All the opinions below are my own. I have deliberately not sat on the fence and made a prediction about everything athough quite a few are marginal. Don’t take it as a personal slight against your club if I have picked against them.
PG Senior Cup
Dunbarton face Willowfield at Ulster Transport on Thursday 20th August. Dunbarton are in fine form after a shaky start to the season and will be the overwhelming favourites, having already beaten Willowfield home and away by over 20 shots both times. But it is the cup, a one off match and funny things happen in bowls.
IBA Senior Cup
Ballymena and Dunbarton have seen off the best teams in Irish bowls to reach the IBA Senior Cup final. Both have a recent history of winning trophies with Dunbarton lifting the Irish Cup in 2012 while Ballymena last tasted Irish Cup glory in 2010. The match will be at Old Bleach on Saturday 22 August and I’m sure both sides will bring plenty of support for what should be a cracking game. If I’m absolutely pushed for a prediction I slightly favour Dunbarton, but both sides seem to be in good form.
IBA Intermediate Cup
Ballywalter face Sydenham at Carrick in the Intermediate Cup final. After a 65 shot win in the semi-finals the Ballywalter boys go into this game on a high and, as long as they get to grips with the green, I think they will win what could be a close one.
Old Bleach – The front runners for so long. Recent losses to Ballymena and Dunbarton means they may need to win all their remaining matches to possibly claim the title. Matches away at Willowfield, home to Larne, away at Belmont and finally home to Pickie look tough.
Larne – I keep expecting Larne to fall away but a few big wins recently has them second in the table with a match in hand. That match is no gimme though with Dunbarton making the long trip on Tuesday 18th August. Before that crunch match they host Ballymena and afterwards face Old Bleach away, Ards at home and finally away at Willowfield. If they win them all, they win the title, though it’s possible that they lose one and still win.
Dunbarton – At the halfway stage I said they had a remote chance of winning the treble. That now looks a lot more achievable, though still exceptionally tough. Wins over Old Bleach and Belmont have propelled them up the table and into contention, but a run in of Larne then Pickie away, Ewarts and U Transport at home before a final day showdown at Ballymena means they will have to do it the hard way.
Belmont – Until they lost to Dunbarton they looked like they might be the main challengers to Old Bleach, but now I think they need other results to go their way. Home matches vs Pickie and U Transport before a visit to Ballymena (where they lost in the Irish Cup quarter-finals) could see them close on the heels of Old Bleach who come to Kincora on the penultimate Saturday before a short trip to Ards wraps up their season.
Ballymena – After a forgettable early season they still have an outside chance of winning the title, but they need some help elsewhere. A match in hand away at U Transport as well as an away trip to Larne before Belmont visit is tough enough. It doesn’t get any easier away at Pickie before a mouth-watering season closer at home to Dunbarton. They can’t afford any slip-ups.
Pickie – Sixth in the table doesn’t sound that impressive but Pickie are within 11 points of the top with a match in hand. It would take a hell of a finish for them to win the title but with matches against several of the main contenders they will certainly have a say in who does win the league. Belmont away, Dunbarton at home, U Transport away, Ballymena at home and finally Old Bleach at home.
Ulster Transport – The Jordanstown team should be safe at this stage with the only danger being losing all 5 matches and 2 teams below them winning 2 of their 4 matches.
Willowfield – The Cregagh crew have their survival in Division 1 in their own hands with a 5 point advantage with 4 games to go. A home match against Old Bleach before a massive match away at Ards, is followed by what could be a deciding match at Ewarts. If it comes down to it their last match is at home to Larne.
Ewarts – Still winless yet somehow still not relegated. Their run in has 2 must win home matches, firstly against Ards, then Willowfield at home after they travel to Gilford. Their last match is away at U Transport. Probably the kindest of the run ins of the 3 relegation candidates.
Ards – 4 matches to go and still a chance of staying up though Ards need to make up 7 points to escape the drop. They must beat Ewarts away first and Willowfield at home the following week as they may get very few points from Larne away and Belmont at home.
So what do I think will happen?
At the top I can conceivably see 3 teams around 86 points with it even coming down to shot difference. It really is too close to call. But I said I wouldn’t sit on the fence so I’m going to prove that I wrote this while drinking wine. I can probably make better cases for Old Bleach and Dunbarton but I just have a slight fancy for Larne.
At the bottom I think Ards go down. After that it could again come down to shot difference between Ewarts and Willowfield with Willowfield just staying up.
NICS – It’s in the Stormont team’s hands as they can’t be caught if they win their remaining matches. But it isn’t that simple. A crunch match at home to Ballywalter is first up with the reverse fixture ending in a draw. Then a tough trip to Forth River before Hilden at home for some revenge and finally a visit to Fruithill.
Falls – Still in contention but a match extra played will make it hard. A trip to Salisbury before hosting Mossley and NICS means they have a tough run in, but home advantage against rivals means the Falls men could get promoted if they finish unbeaten.
Ballywalter have benefited most from the withdrawal of Castleton and with a match in hand they can win the division if they win all their matches. They will do it the hard way though with trips to NICS and Mossley before the visit of Cliftonville, a trip to Comber and finally a home match against Salisbury.
Mossley – After a great start a couple of recent defeats at Comber and Forth River leaves the Mossley men in need of help elsewhere. They have Hilden and then Ballywalter at home before they visit Falls and finish their season a week before everyone else when hosting Salisbury.
