The 2016 bowling season gets under way on Saturday as Dunbarton return to the scene of one of the most memorable days in the club’s history.
They take on Old Bleach at Randalstown, where, on a sunny evening last August, the Gilford men came away with the most prestigious prize in Irish Bowls.
They defeated Ballymena in the Irish Cup Final, despite being 23 shots adrift at the three quarter mark, running out winners by four shots.
This year’s opening day fixture of the NIPGL Senior Division One sees a repeat of last season’s opening game. On that occasion, Dunbarton lost the game by 12 shots, but came away with three points, thanks to rink wins by DJ Wilson, Myles Greenfield and Marty Trainor.
That was one of only four defeats throughout the season, as the team won the NIPGL and IBA Senior Cups, the Alwood Shield and finished runners-up in the league to eventual winners Belmont on the final game of the season.
Another tough game awaits on Saturday, with Old Bleach very much a team on the up.
They have recruited Irish International Neil Mulholland from Lisnagarvey. If the Dunbarton team that finished so strongly in the second half of last season turns up, the majority of the points should make their way back to Gilford come Saturday evening.
On the individual stage in 2015, the club’s first ever British Isles title was finally delivered, with Michael Higgins, Tony Bell and Andy Hughes’ names going into the history books.
Peter Convery also brought the NIPGL Senior Singles trophy back to Dunbarton for the first time since 2003 and narrowly lost to Marty McHugh of Whitehead in the final of the IBA Senior Singles.
So what does the 2016 season have in store for the successful Gilford club?
Dunbarton have spent the close season strengthening an already impressive squad. Quality has been brought into the panel and there will be a competition for places throughout every position.
Former Irish International and multi title winner Alan Paul joins the club from Ballymoney.
Alan has 12 Senior International Caps and will be a welcome addition to the team.
Sean and Kieran Trainor have joined from Portadown which is also a major boost to the squad. Sean comes back for his second spell at Dunbarton and the moves see all four Trainor brothers playing in Gilford, with Chris and Martin already influential members of the team.
The talent doesn’t just stop at the A team, with young B team members Oran Breen, Matthew Adamson and the newly joined Brian Prunty all challenging for A team bowls in the not too distant future.
The opening weeks of fixtures have not been kind to the Gilford men, with a number of tough games to start the season.
After a visit to Randalstown, last season’s third placed team, Larne visit Gilford before Dunbarton travel to Belfast to face league champions Belmont.
There are no easy games in PGL Senior Division One, with each team capable of beating each other on their day.
In the Irish Senior Cup, an away trip to Dublin side Bray is no easy task and could be followed up by an away fixture to Ballymena in round two; a repeat of last year’s final.
Dunbarton have set the benchmark over the last number of years and teams always raise their game when playing them.
With the players at their disposal this year though, they should once again be a major contender when the silverware is handed out in September.