Northern Ireland gold medal winner Martin McHugh ‘can’t put it into words’

Northern Ireland claimed their second gold medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games when the men’s green fours beat India 18-5 at Leamington Spa.

Artin McHugh, Sam Barkley, Adam McKeown and Ian McClure were overwhelmed with emotion as the result was played out, all four hugging as they were greeted by the small but powerful Northern Irish crowd in the crowd.

It was Northern Ireland’s first gold on the green in 20 years, and only fourth on the green.

At Kuala Lumpur in 1998, Martin McHugh and Ian McClure were the youngest players on the team; now it’s the old wise men leading through 23 year old Sam Barkley and 22 year old Adam McKeown.

It had been a long, 20 year wait for McHugh and McClure, and when Danny Boy filled the Midlands air and the four of them hugged each other, it was obvious how much it all meant.

“I can’t put it into words,” said McHugh, who has competed in seven Games so far.

“This is an attempt to control your emotions, to control everything that happens. I’m just in awe of the three boys, it’s a dream.

“These Commonwealth Games were right there. I’ve knocked on the door several times already. This time I just believed; it was the one.”

The result quickly seemed certain at Victoria Park, with the quartet taking five shots in the first two ends to secure a team lead they never gave up on a team from India that shocked host England in the semi-finals.

The win was met with enthusiastic applause from the healthy crowd at Leamington Spa, and McClure applauded the team’s relationship with those watching.

“The support from home has been amazing and I think we’ve built a few fans here in Leamington,” said McClure, who is Northern Ireland’s most successful Commonwealth bowler of all time.

“With our energy and the way we play the game, the way we cheer each other on, we build great relationships with the crowd.

“That was evident today and we are very grateful to them for their support.”

Neither Barkley nor McKeown were born the last time Northern Ireland won gold in the bowls, and the 23-year-old Barkley welcomed the experience of his two senior teammates.

“This couple [McHugh and McClure] they are legends, that is the only way to describe them,” Barkley beamed.

“They are incredible and I can assure you they are not finished yet. There are still a lot of medals left in a couple of them.”

It was an almost unprecedented two golds for Northern Ireland as Gary Kelly played in the men’s singles final but the Ballymoney native lost to Australian Aaron “Disco Tech” Wilson 21-3.

Kelly, who lives in Australia, was never able to fully immerse himself in the game, scoring before the ninth, by which point the score was 12-1.

“I am extremely disappointed in myself,” Kelly said. : The performance was not good enough.

“But I’m not going to take anything away from Aaron Wilson, he was fantastic.

“He proved why he is a true champion, he deserves credit and I hope he enjoys the celebration.”

Kelly’s silver is Northern Ireland’s second on the green from Birmingham and the 33-year-old has dedicated it to those around him.

“I don’t see this medal for myself,” Kelly said. “Now I live in Australia, the management, the selectors have given me a lot of trust, faith and loyalty.

“To give me that opportunity, I just tried to repay them with this gold medal.

“This medal is not for me, but for my country, my sport and my family.”

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