West Cork’s Queen of the road

Posted on: 3rd April, 2018

Category: Sport & Fitness

Contributor: West Cork People

Timoleague road bowler Hannah Sexton was recently recognised for her road bowling prowess when she was awarded the Female Bowler of the Year for 2017. She was presented with her prestigious award by former Sports Minister Bernard Allen at a Bol Chumann na hEireann awards night. The Timoleague teenager has enjoyed a prestigious bowling career despite her relative youth, winning successive All-Ireland U16 titles and titles in every bowling grade outright at U12 and U14 level over the last five years. John Bohane catches up with the Timoleague native, who is thrilled with her sporting achievements.

The modest bowling star is still coming to terms with her stunning individual triumph at the annual Bol Chumann na hEireann awards night. Hannah was thrilled to win the Female Bowler of the Year award, fitting recognition given her successful season. “It was an unbelievable honour to win the Female Bowler of the Year award and to be recognised at such a young age for all the work I’ve put into my bowling career. It was a massive surprise since I’ve only been bowling for such a short time.”

Hannah was joined on the night at the prestigious awards ceremony by her proud family who have been great supporters throughout her sporting odyssey. The talented Timoleague teenager is thrilled to repay her supportive family with glory and honour. “Being presented with the Female Bowler of the Year award was an extremely proud and memorable moment for myself personally and my family especially my father, who was by far the proudest man in the country when I won my All-Ireland title in Armagh and again being presented with the award he was absolutely thrilled. It was such a great honour being presented with the award since it is usually presented to Senior grade bowlers. I’ve always had great support through the years bowling from my family and also from Timoleague Bowling Club and the South West Division. Having great support is a major factor when it comes to the big scores. Also having the support of Bol Chumann behind me is a great help, as they allow me to continue playing both camogie at county level and continue my bowling career.”

Hannah is currently attending Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty where she is currently preparing for her Junior Certificate exams in June. She also excels at camogie, representing her school, club and county teams with great distinction. The bowling ace only took up bowling at the age of ten. Five years later, she is a back-to-back All-Ireland champion. Hannah recalls her progression into bowling, camogie and hockey with great enthusiasm. “My sister Katie and I both got to the Munster final in that year in both the U12 and U14 grades, but we both lost out on the day. I am currently involved with the school’s junior and senior camogie teams, the junior and minor hockey teams and I’ve been involved in the secondary school team bowling competition team over the past few years. I also play camogie for Kilbrittain-Timoleague camogie club and the Cork A camogie team.”

Hannah’s family are very keen bowling enthusiasts and share a great love of the popular road sport. Her earliest memory is practicing with her father at a score in Shannonvale. “He put a bowl in my hand and told me to throw a practice score. I was shown that day by the great Gretta Cormican and my father how to hold a bowl and that’s how I started. Bowling has always been a great love in my family on both of my parents sides. The Sexton side of the family have always had a great interest in the sport, with my father and grandfather both following it from a young age. My grandparent’s house is built on the old Timoleague bowling road and they regularly go to all the scores around. My mother’s side of the family share the interest also and the family joke is my mother claims we get our bowling genes from her Barry side of the family and that we are related to the great Mick Barry, the famous bowler. My mother is also related to the Lappin’s from Armagh, who have numerous All-Ireland bowling titles between them.”

Given her family’s love of bowling, it was no surprise that Hannah quickly grew to love the sport she has come to dominate. “Bowling is such a unique sport and one of Ireland’s oldest sports. It can be tough at times on wet and windy days on tough surfaces, but when I win a score or a final it makes it all worthwhile. What I enjoy the most about the sport is that no matter where you go bowling, someone knows you or will have heard about you bowling and they wish you the best in the year to come. It’s a social sport for both the young and old and it provides great support for everyone in all grades. Bol Chumann are great for getting everyone involved in the sport. My earliest role model from a bowling perspective is Gretta Cormican. Gretta has done tremendous work for women’s bowling and has won numerous All-Ireland titles. She has been a big help in my bowling career and is an inspiration to all young women bowlers. I have received great training and advice down through the years from everyone in the bowling society. My Dad, my sister Katie, Gretta Cormican, Ted Hegarty, Richie Lawton and Denis Collins have all been involved in training me and making me into the bowler I am. They have organised scores for practice and have kept me very level headed down through the years which is one of the keys to my success. Another great source of advice for me is Tim ‘The Sweet Man’. He always gives great advice and always has sweets on hand whether you win or lose.”

