As part of the Irish Curling Association’s four-year campaign to qualify for the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, Ireland’s men’s team won bronze yesterday at the European C Division Championships in Denmark, missing out on promotion to the B Division by just one shot.
The team – John Wilson, Andrew Gilmore, Craig Whyte, John Furey and alternate Eoin McCrossan – took Belarus to an extra end in the play-off for the last promotion place but went down 6-5 after Belarus took one shot in the 11th end.
Eight European teams played out a round-robin over the five days of competition and, after finishing on a four-win, three-loss record, Ireland, coached by Martin Sutherland, found themselves in third position behind Denmark and Belarus, thanks to their superior score in the pre-game draw shot challenge.
On Monday morning they beat the fourth placed team Bulgaria 12-4 to guarantee them at least the bronze medal. In the afternoon they were back on the ice in the Tarnby Ice Centre playing for silver against the loser of the 1 v 2 gold game between Denmark and Belarus – Belarus.
The stakes were high as the Irish and the Belarusians battled hard over 11 ends for both the silver medal and the second promotion spot to the European B Division Curling Championships in Estonia in November 2018.
A very tense game started off with a blank end. The teams then swapped the hammer over the next five ends but Belarus managed two shots each time whilst Ireland found only singles. A blank in the eighth end followed by a one in the ninth left the Irish lads looking to steal a two in the tenth, which they dramatically did to tie the scores at 5-5, forcing the match into an extra end decider.
Unfortunately, after a three-hour tussle, Ireland were not able to prevent the Belarusian skip, Pavel Petrov, taking out the Irish shot stone, with the last stone of the game, to take the silver and the promotion berth.
Irish team spokesperson John Furey said afterwards: “Once again the Irish men’s curling team have failed to secure either the gold or silver medal and qualification to the European B group. Again, we were left with the bronze medal.
“The week began fairly slowly with two losses to Belarus and Belgium. A large part of this can be put down to our new back end of John Wilson and Andrew Gilmore as this was their first time together at a European level competition. Thereafter the team played very solidly working their way up from the bottom of the group after day one to third at the end of the group stage.
“There were a number of positives throughout the week:
– The way the team pulled together after the first two losses
– The draw shot challenge of ~31.35 cm which was the best across all teams and comparable to the type of values posted by teams in the world championship. This included a LSD of 7mm. Additionally, three of the top five last stone draws were by the Irish team.
– We scored the biggest end of the week a 6 against Andorra while the max we conceded was a 3.
“On the final day we had two games to play. The first was against Bulgaria and we beat them fairly easily with our best and most consistent play.
“The second game, against Belarus, was the silver/ bronze decider. In retrospect, the team believes we played the wrong tactics, engaging in a hitting game and going behind at the half time mark. At this juncture we changed to a more nuanced game of curling with many more stones in play and immediately saw benefits, unfortunately we ran out of ends, though we did force the Belarus skip to throw a tricky hit of a half-hidden stone for his last.”
This is the Irish men’s team fourth bronze medal in five years in the European C Division. The ultimate goal is promotion first to the B Division and then up to the elite A Division where a top seven ranking qualified Ireland for the Olympic Games.
The team, who range in ages from 19 to 50 are completely self-funded and hold down full-time jobs while pursuing their dream of becoming Olympians.