Success Stories: Commonwealth Games Heroics!


Success Stories: Commonwealth Games Heroics! 🥈🥇

What a rollercoaster of emotions at the Commonwealth Games 2022 for the Northern Ireland bowls squad! Leamington Spa provided the stage for heartbreak and redemption, with our athletes ultimately returning as Team NI’s kings of the green.

The standout success was the men’s fours quartet of Sam Barkley, Adam McKeown, Ian McClure and Martin McHugh capturing GOLD 🥇 with a brilliant final performance against India. Gary Kelly also tasted individual glory by powering to the silver medal 🥈 in the men’s singles event.

But their path to the medals was tremendously rocky and very nearly ended in disappointment after that dramatic first week, as Ian McClure reflected:

“The first week didn’t go according to plan. Triples: Adam, Gary, and I started off beating Norfolk Island, then drew with Wales and were in a good position—as long as we beat Fiji, we were through. But Wales hammered Norfolk Island, and we lost to Fiji by three or four shots, hence we were out.”

The pairs event also ended in disappointment for Martin McHugh and Sam Barkley.

“Martin and Sam qualified in the pairs, had a bronze medal playoff. Sadly didn’t get going against the Scottish pair either.”

With the first week faltering badly, the mood in the camp was extremely low heading into the fours and singles events. And the fours event started disastrously too with a loss to Canada.

“We played Canada in the evening…To cut a long story short, we lost the game by one shot. That was the low point of that trip. Very disappointing.”

Facing elimination, McClure had to galvanise the troops ahead of a make-or-break clash with Australia.

“I remember that night in the car park…things weren’t great. And I think Martin and I had to use whatever experience that we had to try and galvanise ourselves, but also galvanise the rink, galvanise Sam and Adam.”

Their resilience and self-belief shone through as potential elimination was transformed into a phenomenal fightback.

“It’s amazing what can come out of the depths of despair, when you have to look deep within…you just never, ever give up. And you’ve gotta meet the challenge head-on.”

That’s exactly what they did, beating Niue before earning a tense shootout win over Australia to book their quarter-final spot.

“We got home by three or four shots. Mighty relieved. Mighty relieved but confident as well…We’ve just beaten Australia here in a massive game.”

From there, the fours went from strength to strength. They edged out Scotland, going “down to the last bowl” in the quarters before grinding past Wales to guarantee at least a silver.

“Sometimes bowls is about just grinding it out, especially those big events…It’s about getting a result. It’s about getting over the line. It’s about teamwork.”

In the final showdown with India, it was the young double-act of “pinky and the brain” – Barkley and McKeown – who stole the show according to McClure.

“Sam and Adam were absolutely sublime in the final…it was a privilege to be there, and to achieve that ambition of our gold medal together.”

The roars from the brilliant Northern Irish fans in the grounds spurred them on as they got over the line thanks to their motivational mantra:

“The mantra we had was we were going to play to win. We weren’t gonna play for second…we were there to win gold. We were focused. We were hungry.”

”And the support was absolutely phenomenal…we could feel everybody’s vibes and we fed on those vibes as well.”

As the Northern Irish flag rose, standing on that podium, the enormity of their achievement hit home for McClure.

“To achieve that ambition of our gold medal together…and watch your Northern Ireland flag go up to Danny Boy, absolutely terrific.”

Meanwhile, the indomitable Gary Kelly bagged silver in the men’s singles, capping an unbelievable comeback for the Irish team after a difficult first week.

“That Commonwealth Games 2022, was capped by Gary, obviously winning the silver medal as well. So from a place of despair ending week one – we finished with a gold medal in the fours and a silver medal in the singles – truly remarkable. How can that happen? Never give up!”

McClure had to dig deep himself, carrying an injury from the triples event that affected his delivery. The Sport NI support team was vital in helping him take to the green.

“I picked up a muscle injury in my shoulder, which affected my delivery…Kerry Kirk and her team, the physios from Sport NI, did a great job, patched me up to get me through. Whatever painkillers I needed and physio etc morning and evening.”

Their phenomenal work, along with the overall preparation of the high-performance staff, played a key role in the final success.

“You’re playing for Northern Ireland, you’re playing for Adam, for Pinky, for Marty, for Gary, the girls, the high-performance team, your family. You just have to get on with it and not sulk.”

McClure has been competing at the highest level for almost 30 years, debuting at the 1994 Games aged just 21.

“My first Commonwealth Games was 1994, I got a Bronze…It was my 21st birthday so I’ve been about a few years now it has to be said!”

Having previously won the fours gold in 1998 alongside Martin McHugh, this 2022 triumph made it double delight for the duo separated by an incredible 24-year gap.

“Martin and I, fortunately have had that gold medal twice now – 1998 and 2022. 24 years apart, which I think is a bit of a record.”

So what’s McClure’s advice for any aspiring bowler?

“You have to enjoy it, have fun, have the craic, have the banter…But you must have it at the right time. You have to work hard, go the extra mile, work harder than the rest.”

“Grasp every opportunity as if it’s your last. Take every opportunity, don’t take it for granted. And stay humble, never get ahead of yourself.”

What an incredible journey to Commonwealth Games glory! We’d love to hear from you – do you have any burning questions for Ian McClure about that dramatic gold medal run? Drop them in the comments below!

Or if you were lucky enough to be in Leamington Spa supporting the team, share your favourite memories and moments with us. The roars from the terrific NI support were invaluable according to Ian!

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