A MAJOR final, a Scotland call-up and a place in the world’s top 16 made it a dream week for Moray indoor bowler Mike Stepney.
The 36-year-old was a rank outsider in last week’s Scottish international open after being given a wildcard place just three weeks before the tournament.
But Stepney, from Burghead and a member of the Elgin stadium bowling team, defeated a succession of more fancied opponents in matches screened live on BBC TV and reach the final.
Eventually Scotland international team coach David Gourlay ended the Moray man’s sensational run at the final hurdle on Saturday at the Dewars Centre in Perth.
“This game was the biggest in my singles career. I’ve won the British Isles singles before but this was a step up from that, really,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to go this far at the start of the week. Getting through one game was my plan and every game after that was a bonus. I’ve got no complaints whatsoever, I’m pretty chuffed.”
Stepney’s performances earned him a provisional position of 15th in the latest world rankings in his sport.
He has also been pre-selected for the Scotland team taking part in next year’s British Isles Home International series. He already has 39 caps but normally has to come through international trial games to play for his country.
Last week produced a double success story for bowls in Moray, as Elgin’s Graeme Donaldson won the Scottish Masters title after triumphing in the final, also played during the Scottish international event in Perth.
Donaldson has now earned himself a trial for the Scotland international team.
“It’s possible there could be two of us from Moray in the Scotland team and that would be a great boost for the area,” said Stepney.
A product of his home village of Burghead’s St Aethans outdoor bowling club, Stepney has been playing since the age of ten.
The self-employed joiner is no stranger to televised major tournaments, reaching the final of the World Pairs along with fellow Burghead bowler Andrew Barker in recent years.
The Moray pair lost that final to experienced duo Alex Marshall and Paul Foster, though Foster was one of Stepney’s conquests in his run to the international singles final last week.
Stepney’s best performance of the week came in Thursday’s quarter-final against Englishman Mervyn King, who beat world number one Greg Harlow in a previous round but was no match for the Moray man’s superb shot-making. “You do think about the possibility of winning it a little bit at this stage. I was just taking one game at a time, really. I knew fine I would probably be playing Paul in the next game anyway.
Tourney favourite Foster was next to fall under Stepney’s sword in an all-Scottish semi-finals. The pair had met twice in major singles events before, with one win apiece, but the Moray player proved too good on this occasion by winning both sets to reach the prestigious final.
Against seven time world indoor pairs champ Gourlay, Stepney made the early running, going 4-1 up after four ends but then losing each of the next seven ends to concede the first set.
The Glaswegian forged ahead in the second set but Stepney fought back to 4-3 down and was lying two shots until a fortunate runner shot by Gourlay earned another three shots, and set him up for his victory.
“That was the best he’d played all week. He was outstanding,” said Stepney. “When I played Paul, I did in that game what David did to me in the final and I got the first two bowls in to put the pressure on.”
The bookies offered 40-1 odds on Stepney to win at the start of the competition, but he believes his fellow bowlers knew he was a dangerous opponent.
“Obviously I’ve qualified in a few things over the years and played against most of them in certain things, and I’m playing in the international series as well.
“So they know that I’m a good player and it’s not anything new to them that I can go on a wee bit of a run and perform against top players.”
Stepney hopes his exploits will land him another wildcard for the International open competition in Blackpool in March. That could give him the chance to earn more ranking points so he can finish in the top 16, a status which would give him an automatic place in the world pairs.
Donaldson had to win seven matches to reach the final of the new Scottish Masters event, where he played Darren Weir from Blantyre.
Weir led 7-1 after six ends before Donaldson forced a draw in the first set at 7-7.
He also came back to tie the second set at 6-6 and force a tiebreak, which he won 2-0.