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Team NI name seven debutants in Commonwealth Games squad

The Northern Ireland side for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will feature a real mixture of youth and experience when they take to the greens later this year.

The women’s squad of Megan Devlin, Courtney Meneely (pictured), Shauna O’Neill, Ashleigh Rainey and Chloe Wilson will all be making their debuts, with Sam Barkley and Adam McKeown also new faces in the men’s line-up.

Marty McHugh will be representing his nation at a seventh Commonwealth Games, with Ian McClure also providing his experience in the squad as he competes at his sixth Games.

Gary Kelly is also included in the 10-strong squad for his third Commonwealth Games experience and will look to add to the bronze medal he secured in the men’s singles in Delhi in 2010.

High performance coach Neil Booth feels the squad is well equipped to add to the 20 medals that Northern Ireland have won in our sport at previous Games. 

“It is a really good foundation to have two players like Marty and Ian in a 10-player squad,” he said.

“We are going to lean on their experience a lot and certainly the girls will lean on the experience that they have and we’re hopeful that they can inspire the others to success.” 

McHugh and McClure combined with Booth at the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to secure the men’s fours title, alongside Gary McCloy.

“One of the things we wanted to do was change the age profile of the women’s team,” Booth added.

“The average age for the ladies in a lot of the top countries in the world is in their 20s. They just don’t pick young players for the sake of it, they have to be good enough, and these five have proved they are good enough over the last number of years.”

The squad announcement comes with just 150 days to go until the lawn bowls events for the Commonwealth Games takes place at Victoria Park, Royal Leamington Spa.

“We’re delighted to announce the squad and we’re delighted to get it out there and really start the preparation,” stated Booth. 

“We will have the best squad that has ever gone to the Commonwealth Games as far as strength and conditioning is concerned and physiological resilience.

“All sides of the game on and off the green will be as well prepared as we ever can be and after that it is down to a bit of luck and things going our way but I’d be very hopeful.” 

Booth believes that northern hemisphere sides do have an advantage with the Games taking place in England, however is under no illusions that countries such as Australia and New Zealand will have done everything to ensure they are as well-equipped as possible.

“There is a different split between northern and southern hemisphere in bowls,” he said.

“They play on a weed down in Australia and the bowls do act slightly differently and it is definitely an advantage for us having a home Games.

“The Australians and New Zealanders are professional outfits they will doctor their greens down there to suit northern hemisphere conditions to come fully prepared, so we are under no illusions that it is still going to be difficult but it is certainly a little bit more in our comfort zone.” 

The squad will have a number of events to ensure they are as ready as possible for the Games in July and August. A Tri Nations event which will include Australia and Scotland will take place in May, in addition to the European Championships and additional squad training sessions.

Full squad:

Singles: Shauna O’Neill 
Pairs: Megan Devlin and Shauna O’Neill 
Triples: Ashleigh Rainey, Courtney Meneely and Chloe Wilson 
Fours: Megan Devlin, Ashleigh Rainey, Courtney Meneely and Chloe Wilson 

Singles: Gary Kelly 
Pairs: Sam Barkley and Martin McHugh 
Triples: Adam McKeown, Gary Kelly and Ian McClure 
Fours: Sam Barkley, Adam McKeown, Ian McClure and Martin McHugh 

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