PULLERS from Ballyhegan and Richhill grabbed gold and silver medals on Saturday at the United Kingdom Championships.
The sporting celebration – staged this year in Belfast – attracted leading competitors from across the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.
Honours were on show in the ‘closed’ 600-kilo and 680-kilo weight divisions, with each squad represented by two panels. The ‘open’ 560-kilo class also resulted in some memorable performances.
Ballyhegan finished with silver in the 600-kilo ‘closed’ class and a 560-kilo ‘open’ gold. Richhill had 680-kilo ‘closed’ silver as a reward for some superb ends.
Ballyhegan entered the UK finals having registered a clean sweep across the Northern Ireland weight sections.
However, the UK draw included Scotland – the current World champions – plus an England panel highly-rated within the sport.
Ballyhegan, on behalf of Northern Ireland, proved too strong for a Kilroe (England) squad considered one of the world’s leading clubs.
Sheen Farmers (England) edged out Ballyhegan in the group contest following a spirited tussle.
Ballyhegan produced a memorable display to come out on top over the World champions then booked a spot in the semi-finals after a gruelling test against County Fermanagh-based Country Club.
Semi-final glory arrived courtesy of straight-end success against the World champions but Sheen Farmers, once again, enjoyed the upper hand over Ballyhegan to lift the main prize.
Richhill – World champions in 2008 and 2010 across the 560-kilos division – arrived at the UK finals with a squad in transition and lacking top-class competitive experience.
However, an opening defeat of England’s Raunds provided a boost in confidence on the way to a top-three placing.
Richhill gained revenge for a group defeat by Scotland to move into the final across two straight ends.
England’s select side finished out in front during the main event but Richhill returned home with silver medals as a sign of the squad’s potential and determination.
Gold was recorded by Ballyhegan in the 560-kilos ‘open’ class from a six-strong field.
Ballyhegan and Country Club proved dominant against the visiting sides before sharing the spoils in a 1-1 draw. This result forced officials to turn to the International Board rulebook to settle the overall outcome – with Ballyhegan gaining gold.
“Overall the championships were a huge success,” said Cathal McKeever, the Tug of War International Federation president. “They proved a great success, in particular, for the three Northern Ireland clubs.
“Having represented the country to silver medals at both 600-kilos and 680-kilos in the ‘closed’ competition, Ballyhegan and Richhill can look back with satisfaction and pride on a job well done.”