Bowls: Comeback king Houlahan wins national champs

Alexandra's Pat Houlahan may just be the king of comebacks.

The Central Otago bowler had to bounce back from being well behind in almost all of his singles games to earn the national club championships men's singles crown today on the Waverley Bowling Club greens in Invercargill.

Of course the final match against Waikato's Allan Stewart (Central Cambridge) was no different for the 54-year-old entrepreneur, who fought his way back from a 16-3 deficit to win 25-24.

A close game right to the end, the pressure increased when Gary Watson (Stoke, Nelson) was forced out of contention by Bruce Winterburn (Durie Hill), 25-19, in the Wanganui bowler's only victory at the event.

The loss gave Houlahan a shot at the title and he went for it with both hands.

Stewart held him off for much of the game, killing ends with explosive force and drawing superbly.

Then with both players tied on 24, Houlahan tucked the winning bowl into a meagre space near the jack and unleashed a torrent of cheers from his 20-strong entourage of supporters.

"I've always been a fighter and never wanted to give in to anything in life, really," Houlahan said.

"I had a difficult time at the start and lost my first match 25-8 to Bart Robertson [Helensville, North Harbour]. Most of my games I had to come back from behind, and I got used to it. So when I was 16-3 behind [Stewart], I didn't really panic. I just thought if I'm good enough, I'll make it. It's absolutely amazing, it's an unreal feeling this is. I can't stop smiling."

It is his 28th season on the bowling greens and the national title is the biggest thing he's ever won in the years since he was "conned" into picking up a bowl and rolling up in Alexandra.

In all those years he's also stayed true to the Alexandra Bowling Club, admitting that the club is "everything to me".

As a businessman in Alexandra, when the indoor complex was built he was asked to fill in for another entrepreneurial bowler that had pulled out.

"And that was the end of it. I was just fascinated by the game and the competitiveness. Bowls has been it for the last 28 years. I've devoted a lot of time to it and today is very special for me," he said.

"I've won some centre titles before, but nothing as big as this. I've always loved singles, but this is my first time in the singles at this event. I faced some pretty stiff competition in getting here, so I think it hardened me up a little bit to come here and keep fighting."

Fortunately for his large support contingent, including his proud 83-year-old mother, he never quit and kept smiling until the final end.

Now there's just one more tournament before the season draws to a close for Houlahan.

The Anzac tournament being hosted next weekend at his club will feature 60 fours teams from around the South Island, and he may just be crowned again if he can continue his talent for come backs.

The pairs competition at the national club championships will begin tomorrow, (monday) followed by triples on Wednesday and then fours on Friday. The final day of the event will be Saturday.

Results: Winner: Pat Houlahan (Alexandra, Central Otago)

Second: Allan Stewart (Central Cambridge, Waikato)

Third: Gary Watson (Stoke, Nelson)

Round 4: Pat Houlahan (Alexandra) bt. Bruce Ferrick (Taradale), 25-19; Bart Robertson (Helensville) bt. Bruce Winterburn (Durie Hill), 25-17; Gary Watson (Stoke) bt. Allan Stewart (Central Cambridge), 25-20.

Round 4: Pat Houlahan (Alexandra) bt. Allan Stewart (Central Cambridge), 25-24; Bruce Winterburn (Durie Hill) bt Gary Watson (Stoke), 25-19; Bart Robertson (Helensville) & Bruce Ferrick (Taradale) DID NOT PLAY.

- APNZ

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