Hannah thrives on winning on the biggest stage of them all. She possess all the key ingredients required to be an All-Ireland champion, such as a great temperment and steely focus. “Characteristics which I consider very important include confidence and the ability to be a good listener. It is vital to listen to your road showers, but also to block out everyone else on the road. It is vital to have complete focus and concentration to learn to focus on the sop and to block out all distractions and to focus on the gap between your road showers legs to throw the bowl through. It is an unbelievable feeling to win or be involved in big championships because you know that you’ve done all the work yourself. The difference between bowling and camogie is that with camogie it is a team effort and you play for each other, but with bowling it is all on you if you lose or win. Winning big championships is an unbelievable feeling, because you are representing your family and community on those big days.”

Winning the All-Ireland championship title last year in the Orchard County remains the highlight of her remarkable sporting journey thus far. Hannah combined inter-county camogie commitments with bowling success that same weekend. “The highlight of my career to date was winning the U16 All-Ireland title in Armagh. What was special about this win was I had to play an All-Ireland U16 A camogie quarter-final for Cork against Tipperary two days before my All-Ireland. I think what was special about the win is that I was in another county representing Cork and also having great support from everyone contributed to the win.”

Due to her sporting prowess in both camogie and bowling, the West Cork sports star has to juggle her training schedule and competitions with great aplomb in order to ensure she continues to excel in both sports. “During the championship season I would practice 15 shots everyday irrespective of the weather. I am looking forward to the season ahead. I am hoping I can complete the ‘three-in-a-row’ which has never been achieved before in U16 ladies bowling and also to have a go at U18 level this year. During the summer months I usually have a pretty hectic training schedule being torn between camogie with my mother and bowling with my father. For Cork camogie I would train Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is usually either a match or training on a Sunday. For club camogie, I would train with the U16 and minor teams on Wednesday and Friday or else a match would be organised. I try and fit bowling in every day, throwing 15 shots up our lane or else practicing on Timoleague Bowling Road. There is definitely always hurleys and bowls in the car wherever we go during the summer and it is always non-stop.”

Hannah thrives on being busy and competitive. She loves playing camogie and hockey with the various club and county teams. “I also play camogie with Kilbrittain/Timoleague camogie club and Clonakilty hockey club. I have played on the Cork camogie team since U13. I’m now on the U16 A camogie team and I’m currently vice-captain of the team. I won an U16 Munster camogie medal in 2017, while we also won the 2018 Munster final against Limerick recently. In 2016 I won two All-Ireland medals in both camogie and bowling. I won an All-Ireland medal with my school Sacred Heart Clonakilty in the Junior Camogie 7’s. I have won numerous West Cork medals from playing with my club Kilbrittain/Timoleague and I was presented with the 2017 Camogie Player of the Year award last week. I have two county medals with my school Sacred Heart Clonakilty in junior and senior grades. I was captain of the first year camogie team with Sacred Heart Clonakilty that won the First Year A Camogie Blitz in 2016. We were runners-up in the Senior B camogie Munster Final this year against St Urseline’s of Waterford. I’ve had success with Sacred Heart’s hockey team also winning the South Munster Minor League in 2017. I am also a member of the school’s junior and senior B hockey team and the junior and senior camogie teams.”

Bowling in West Cork continues to grow. It is thriving at underage level especially amongst females, a fact which greatly pleases Hannah. “Bowling is definitely getting more popular among ladies in West Cork and there has been a lot of work done to promote bowling among young people. Ted Hegarty has gone around the primary schools in West Cork promoting the sport. There is also the Phale Road tournament organised every weekend during the winter by Ted to keep young people interested and to keep ladies bowling all year round. Secondary schools now get involved in the annual schools bowling tournament which allows girls and boys from schools all over West Cork to take part in the sport. I would definitely encourage girls to pursue bowling, because it’s completely different to sports such as camogie or football. In those sports, you are involved with a team and you have everyone to carry you, but with bowling you are by yourself throwing your score and its up to yourself to practice.”

The ambitious and determined sporting prodigy has very specific short-term and long-term goals she wants to accomplish in bowling in the future. “A short-term goal from a bowling perspective for this year would to win the U16 ladies All-Ireland final for the third successive year. This feat has never been achieved. A long-term goal would to represent Ireland in the European Championships and hopefully be placed in the top three positions. Another long-term goal would to bowl at senior women’s level and also raise awareness about women’s bowling in West Cork.”

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