Sport and Health

Mike Kernaghan-Blackjack

We were preparing to watch our athletes compete on the world stage around this time, however 2020 had other plans.
Instead, get to know them better with a series of profiles that we will be releasing over the coming weeks.

Mike Kernaghan

Date of birth: 22/7/55
Place of birth: Wallasey (England)
Club: North East Valley
What year did you start bowling: 1987
Cap number: 78
International debut: 1991
Caps: 196
National titles: 5 (singles 2001, 2002 & 2015, pairs 2007 and fours 2014)
World Bowls medals: 1 gold (fours 2016) & 1 bronze (pairs 2016)
Commonwealth Games medals: 1 bronze (singles 2002)
Nickname: Kerny, Poppa
Occupation: Semi-retired
Interests outside bowls: Selector for Commonwealth Games and Olympics

Mike Kernaghan’s international career has spanned the best part of three decades and even though he’s had two extended breaks from bowls he’s still amassed a number of titles, including a world championship gold in 2016.

Kernaghan’s success is unique, given he didn’t start taking the sport seriously until he was 32. Football was Kernaghan’s first love and he played in the heyday of the old national league in the 1980s for Dunedin City, Nelson United and Dunedin Technical and with a number of the All Whites’ 1982 World Cup squad.

Once he retired from football, it took Kernagham just four years to earn international honours in bowls. He attributes his rapid rise to Professor Ken Hodge, a sports psychologist he started working with in 1989. “It had an immediate impact on me. I went from not being able to get into the Dunedin team in 1989 to playing for New Zealand in 1991.” He believes he was the first bowler to work with a sports psychologist and now considers his mental skills his greatest strength on the green.

Kernaghan started turning heads on the national scene in 1990, with his highlight coming at the Blenheim invitation singles when he beat Brian Baldwin in the quarter-finals, Gary Lawson in the semis and Rowan Brassey in the final. “That sort of got my name in front of the right people.” He impressed again at the national trials the following year and was selected to tour the UK.

Kernaghan found himself surplus to requirements for the 1992 world championships, but he formed a good partnership with Philip Skoglund Jnr in the pairs and they were selected to the 1994 Commonwealth Games team, which Hodge was the sports psychologist for. Kernaghan and Skoglund Jnr finished just short of the medals.

Soon after the Victoria Games Kernaghan began the first of his international hiatuses. He began working for Bowls New Zealand in 1996 and made himself unavailable for selection until 1999. He made an immediate impact on his return however, winning the national singles title in 2001 and 2002 and securing a place in the New Zealand team for the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Kernaghan beat Australia’s current coach Steve Glasson in the quarter-finals before losing to Northern Ireland’s Jeremy Henry in the semis to settle for a bronze. It remains the last Commonwealth Games medal a men’s Blackjack has won.

Kernaghan toured the UK again the following year but was surprisingly overlooked for the 2004 world championships in Scotland. He was “pretty pissed off” so he “spat the dummy” and retired from the sport.

His work took over. Kernaghan commuted to Auckland from Dunedin for nearly seven years as the deputy CEO of New Zealand Football and then CEO of Badminton New Zealand. Remarkably he still managed to win another national title during this period, the 2007 pairs with his best mate Dave Archer, who he’s known since he was 10. It stands out as one of his career highlights. “We won it and I hadn’t played bowls at all. It was just one of those flukes I guess.”

At the end of the decade Kernaghan came out of retirement, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he represented New Zealand again. The selectors had come calling after he won the national fours title in 2014 and the singles in 2015. He finally relented and marked his international return by claiming silver in the singles and bronze in the pairs at the Asia Pacific Championships in Christchurch at the end of the year. 12 months later he was a world champion.

Kernaghan was finally selected to represent New Zealand at a world championships in 2016, having been named in the team World Bowls in Christchurch. He claimed bronze in the pairs with Shannon McIlroy in week one and then joined Mike Nagy, Blake Signal and Ali Forsyth in the four, which brushed aside all-comers before outclassing Australia 23-4 in the gold medal match.

Mike Kernaghan was selected to be the number two in the men’s triple and four at the 2020 world championships on the Gold Coast, which have been postponed 12 months.

Published with permission from Bowls NZ

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