The second of the Isle of Man’s two annual bowls festivals begins in earnest today (Monday) and, as always, my mouth is metaphorically watering in anticipation of what should be a great week of bowls.
Add to this the unprecedented success that the local contingent had in the June Festival and expectations are high.
June winner Neil Withers (Marown) and runner-up Matthew Quirk (Onchan) are back marked this time out, with Withers giving the field a three-point start and Quirk having to give away two.
This will be tough for them to make any real headway against most of the top names in the sport, however if they bring their A games even with this handicap who knows what they can achieve?
As always I will analyse the draw in sections to try and work out who will make it off their page and be on the green on finals day come Friday. This time out I have enlisted the help of three of the island’s top bowlers, themselves all festival winners, to help me.
When I look at the draw the first 32 is littered with potential winners. Former Tourism winner Mark Hughes (Crossgates) is the first name that jumps off the page, closely followed by the vivacious Callum Wraight (Castlefields).
Despite the presence of Wraight and Hughes, two former winners have grabbed the attention of our panel: Wayne Ditchfield (St Bernards) and David Bradford (Onchan) are the names that have been put forward.
Ditchfield is a prestigious talent and you would be a fool to back against him but Bradford is also a force to be reckoned with and I think it is his time to have another good run in the competition. So, looking through my www.isleofman.com-sponsored rose-tinted glasses, I am going to tip Bradford to be the first local name through to finals day
The next section is a good one for locals and I hope I haven’t just proved their kiss of death, with all of our panel going for Kevin Quirk (Onchan). Last year’s winner Dave Phillips (Lloyd Hotel) is also on this page, although giving a two-point start, so cannot be discounted and would face Quirk third game if both protagonists make it that far.
Andy Kennish (South Ramsey) and Stuart Garrett (Douglas) are a couple of locals to watch out for as they both have the potential to raise a few eyebrows.
Colin Kelly (Marown) is the first name on the next page and is always a danger to those around him. He has won the competition and been in the final on numerous occasions and there is no reason why he couldn’t be again.
He won’t have it all his own way though, as former winners Terry Glover (Liverpool Cricket Club) and Andy Farmer (Sheffield) are both in this section. I can’t help tipping the Manxman but there is plenty of danger around to scupper his chances.
It seems to get harder the further I look down the draw and the number of potential winners on this page is staggering. Martin Gilpin (Kings Arms) always starts as one of the favourites to do well with the bookies as he is frighteningly consistent.
There really are too many names to mention on this page but Dave Jackson (Railway), Neil Withers (Marown) and John Kennish (South Ramsey) have all won festivals and know what it takes to do well.
There could be some real surprises with the quality of the supporting cash and I can’t pick between Martin Gilpin and John Kennish to make it through so I will go as far as to say I think these two will be playing each other Thursday afternoon for a place in the final eight.
I definitely am wearing my rose-tinted specs as the next section also looks good from a local point of view. Manx champion Glyyn Hargraves (Onchan) leads the local charge ably supported by Trevor Quayle (Castletown) and Dave ‘Barney’ Kelly (Douglas). However, when I look a bit closer I see lots of banana skins with the likes of Mick Leach (Kirkham Cons) and John Colebourne (Old Whittington) around.
I think Hargraves can weave his way through the page but I don’t think it will be easy.
This is certainly not getting any easier as I look at the next page of the programme. James Wilcox (Crossgates), John Bailey (Conwy) and Ian Nichoson (Kings Arms) are all visitors who have more than enough to win the sweep.
Phil Kelly (Marown) and Matthew Quirk (Onchan) are the best local chances. I never back against Bailey and think he will make it through, although he doesn’t like starting with a handicap on the card so if his opponents can get a quick start he might have a lot of work on his hands.
With two men to progress from the final 32 in the draw it doesn’t get much easier, although our tipsters have all plumped for the same two men. Rich Goddard (Castlefields) is a strong favourite to make it through his 16, but Robby Fitzpatrick (Tixall BC) will not agree and will be going all out to stop him.
The standout name in the bottom 16 is Owen Jackson (St Bernards). I have not seen enough of Jackson myself to comment but the rumour mill from across the water is that he could be one of the favourites to go all the way.
Whatever happens, it will be a fantastic week of bowling and as always even though I have mentioned more names than I care to remember in the write-up, there will be some shock inclusions on finals day - it never goes the way you expect it to, but after all that’s bowls.
Predictions: Phil Kerruish’s tips
Wayne Ditchfield v Kevin Quirk, Terry Glover v Dave Jackson, Mike Leach v John Bailey, Rich Goddard v Owen Jackson
John Kennish’s tips
David Bradford v Kevin Quirk, Colin Kelly v Martin Gilpin, Glynn Hargraves v James Wilcox, Rich Goddard v Owen Jackson
David Bradford’s tips
Wayne Ditchfield v Kevin Quirk, Terry Glover v John Kennish, Glynn Hargraves v John Bailey, Rich Goddard v Owen Jackson