The Tennents Coleraine Pool League Festival of Pool will start this Monday (12th March) in the Sperrin Club.
As previously reported, the well documented problems have forced the league to relocate the festival from his previous venue, the Lodge Hotel, which held the festival for roughly 20 years. However, the league will be determined to make the Sperrin’s first chance at hosting this prestigious event as successful as possible.
With the new venue, comes a number of new changes this year. The Clement Dealey Photography knockout cup and plate competitions will have a new one frame format, which has been used in this season’s Top and Bottom events. The Bull’s Eye 3 person team event will also see a slightly extended format with a ‘twist’.
The Coleraine Time’s Captain’s Cup has been amalgamated so there will be one winner crowned, but a handicap system will be in place. Due to an unfortunate reduction in numbers in recent years, the under 18 and under 21 competitions have been scrapped, with a new under 23 open singles being introduced. However, the numbers entering the seniors competition in recent years has increased markedly. Due to this, the minimum age has been raised from 40 to 45 in an attempt to control the numbers. Here, we take a quick look at the competitions and the names to look out for.
147 Club Individuals
The blue riband event and the one they all want to win, who will be crowned Coleraine champion this year. If we start with last year’s champion Lee Hull who won his first title in a tight final against Raymond Baxter. Hull has been in reasonable good form in the league this year, he is player with a great natural talent, capable of beating anyone on his day and will be keen to retain his title.
Forge A teammate and twice beaten finalist Baxter will be looking to go a step forward and has had a very good season in terms of league results, however, he will be hoping he hasn’t peaked too early this year. Many people’s favourite will be Tommy Morrow from the Sperrin A. Morrow recently had a run to the semi final of the European Championships in Dublin, narrowly missing out on a place in the final.
This proves that he has the game to perform at the very highest level of the sport. It is widely accepted that if the Dervock man is on top form, he will be very hard to stop. Alongside him at the Sperrin is Lee Caulfield, the 2010 champion, although Caulfield’s league form has been patchy this year, he is a quality player of he hits form. Another leading candidate of a win for the host club would be Billy Moore, his tactical approach is enough to grind the greatest of players into submission, he has produced some excellent performances under pressure in the league this year, and will be hoping to replicate these.
Returning to the Forge, their captain Willie Eakin is a past champion and reached the semis once again last year, he is capable but has not enjoyed his best season. Young Marc Hutchinson is another player with plenty of talent, proving this by qualifying for the Northenr Ireland A team once again this year. However, Marc has not showed his tru form in the singles as of yet, and will be hoping to do so this year.
Looking outside the top top in the league, the Bullseye A look the obvious choice for alternatives. Davy Tosh has won the title more times than anyone, he has had a short spell out of the game, but with his immense ability is always a contender. When the Bullseye were struggling for a team earlier in the season, they brought in Gary Wallace to ‘make up the numbers’. However, Wallace has turned into a solid and reliable performer and would almost be the first name on their team sheet these days. Wallace’s league form alone means he deserves a mention.
Another top division player with a great record this year is Allen Tosh, who alongside Paul O’Connor has kept the Social Club’s season going, both will be hoping for a good run. In the second division, there are a few players who may be capable of a decent run. The likes of Lee McIlreavy, Scott McClelland, Timmy Close and Adam Watt are all good players in their own right, but whether they, or their colleagues, can get to the latter stages remains to be seen.
Since the Scotch Doubles format has been introduced, this event has become much more competitive. Not all pairings have been announced but there are a few strong ones that have been. Raymond Stockman has a good record in doubles events over the years, and some might say this is down to his knack of finding a good partner. Well, this year is no different, as he has secured the services of Tommy Morrow and they will start as many people’s favourites.
Lee Caulfield will team up with Davy Tosh this year, and the last time they teamed together they won the Northern Ireland doubles, so they have the form in the book. Marc Hutchinson has done well in the doubles in recent years, teaming up with Lee Hull this year. These two Northern Ireland A internationals may not be far away. Their Forge A team mates Raymond Baxter and Willie Eakin had a good run to the quarter finals last year but felt they should have gone further. An interesting combination sees Billy & Jimmy Moore team up, it should be exciting to see what happens when Billy wants to block the pockets and Jimmy wants to smash them open. A pairing which always proves hard to beat in the doubles is Damien Reid and Adrian O’Kane from the Bull’s Eye.
These two know each other’s games very well and seem to complement each other in this format. Others to look out for would include Allen Tosh & Gary Wallace, as mentioned they are two players with very good league records this year. Scott McClelland and Adam Watt may be the pick of the Second Division pairings.
The Bull’s Eye 3 person team
With the one frame format this competition is run with, it always throws up some surprise, no more so than last year when John McIlreavy, Wayne Telford and Darryl Watt joined up at the very last minute but went on to win the competition in amazing style. However, we still have to look at the trios from the bigger teams to start with.
Sperrin A will be represented by Tommy Morrow, Lee Caulfield and Billy Moore. A very strong team who will be confident of taking the crown. Looking to stop them from the Forge A will be Raymond Baxter, Willie Eakin and Marc Hutchinson, although the Forge A also hold another entry with Neville Smyth, Lee Hull and Corey Sweeney.
Both of these teams will be looking to outlast the other. A team who enjoyed a very good run to the semi finals last year were Keith Hunter, Kenny Watton and Chris McColgan from the second division’s Bullseye B. This trio should have taken great confidence from last year’s performance and will fear no one as a result. Not all the teams have yet revealed their hands, so there may still be a surprise in store this year again.
Clement Dealey Photography Knockout Cup
On paper, it would look like this would be a straight fight between the Sperrin A & Forge A. However, it is a cup competition and anything can happen on the night. Not only that, but since Christmas the Bullseye A have been as good as anyone in the league, and they will be hoping to cap off their season on a high. Division 2 runaway champions Railway Arms will hope to show that they can mix it with the big boys if they get the chance.
Coleraine Times Captains Cup
This year’s new format makes this a tough one to call. With the First division captains having to give a head start to the Second division captains, it is hard to tell how this will play out. Will the Second Division captains be able to get an early breakthrough and put the pressure on their First division counterparts by taking a more substantial lead.
Raymond Baxter from the Forge A took last years Division 1 title and will be hoping to secure the trophy this year again. He beat Raymond Stockman in that final last year and Stockman will be out for revenge if he gets the chance. However, the Bullseye A’s Damien Reid can not be discounted. With the handicap in play, the Division 2 captains should fancy their chances Stephen Warwick and Hubert Smyth from the Bullseye are dangerous opponents as is Arthur McMullan from the Railway Arms.
Open competitions – Seniors (over 45s) & Under 23s
In effect, both of these competitions are brand new and they are open to everyone who qualifies. All other competitions at the Festival are open to registered league players only. The seniors will see the likes of Raymond Stockman and Paul O’Connor start among the favourites. However, the increase in the lower age limit may give the likes of Hubert Smyth, Derek Allum, Chris Baxter and Arthur McMullan some added hope of having a good run this year.
The under 23s will see a number of high quality entrants, arguably the standout name being Marc Hutchinson. However, there will be a number of players who will fancy lifting this new trophy including last year’s under 21 champion Chris Wade. Corey Sweeney and Lee McIlreavy are another couple of young lads who have had success at the festival before, so they know what it takes.
Both of these competitions are being held on Thursday 15 March and are open to everyone who qualifies. It would be great to see some new faces (or some old ones) come along and enjoy the night. Entries taken up until 7.30pm on the night.