So good they named a cup after her, bowling legend Gretta Cormican, the first winner of the Celtic Ross West Cork Sports Star of the Year award, chats to GER McCARTHY
‘ALWAYS have to be doing something,’ states Gretta Cormican’s Facebook profile and never has a statement been more apt about the first ever recipient of the Celtic Ross Sports Star of the Year award, back in 1998.
A lifetime dedicated to the sport of road bowling that began back in the early 1980s and continues to this day marks Cormican out as one of West Cork’s most important and instantly likeable individuals.
A quick glance at her resume makes for impressive reading: ten South West Regional bowling titles between 1981 and 1995, eight county senior titles between 1982 and 1997, seven All-Ireland titles between 1982 and 1997 plus various other Hall of Fame, local and international accolades.
Her 1998 world road bowling champion title is the moment that stands out – along with her All-Irelands – as one of Cormican’s most cherished sporting memories. That magnificent achievement also led to the mother of three becoming the inaugural Celtic Ross Sports Star of the Year award 12 months later.
‘It all began back in 1981 right outside my own door when I noticed the scores that would be going on up and down the road outside Lyre Bar,’ Cormican remembered.
‘Bowling would take place each and every weekend and the fact my four brothers (Con, Micheál, Ted and Ger) were involved back then meant it was inevitable I’d get involved, what with being the youngest of five children and a bit of a tomboy!
‘I was tasked with returning (throwing) the bowl back to my brothers and developed my technique from there. They’d tell me I was doing it all wrong but my brothers helped me enhance my technique and I practised as often as I could.’
Women were not officially recognised in bowling until 1980. A male-dominated sport had no voice at committee level to champion women’s causes until secretary Brendan Roche brought the matter up at convention and led to Gretta and many other female bowlers entering the sport.
It proved an astute move as within eight years, Gretta would bring a world bowling title back to Lyre. At an invitation tournament held in Armagh, the West Cork native defeated Cartiona Powell and wrote her name into bowling history.
‘I recall being brought to a famous library in Armagh before the tournament began,” commented the former champion.
‘There were these beautiful glass bowling trophies shaped like a globe of the world on display and I said to someone next to that I was definitely taking one them home with me!
‘Winning an All-Ireland was one of the high points of my bowling career before I finally retired in 2013.
‘My record of a couple of years before my retirement showed that the younger players were beginning to get the better of me. I felt it wasn’t fair on my supporters as I was only out playing once or twice a month at that stage.’
Since finishing her bowling career, Gretta has remained an important figure both locally and on the international stage in her new role as secretary of the South West Bowling region. This involves running all the various championships and dealing with any issues or paperwork that may arise.
Not content with helping run the sport’s South West base, Gretta also found time to research and write a book entitled ‘Glory Days’ back in 2013. With the help of The Southern Star and Pat McCarthy, Gretta put together the definitive history of All-Ireland road bowling finals and the book remains one of the most important titles in the sport’s long and storied history.
Her arrival into her new role as secretary has coincided with an explosion of interest in road bowling. Increased media coverage has helped introduce a generation of young bowlers to the sport throughout the region, something Gretta is proud her brother Ted helped kick-start.
‘The reason that you are seeing such an influx of young players into bowling around West Cork is down to my brother, Ted (Hegarty),’ she admitted.
‘In 2009, Ted began running underage tournaments along the Vale road near Balineen. He started off with thirty kids and four tournaments. Today, that has expanded to over 200 children and Ted had 35 scores just last Sunday morning.
‘We now organise scores for boys aged between 10 and 16 years of age as well as girls from the ages of 12 up to 18 and junior combined. Ted’s ongoing tournaments help prepare the youngsters for the championships that take place in March and April of each year and are going from strength to strength.’
Today, along with her husband and self-employed electrician Micheál, Gretta is a Director of Kilty Electrical Ltd and mother to three daughters, Imelda, Cathy and Claire.
Twenty years ago this year, Gretta earned the distinction of becoming the first ever Celtic Ross Sports Star of the year award winner, an achievement the former world champion bowler remembers well.
Back in 1998, Cormican, along with fellow West Cork sporting monthly winners including Donal O’Donovan, Tommy Murphy, John Crowley, Dominic Casey, Michael Keohane, Michael McCarthy, Padraig O’Regan, Cora Keohane and John Caulfield were honoured at the Celtic Ross Hotel’s inaugural banquet.
Former RTÉ Sports broadcaster and horse racing expert Tracy Piggott was guest of honour that evening and presented the prestigious award to delighted and surprised Cormican.
‘I’m overwhelmed, it’s been a good year, winning in Armagh was the icing on the cake, but this is a real achievement and I would like to thank everybody associated with the award, Paudie Palmer, Con Downing, Frank Nolan, Guinness and Deasy’s’, Cormican commented to Martin Walsh in The Southern Star back in 1998.
Twenty years on, the award and the night itself remains a treasured memory for the secretary of the South West Bowling region.
‘To hear my name being called out as the overall winner is something I’ll never forget,’ Cormican admitted.
‘I had a huge set of supporters there with me that night, family and friends which made it even more special. It was a big occasion and award, to think that I was being recognised as the overall sports person of the year.
‘To be the first one (winner) though was and still is, very special.’