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Gary Lawson And Tony Grantham Lose National Pairs Final To Andrew Kelly And Seamus Curtin

Despite being one of the country’s best players, Andrew Kelly didn’t have high expectations ahead of the 2022 Summerset National men’s pairs tournament.
The Blackjack has a strong record at national level but arrived at the Christchurch event without any grand ambitions. 
There were good reasons.
Not only was he wary of putting too much pressure on his new partnership with Seamus Curtin, but Kelly was also coming into the event on the back of little play. 
“In the grand scheme of things it was probably one of the poorest preparations I’ve had for a nationals in some time,” admitted Kelly. “My partner and I welcomed our second child into the world on the 21st of November and life was pretty hectic either side of that.”
The arrival of Brooks, a brother to 23-month-old Gemma, meant bowls rightly took a back seat. 
Kelly had one club game in early November and an interclub match in mid-December, along with the “odd, scattered day” of training, but nothing like his usual schedule. 
“I wasn’t too worried about results,” said Kelly. “I didn’t want us to have unrealistic pressure, given the lack of preparation. It was more about ensuring that we were doing everything to foster our relationship, being the first time we played together.”
“I just wanted to be a good mentor, help Seamus to get something out of the experience and pass on as much wisdom as I could. Obviously you always want to go well but expectation wise, it wasn’t too much.”
Curtin had first contacted Kelly last April about linking up at the nationals and both agreed it could be a good move.
“We might be teaming up with other stuff,” said Kelly. “Obviously that's going to help that relationship moving forward, so it was a win win situation.”
Their first two qualifying games were relatively straightforward, but that’s where the comfort stopped. 
“The next three qualifying games and all of the post section matches were extremely close and tough,” said Kelly. 
In the round of 64 they edged past Kerry Becks and Darren Redway 16-15, then beat Lance Pascoe and Jamie Hill 16-10, though only led 13-10 on the penultimate end, and Pascoe was “extremely unlucky” not to claim three shots on his final bowl. 
The margin was again one shot to advance to the last eight (19-18), before a 17-12 victory over Rodney Greaney and Paul Matheson in the quarter final. 
“It’s part of playing at the nationals - you expect to be challenged in all facets of the game,” said Kelly. “It's an opportunity as well; if you are up to the challenge you'll get through but if you're not you’ll be sent packing. It’s as simple as that.”
The semi final was a gripping contest, as Taylor Horn and Jesse Russell pushed them to the limit, before the eventual 16-15 victory. 
“It was really close, back and forth,” said Kelly. “Another extremely tough game and I guess the ones preceding that helped us prepare.”
Kelly and Curtin had reached the decider and were determined to make the most of the occasion.
“I felt really calm actually, I’m not sure why; I’ve never been a terribly nervous person,” said Kelly. “I always try to enjoy finals; sometimes people put too much pressure on themselves and that hinders them. I try to enjoy being there and let the bowls do the talking.”
However that would be easier said than done, facing 15-time national champion Gary Lawson and accomplished Auckland bowler Tony Grantham, who was coming off a runner-up performance in the men’s singles tournament.
The composite combination were in top form, with mostly emphatic victories in post section play. 
“We knew they were going to be tough but we weren’t intimidated,” said Kelly. “We were tested the whole way through [the tournament [so] we were ready for whatever was going to be thrown our way.”
Lawson and Grantham started well and held an 11-9 advantage after 13 ends. 
“It reflected the battle that we had on our hands,” said Kelly. “But that’s what you hope that you are not going to have a score that balloons out and you are trying to chase and claw back.”
Kelly and Curtin then stamped their authority on the contest, taking 10 shots without reply for an impressive 19-11 victory. 
It was Kelly’s fourth national title (2012, Fours; 2014, Fours; 2020, Singles), but Curtin’s first, which made it more memorable. 
“This one for me is particularly special because Seamus is such a good bloke,” said Kelly. “I'm so happy to be a part of what I’m sure will be one of many for him.”
“Knowing that we were so thoroughly tested is a real positive. When I look back at some other tournament runs you usually have some easier games.”
“But only one team that we played in post section didn’t have a previous national champion. That was Paul Matheson and Rodney Green but they are also two extremely experienced individuals themselves and they have won multiple titles.”

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