Forth River are too far back to win the division and even promotion might be beyond their reach. They host NICS before travelling to Cliftonville and finishing at home to Comber.
Cliftonville – Similar to Forth River they will be playing division 2 bowls next year. They host Comber next before travelling to Ballywalter, then host Forth River and finish their season at Hilden.
Salisbury – After a strong early season, especially at home, they have fallen away. They host Falls before travelling to Comber, Mossley and finally Ballywalter.
Hilden – other than Ballywalter, Hilden have benefitted most from Castleton’ withdrawal as they were in a relegation battle until then. They face Mossley and NICS away before Cliftonville at home at the end.
Comber need a 3 wins out of 4 to stay up. They travel to Cliftonville first before hosting Salisbury and Ballywalter. Last match is at Forth River.
Relegation wise it is only 1 to go down and it will be Comber.
At the top I’ve obviously got a bit of interest, but I won’t shy away from it. I think NICS will win the division (that’s a nice motivational piece for everyone else!) Second place I think Ballywalter if they want it enough though Mossley could run them close.
Ballymena B are comfortably top with 4 games to go. A big home match against Shorts is next up then a trip to Knock before their last home match against bottom of the table Gallahers. They round off the season at Cavehill.
Shaftesbury occupy second as it stands but have played 2 more than Shorts. A tricky match away at Saintfield is followed by a must win match at home to N Belfast before a last day shoot out at Shorts potentially for promotion. Realistically they need to win all 3 to go up.
Shorts have a match in hand on everyone and are only 1.5pts off second. It looks likely that if they finish strongly they should go up, but they have tough matches. The match in hand is at N Belfast and then they have a trip to Ballymena before hosting Belmont. A tricky trip to Saintfield before a crunch match at home to Shaftesbury.
Belmont B have climbed the table in recent weeks but are too far back for promotion unless other results go their way, though they have a decent run in. They are home to PSNI, away at Shorts, home to Knock and finish at Gallaher
Cavehill will be playing in division 3 next year. They have Knock at home, Gallaher then N Belfast away before hosting the Ballymena party on the last day.
Saintfield showed promise in early season but have fallen back. They will be in division 3 next year with only their final position to be determined. Next up is the visit of Shaftesbury, then they travel to PSNI before Shorts come to Saintfield.
Knock have picked up some good wins recently to ensure they will be in division 3 next year. They are away at Cavehill next before Ballymena play the last competitive PG match at Knockdene. The last match is a short trip to Belmont.
PSNI have brought a few matches forward so only have 2 to go. They should be safe enough assuming they fulfil both fixtures. They are at Belmont then home to Saintfield
North Belfast are 3 points clear of relegation with same matches played. They have one key match and it is their next one when Gallaher visit. They have to go to Shorts in a re-arranged match. After that they travel to Shaftesbury and finally the travel to Cavehill.
Gallaher are in bottom slot as it stands but can escape if they beat N Belfast away next up. After that they will still need some points when they host Cavehill. Then they travel to Ballymena before welcoming Belmont for their last match.
Ballymena will win the division and I reckon Shorts go up with them. Relegation all depends on that one match and I’ll go with N Belfast based on home advantage.
Downpatrick – Even with 5 games to go it is hard to see Downpatrick not winning the division. They travel to Dunbarton then host Falls before making the trip to Willowfield and then Belfast. Somewhere along the way they play at Pickie in a rearranged match.
Pickie have put a bad start to the season behind them to surge up into second. A re-arranged match at home to Downpatrick then home to Malone, away at Ballymena before a big match at Old Bleach. They wrap up their season at home to Dunbarton.
Larne had been neck and neck with Downpatrick early in the season but a recent run of bad results means they need help to get promoted, if they want it! They visit Ballymena, host Old Bleach, visit Falls before Willowfield come to Larne in the last match.
Old Bleach have matches on hand on those above them so could make a late push for promotion. Their match in hand is home vs Belfast then they host Willowfield before travelling to Larne. Next up Belmont go to Neillsbrook then a trip to Pickie before a home match to Falls rounds off their season.
Willowfield, Dunbarton, Falls, Belmont and Ballymena are just jostling for position now with no real danger of promotion or relegation.
Malone are unlikely to escape relegation unless keep playing Falls who they have already beaten twice this season (sorry Pat!). They host Belmont next, then travel to Pickie, before hosting Dunbarton. They finish up at Ballymena
Belfast have yet to win a game. They travel to Falls next, then host Dunbarton, Downpatrick and finally Willowfield. Somewhere along the way they squeeze in a match at Old Bleach.
Downpatrick will win the division. Pickie are most likely to go up with them though Old Bleach could be ready to pounce.
Relegation wise Belfast are certainties and Malone are all but gone.
Ewarts B have climbed to the top and are in good form. Next up is a huge match at Ards. After that they host Comber, travel to Shaftesbury and end their season with the visit of Mossley.
Ards have it in their hands to win the division if they win all their matches. A potential decider is next up for them with the visit of Ewarts. After that is a tricky trip to Mossley before hosting A Foundry. Trips to Belmont and Hilden round off their season.
Mossley sit in third with a match in hand but a long way to go to get promoted. They have a match in hand at home to Hilden. Next up is a trip to Comber before they host Ards. Then trips to Cavehill and Ewarts before a home match at Shatfesbury.
The rest of the division are playing for final positions.
I think Ewarts win the title and Ards join them in division 4 next year