2010 before securing U14 Carbery and county titles in 2013 and 2014. Following that, she attained county and All-Ireland U16 successes in 2014 at Whitechurch in Cork and in 2015 at Portmor, Armagh.
Yet, 2016 would be the year Nagle announced herself on the international stage. The Rosscarbery native won the U18 county and an All-Ireland U18 championship by overcoming Aoife Trainor in a thrilling final at Madden in Armagh.
That same year, she also won the gold medal for youths in road bowling at the 15th European Championships in Ootmarsum, Holland. The West Cork bowler had to come from a long way back to overhaul champions from the German, Dutch and Italian bowling associations. It was a terrific achievement for someone so young and against some of the continent’s best bowlers.
Nagle was honoured with a Celtic Ross Youths award and also received a Cork City and Sports Youth award at the Metrople Hotel that same year. She received Ból Chumann’s Player of the Year trophy at a special function in Dunmore Hotel to round off an unforgettable 2016.
Fast forward to 2019 and Nagle’s star-studded underage career helped steady nerves as she held off her rival from the U18 All-Ireland three years before, Aoife Traynor. Winning by two bowls of odds, Nagle became the country’s intermediate champion.
‘I was actually quite nervous at that particular moment to be honest as it was my first appearance in an adult graded final,’ Nagle recalls.
‘This was something new for me and I was very nervous when I threw my first bowl up in Tullysaran. As the score went on, I finally settled into it and it wasn’t too bad then. There was a good few supporters from West Cork up in Armagh with me that weekend as well and that helped.
‘It took a couple of shots before I settled into my natural rhythm. We only practiced on the road for the first time the night before. We threw a few bowls here and there so although I was comfortable throwing certain shots, it wasn’t until a few bowls into the score that I settled down and got to grips with the occasion.’
It has been a hectic few years for the UCC student involving a lot of travel, time and patience to reach the pinnacle of the underage road bowling world. Moving up to the senior ranks is not something that should unduly bother Nagle as she has faced older and more experienced bowlers at various scores whilst growing up in West Cork.
Her love of the sport comes from the Nagle family’s rich bowling heritage, something that was nurtured from the age of eight by her father and brothers, and her admiration for fellow Rosscarbery bowler Emma Fitzpatrick.
‘For me anyway, it all began when my family would head off bowling of an afternoon and I’d just tag along,’ Nagle remembers.
‘I’d be supporting whichever member of my family was competing or if we were just enjoying some time on our own, they would get me to throw the bowl back to them. I would have spent a lot of time supporting and following our neighbour Emma Fitzpatrick against whoever she was bowling at the time too. That’s where it all started really.
‘I looked up to Emma a lot as a child and she influenced me from day one. I was about eight years old when I first started throwing a bowl and 11 or 12 when I first started competing. I was hooked straight away and (instantly) loved the sport.’
The sport of road bowling has come a long way since Nagle first stood on a West Cork road and returned the bowl to a family member.
As with other sports such as rowing, basketball, soccer and GAA, there are now as many girls taking part as there are boys. That’s something Maria is delighted to witness and hopes an increasing number of young female bowlers continue to emerge from West Cork. Practice makes perfect, however, so any aspiring bowlers will need to match Nagle’s work ethic.
‘I remember starting out over the Marsh road when children were being shown how to bowl that the majority were boys,’ Nagle says.
‘There were a few girls here and there as well but nowadays there are much bigger numbers (of girls) which is brilliant to see. From an early age, immediately after school or whenever I got the chance, I was out on the road practicing. I would go out a lot with my father, John, at the beginning and have kept that habit up all the way through to winning this year’s intermediate title.
‘Practicing usually takes the form of simply throwing the bowl 100 yards up the road to whoever is with me and repeating that as often as we can to improve accuracy and power. You would have a mark on the road from where you throw and a “sop” on the road that you target.’
It all sounds so simple to such a talented bowler like Nagle, but it is the Rosscarbery native’s dedication to her sport that has seen the 20-year-old emerge as one of West Cork’s bowlers to watch in 2020 and beyond.
Family matters to All-Ireland champion Maria
MARIA Nagle’s family has played a pivotal role in supporting the young Rosscarbery bowler during her formative years through to becoming All-Ireland intermediate champion.
‘My dad (John) always said to me that if I wanted to keep winning then I had to keep practicing,’ Nagle says.
‘He is always on to me to try and throw a few bowls even when we go to watch scores. It is a case of him just wanting me to keep my skills sharp and make sure I am ready whenever the time comes to throw my next score.
‘Dad remains my biggest influence, but my two older brothers James and Peter come out and throw with me whenever I want and have always been two of my biggest supporters. As for my sister Fiona, she won a few Carbery titles when she was younger before getting involved in other sports. Again, Fiona would be a huge support to me whenever I’m competing.
‘My mother Mary likes to stay in the background and say the prayers for us rather than come out to every score! She is always texting us looking for the details of how we have gotten on though so I guess everyone in my family is involved in bowling and that’s just the way it has always been.’