Glasgow 2014: Lothians stars lead bowls charge

Mens team: Alex Marshall, Neil Speirs, Darren Burnett, David Peacock and Paul Foster, Below, women's team: Lauren Baillie, Margaret Letham, Caroline Brown, Claire Johnston and Lorraine Malloy

Mens team: Alex Marshall, Neil Speirs, Darren Burnett, David Peacock and Paul Foster, Below, women's team: Lauren Baillie, Margaret Letham, Caroline Brown, Claire Johnston and Lorraine Malloy

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“I FIRMLY believe the ten players we have selected will give us our best opportunity to win medals in Glasgow. This is our best prepared bowls team.”

The words of David Gourlay, the Bowls Scotland coach charged with the challenge of selecting and preparing the cream of the nation’s lawn bowlers for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Expectations are high that Scotland’s male bowlers in particular will deliver medals as has been the norm since the British Empire Games dating back to 1930.

Past results, of course, are no guarantee of success and that was certainly the case at Delhi in 2010 when under the new stewardship of Bowls Scotland/
sportscotland, the return was zero from both men and women.

It had happened before, as in Sydney (1938), Cardiff (1958), and Kuala Lumpar (1998), although the women saved face there with gold in the pairs for Margaret Letham and Joyce Lindores.

Pre-Games confidence in the male contingent for Glasgow is high as the five-man team, in the shape of Darren Burnett (singles), David Peacock, Neil Speirs, Paul Foster, and Alex Marshall (fours), are all players of proven and well-tested ability.

All five have celebrated gold medal experiences at World Championship level having honed their skills and developed strong competitive mentalities with title winning careers at club, county and international levels.

Foster and Marshall also team up in the pairs while Peacock, Speirs and Burnett form the triple giving all five a double chance of achieving medal glory in front of a home support at the scenic and specially prepared Kelvingrove Park Lawn Bowls Centre.

All five are popular choices but, if there is one area of doubt within the bowls fraternity, it is that David Gourlay has invested his trust in the big names, albeit their achievements on the national scene are a bit dated.

There is certainly puzzlement – led by Lanarkshire – that reigning national singles champion Iain McLean of Blackwood Victoria failed to gain a place as he is a regular achiever under both codes of the sport.

Players from Edinburgh and the Lothians have made major contribution to Scotland’s medal success down the years and the presence of Marshall (Gifford but formerly of Gorgie Mills), Peacock (Danderhall) and Speirs (Kirkliston) keeps that tradition going.

Marshall enters his fifth Games and, having skipped George Sneddon (Broxburn) to Pairs gold at Manchester (2002) and successfully defended with Paul Foster (Troon Portland) at Melbourne (2006), goes for a third with Foster his partner once again.

‘Tattie’ admitted: “I’ve competed on nearly every continent, but winning a worldwide competition in your own back yard is what you dream of, so gold here in Glasgow would top anything I’ve ever won before.”

Peacock has won Triples gold in the World Championships of 2004, 2008 and 2012 while Speirs hit the headlines as World Cup Singles champion in 2006.

Burnett (Lochlands Arbroath) was crowned World Champion of Champions in 2006 and a Triples Champion in 2012 and has won the national singles title on three occasions, namely 1999, 2002, and 2005.

Informed opinion suggests that the section draw has been particularly kind to Scotland raising the expectations further that the lawn bowlers will deliver on their strong medal promise.

Home environment and intense practice sessions on the greens of Kelvingrove could inspire the bowlers to reach great heights and this is the hope for the female contingent who are not known as being dominant figures on the world stage.

Letham of Burnbank Hamilton does come into these Games with vast experience having been an ever-present internationalist since 1990 and won gold with Lindores in the Kuala Lumpur games of 1998.

Letham is joined in the Scotland team of five ladies by Caroline Brown (Bellshill & Mossend), Claire Johnston (Auchinleck), Lauren Baillie (Cockenzie & Port Seton), and Lorraine Malloy of Deans, West Lothian.

Brown is the spearhead figure in the singles – she won the national title in 2010 – and also skips Malloy – national singles champion in 2007 and 2009 – in the pairs.

Letham skips Johnston and Baillie in the triples and is also at the helm for Johnston, Malloy and Baillie in the fours.

One area of controversy is the absence of world stage star Lorna Smith of Linlithgow with the multi-titled national champion of South African background being ruled out after – it seems – not being considered a ‘team player’.

Malloy, though, has summed up the mood of the Scotland camp, saying: “We play very well together and I would say it’s the best prepared team I have been involved with.

“There is a great team spirit and we approach the Games believing that we are real medal contenders.”