Challenging times for New Zealand bowls couple

COMMITTED COUPLE: Shannon and Amy McIlroy, who both will be competing at Glasgow.
COMMITTED COUPLE: Shannon and Amy McIlroy, who both will be competing at Glasgow.

Shannon McIlroy's been a New Zealand bowls representative for the past decade but he's virtually had to reinvent his game in preparation for his second Commonwealth Games campaign.

The 27-year-old Nelson bowler was part of the New Zealand bowls team's unsuccessful bid in Delhi four years ago when they returned with just one medal. And while determined to make amends in Glasgow, he is realistic enough to recognise that adjusting to the slower greens has required a major overhaul.

"It's definitely something that's out of our comfort zone," McIlroy said.

"We've grown up here in New Zealand playing bowls on fast greens so anything that's outside of our speed range is a dramatic change. It's not a little change, it's almost like starting over again."

He knows that the team's stop-off in Wales prior to the Games, ahead of further warmup games against England in Glasgow, will be crucial to their acclimatisation process - both in terms of green speed and how their home nations opponents approach the game. He said the New Zealand players would be absorbing every bit of information.

"It's the way they play the game, the way they attack, the kind of weight they use, the kind of line they use - there's so many different variables that if you were to try and play that kind of game on our greens, you'll go nowhere," he said.

"You're making sure you're like a sponge. You open your mind up to anything new, just watch and learn how they play and try and remember a lot of the stuff that we learned from last time because it's going to help us.

"There's no way we can play our normal game from over here in New Zealand over there because we'll get absolutely smashed. We've got to adapt but we've put in a lot of hard yards."

He is heartened, however, by the men's triples' success against Australia in this year's trans-Tasman series, where McIlroy, Ali Forsyth and Tony Grantham reversed the trend of Aussie dominance.

"For four or five months basically since nationals we've all been all on slow greens getting ready for this. We've spent a lot of time preparing ourselves against Australia.

"From my perspective, the Australian trans-Tasman was a success for the men's side I think. Even though we lost, I think we can walk away thinking we gave it our best shot.

"Myself, Ali Forsyth and Tony Grantham, we won six out of nine games in a losing team. We won more games than any of their players won, yet they still won overall because of the way the format is."

Green speeds aside, Australia still produces some of the world's best bowlers and that, according to McIlroy, is the best gauge of their preparation.

"They are the world's best, so we actually get to match up and see where we're really at and if we can compete against those guys, I'm pretty confident that we can give any other nation a crack - even though we're going into foreign territory and the home nations are going to be hard to beat.

"But we play against the juggernauts of the sport every year, so there's no reason why we can't step up and beat these Poms and Scottish, Welsh and Irish. So I'm really looking forward to it."

McIlroy's obviously excited about Amy's selection and said that he plays "5 to 10 per cent" better whenever she's watching him.

"Now she gets an opportunity to do what I've done for the last 10 years."

The Nelson Mail