Commonwealth Games: NI's McHugh targets golden repeat in Australia

By Alvin McCaigBBC Sport NI
Martin McHugh
Martin McHugh will skip the Northern Ireland triples and fours team in Australia
2018 Commonwealth Games
Venue: Gold Coast, Australia Dates: 4-15 April
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, Red Button, Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and app; listen on Radio 5 live and follow text updates online.

Twenty years is a mighty long gap between Commonwealth Games gold medals but Martin McHugh is gunning for a second triumph when the action starts this week.

The 44-year-old from Whitehead was part of the fours bowls team which captured one of Northern Ireland's two golds in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

He boasts a glittering CV including 16 Irish titles, two world bronze medals and four British Isles successes.

They have been hard won and savoured but nothing has come close to that feeling of clinching Commonwealth glory.

"Winning a gold medal in '98 was unreal and we were the first team to go the whole tournament undefeated," said McHugh.

"It's definitely the highlight of my career, standing on the podium with the national anthem playing was a very special and proud moment for me."

Commonwealth Games: McHugh's first taste of gold in 1998

"I've had an amazing career in bowls and to be representing Northern Ireland for the sixth time in the Commonwealth Games is such an honour.

"The opening ceremony is always like my very first - it's such an amazing feeling walking out into the crowd; I feel excited, nervous and extremely proud of what I have achieved."

Football was his youthful passion but that all changed one day on the way home from school, when a friend asked him to have a go at bowls at the Whitehead club.

McHugh got the bowls bug and soon he was going down after school to hone his art - a leisurely flow of the arm, soft release and serene passage to a little white ball.

It's a game often stereotyped as attracting an older generation yet McHugh was just 25 when he struck gold in Malaysia.

Dress code

"Yes, it still can be classed as an old man's game. When I first started playing bowls the dress code was all white clothes and black or brown bowls," he added.

"Nowadays there are coloured shirts and different coloured bowls which I feel has attracted the younger generation to the game.

"To be honest, bowls has moved on since I first started playing Commonwealth Games and World Championships bowls.

"I think fitness plays a big part in winning. Bowls is a challenging game both physically and mentally and it needs a lot of concentration.

"In the bigger tournaments you can be playing two or three games in a day, which can last up to four hours each, and you are trying to play at the highest quality against the world's best."

McHugh will compete on the Northern Ireland triples and fours teams and in both he is skip - effectively the team captain with the responsibility of playing the often decisive final shot.

Simon Martin and Andrew Kyle join McHugh in the triples and it's the same three plus Ian McClure, part of the gold medal winning team in 1998, in the fours.

Commonwealth Games: Winning gold in Australia the pinnacle - McHugh

McHugh will start his bid for a second gold on Thursday with a triples encounter against Malaysia with the Norfolk Islands, the Cook Islands and Scotland also in their group.

Northern Ireland are also in a five-team group in the fours with the top two going through to the quarter-finals, where knock-out bowls begins.

"In recent Commonwealth Games you only had one chance at winning a medal so it's great that I have opportunity to play in two teams and have two goes at a gold medal," added McHugh.

"We got a tough opener against Malaysia and we know we have to be at our best to get in medal contention."

"I always enjoy the pressure of being skip as I feel it brings out the best in me and to win a second gold would be amazing."