Pipe band digest
AFTER what's been a monumentally successful season for Irish pipe bands in the five global majors, attention now turns to which of the plethora of prize-winning ensembles will see themselves elevated to a higher grade in 2016.
And by my reckoning at least SEVEN bands from these shores - which would be a record - can expect promotion when the RSPBA's Music Board completes its deliberations in Scotland next month.
Let's start at the top, and while they were gutted to have missed out on a Worlds title in August (squeezed into second place for the second year running, this time by Johnstone after Brieg in 2014), Bleary seem certain to jump from grade two into the elite premier section.
When the Co Armagh band reformed three seasons ago after a seven-year absence from competition, they were initially re-instated into grade one, but successfully appealed that decision and stepped out in the second tier, claiming they needed time to rebuild.
Three All-Irelands, three Ulster titles and FIVE overseas majors later, they're now ready for promotion, but if Scotland opts to keep them where they are, ironically they'll appeal to go up, even though pipe major Nigel Davison knows they'll face a few seasons in relative obscurity in the bigger overseas competitions.
What Closkelt have achieved in grade 3A under David Chesney has been remarkable, and while they're not exactly a shoo-in for promotion, the Music Board may look at the calibre of players they've imported and insist they must play in grade two next term.
In grade 3B world champions Colmcille will almost certainly go up on the strength of their Glasgow result alone, and Upper Crossgare, based on winning the UK title (they were also placed in three other majors) may join them.
Marlacoo & District dominated grade 4A at home and also won the Scottish and UK crowns, so their slip-in in the Worlds, where they were disappointed at coming third overall despite being drumming champs, shouldn't prevent their elevation to 3B (possibly even 3A?).
World grade 4B champions Portavogie have had just about the perfect season, culminating with the sweetest of victories on Glasgow Green three weeks ago, so an upgrade is inevitable. Could they be joined by McDonald Memorial in 4A in 2016? That's likely too, especially given their drummers' Worlds success (the Dromore band was also third overall).
Meanwhile result from the domestic season's final competition in Portrush were:
:: Grade one - 1 Cullybackey (also best drums; 2 Ravara. Champion of Champions - Cullybackey (pipes and drums)
:: Grade two - 1 Bleary & District (also best pipes); 2 Manorcunningham (also best bass); 3 PSNI (also best drums and M&D); 4 Thiepval Memorial. Champion of Champions - Bleary (pipes) and PSNI (drums).
:: Grade 3A - 1 Closkelt (also best pipes); 2 Aughintober (also best bass); 3 Drumlough (also best drums); 4 Ballybriest. Best M&D - Raffrey. Champion of Champions - Closkelt (pipes) and Ballybriest (drums).
:: Grade 3B - 1 Upper Crossgare (also joint best piping and M&D); 2 Colmcille (also joint best piping, drums and bass); 3 Matt Boyd Memorial; 4 Finvoy. Champion of Champions - Upper Crossgare (pipes and drums).
Grade 4A - 1 Marlacoo & District (also best pipes, drums and bass); 2 McNeillstown; 3 Tamlaght O'Crilly; 4 Major Sinclair Memorial (also best M&D). Champion of Champions - Marlacoo (pipes and drums).
:: Grade 4B - 1 Portavogie (also best pipes); 2 Clontibret (also best drums and bass); 3 Gransha; 4 Gilnahirk ; 5 McDonald Memorial; 6 William Kerr Memorial. Best M&D - Letterkenny. Champion of Champions - Portavogie (pipes and drums).
:: Senior - 1 Alicia Dickson (Matt Boyd Memorial), 2 Lauren Hanna (Drumlough), 3 Paula Braiden (Cullybackey), 4 Andrea McKeown (Battlehill), 5 Jason Price (Ballycoan). Champion of Champion - Lauren Hanna
:: Juvenile - 1 Lauren Abraham (Ballybriest), 2 Zoe McDowell (Aughintober), 3 Emma Barr (Field Marshal Montgomery), 4 Caitlin Deborah Graham (Upper Crossgare), 5 Joanne Graham (William Kerr Memorial). Champion of Champion - Lauren Abraham.
:: Junior - 1 Lana Gibson (Major Sinclair Memorial), 2 Jason Nicholl (Tullylagan), 3 Kathryn McKeown (Battlehill), 4 Beth Preston (Bessbrook Crimson Arrow), 5 Emily Crooks (McNeillstown). Champion of Champion - Lana Gibson.
: Novice - 1 Kathy Hunter (Manorcunningham), 2 Abigail Wenlock (Cullybackey), 3 Charlotte Ruddock (Battlehill), 4 Melissa Burrows (Drumlough), 5 Zara Cupples (Cullybackey). Champion of Champion - Kathy Hunter.