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First class delivery from Shauna

Northern Ireland’s Shauna O’Neill is fast making a name for herself on the world bowls stage. She was the toast of the International Indoor Bowls Council (IIBC) and World Bowls Under 25 World Championships winning gold in the women’s singles and mixed pairs off the back of a bronze medal at the World Championships at the Gold Coast.
Ceris Hewlings spoke to the 23-year-old Post Office manager about her momentous achievements.

BI: Let’s start at the beginning. How and when did you start playing bowls?
SO: I started playing short mat when I was six-years-old. My dad, Ryan, was the junior coach and he only had 11 players for the team event when he needed 12 so I was volunteered by him to make up the numbers. I started outdoor in 2015. The Irish Under 25 manager Mandy Cunningham came to a short mat junior day to try and get some of the girls to start and I decided to go for it. I trialled for the team, got on and haven’t looked back since. I played my first full season of indoor in 2018/19
BI: Who else in your family plays bowls?
SO: My dad, sisters, Caitlin and Lilyanna, and both grandads, Harold O’Neill and Charlie McDevitt, play short mat and my mum, Karen, used to play both short mat and outdoor. Lilyanna has only started playing. She’s only nine-years-old, while Caitlin has been a member of the North West Zone junior and ladies teams who have won multiple Irish short mat team championships.
BI: What clubs do you play at?
SO: Limavady outdoor and Ballybrakes indoor.
BI: What bowls do you play with?
SO: Taylor Ace size one in purple – my favourite colour!
BI: How many times a week do you play?
SO: It varies, indoor two-four and outdoor around five.
BI: What are your international honours?
SO: Outdoor Under 25 international 2015 – present and senior international 2019-present.
Indoor Under 25 2019-present and captain since 2022 and senior team 2020-present
BI: And what are your achievements to date?
SO: 2019 Atlantic Rim bronze medallist, 2019 Irish Lady Bowler of the year , 2022 European silver medallist, 2022 double Under 25 world indoor bronze medallist in singles and mixed pairs, 2022 Commonwealth Games NI representative, 2023 World Bowls bronze medallist, two Irish Under 25 outdoor singles titles and two Irish Under 25 indoor singles titles, an Irish pairs and fours national champion indoor and four PTWBA titles and now two world Under 25 indoor gold medals.
BI: Do you have a bowls hero and if so, who and why?
SO: My daddy is my hero. He has achieved so much in short mat and is still going. He is representing Ireland at the short mat world bowls championships in March so I’m hoping he will be able to do the business with his team. I’m already so proud of him for getting that far with everything he’s been through with his health recently. He’s a massive inspiration to me.
BI: What’s your most favourite shot and why?
SO: The draw shot is my favourite. I love the challenge of trying to draw the shot when the opposition has given you very little room to do so.
BI: Has anyone ever given you any advice that when you’re on the green, you always think of?
SO: Advice I was given was that you can only control the controllables which I remind myself of if I find myself getting frustrated when there’s a fortunate result against me or if I’m in the area/hitting targets and getting no results. It helps me keep a level head.
BI: How does it feel to be a double Under 25 gold medallist?
SO: It’s unbelievable. I went into the event quietly confident as I put a lot of effort into the preparation for it, but I never imagined coming away undefeated with two golds. The support I have received during the event and since it has finished has been completely overwhelming and I’m still just trying to soak it all in. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of this without my pairs partner Ryan and the coaches that came over with us. They were absolutely brilliant from start to finish and I’m very grateful to them for the support they gave me all week.
BI: How did you enjoy playing in the event at East Kilbride?
SO: I rarely play sets and it’s a very different game to what I am used to, but I enjoyed the challenge of it. I was also able to catch up with friends that I hadn’t seen in a while and made some new friendships with great people which just topped off the whole experience.
BI: How did you celebrate winning the two gold medals when you returned home to Ireland?
SO: I had to travel home on the Friday after I had won the singles so Ryan and I celebrated with a J20 and a Krispy Kreme doughnut in the airport. I was back to the grind bowling the next day as well for my club in an inter-stadium match. I’ve been spoiled by family and friends with gifts, dinners and drinks to celebrate since I’ve been home. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by the best people.
BI: Do you have your gold medals on display?
SO: I live with my grandparents and yes they have the medals on display in the living room. They keep any of the trophies I win in our spare room so they have been added to that.
BI: 2023 was quite a year… how do you top that?
SO: 2023 still doesn’t feel real. Having lived in Australia for six months which was an absolute dream come true and winning pennant with my club, the Tweed Ospreys, was just unreal. Then having the opportunity to represent Ireland at my first World Championships and medalling, to now winning these two golds. It’s all just unbelievable and I’m so grateful for the opportunities I have had. It will take a lot to top it.
BI: Tell me about your time living and bowling in Australia?
SO: Living in Australia was one of the best experiences of my life. I was welcomed with open arms by Club Tweed and they all became my Australian family. I feel very privileged to have represented them at Pennant alongside some of the world’s best bowlers and to have won that with them was unreal. I have made friends for life and I can’t thank them enough for making my time in Australia as amazing as it was.
BI: And what about winning a bronze medal at the World Championships?
SO: Sophie McIntyre was lead, it was her first major at 19, I was in the middle and Chloe Wilson skipped it at 21. I also made the move with her out to Australia. It was amazing to finally be able to represent Ireland at the World Championships as I was originally selected for the 2020 team which was cancelled due to COVID-19. We had to go through the selection process again so I was delighted to have made the squad. The World Championships was an amazing one for team Ireland medalling in five events. I am always so proud to wear the Irish shirt and represent my country and to do it at the highest level really was an absolute honour.
BI: What are your aims for 2024 and ultimately your future in bowls?
SO: In 2024 I’m hoping to represent my club and country in as much as I can. For the future, I would love to have another go at a Commonwealth Games or World Championships and win gold. I think having narrowly lost out to an immense Australian team by one shot in the semi-final of the 2023 World Championships has definitely given me the extra drive and belief to push on further.
BI: What’s your advice for anyone talking up bowls?
SO: Practise as much as you can and surround yourself with teammates or people that make the whole experience a positive one for you.

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