SCOTS CELEBRATE CURLING NEW YEAR WITH A DOUBLE TO SAVOUR

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Teams Muirhead and Mouat brought in 2020 with a double Scots in the Dewars Centre as both beat off high quality international fields to claim titles in the newly reformatted Perth Masters tournament.

It was the first time that the event which is supported by the Mercure Perth Hotel and has become a staple on the curling calendar, had involved women’s teams as well as men’s and local favourite Eve Muirhead rose to the challenge, along with teammates Lauren Gray, Jen Dodds and Vicky Wright.

“It’s always really nice to win on home soil and the team have been fantastic all weekend,” she said after their 8-2 victory over fellow Scots Team Wilson, who had performed well to reach the final of a competition that had attracted leading teams from across the globe. 

The former world champion and two-time European champion skip had demonstrated in recent weeks that she is getting back to her competitive best after undergoing major hip surgery in 2018 by leading her team to the final of the European Championships, then winning the Aberdeen International Mixed Doubles tournament with Bobby Lammie and this victory was a further boost.

“It was good to have Lauren, Jen and Vicky on the same team and not be playing against them,” joked Muirhead, with reference to that mixed doubles contest that had pitted them against one another.

“To go unbeaten through a World Curling Tour event is pretty cool, so I’m really pleased with how we’re playing and I think that every time we step on the ice for tournaments we’re getting stronger and stronger,” she went on.

“We’ve gelled really well, but we’ve worked really hard to get to where we have. We’ve still got some things to work on. Especially off the back off the last season being a little bit slow and a little bit of a struggle, this year we have just stepped it up that bit and now we’re just looking for those small improvement to get better because the majority of the foundations are built.”

She welcomed the opportunity that the competition’s organisers had provided to raise the profile of the sport with the innovation of playing men’s and women’s tournaments together in an event that was broadcast live on BBC ALBA.

“Obviously the Masters for the men has always been a very high calibre event and a very popular event on tour, so for us to get the chance to join them and have this the same weekend is really good,” said Muirhead.

“I think over the years it’s just going to grow and for Scotland to start that is really great for the European curling tour. 

“To have some of the Asian teams over here is great. Next year people will now look at this event and see how good it is. Everything’s been great, so hopefully we’ll get another good field next year because to attract teams from all over the world is really good.”

It was also good preparation for major challenges to come, as they readied themselves to head across the Atlantic to take part in the glitzy, Ryder Cup-style Continental Cup and then the forthcoming national championships.

“We fly to Canada tomorrow for the Continental Cup and then straight into a Grand Slam, then home for a few weeks of good training before we’re back here at Perth for the Scottish, so we couldn’t have asked for a better competition this weekend to set us up,” she reckoned.

Team Mouat are also taking part in the Continental Cup and, with the defence of their Scottish title also looming, the timing of their successful defence of the title they had won for the first time last year could not have been better after what had been a frustrating first half to the season.

“It was nice to get past a semi-final this season, so as soon as we managed to do that we felt quite confident going into the final because we’d been playing really well,” said their skip Bruce Mouat.

“It’s one of those things where all four of us were playing like we’d normally do and when we’re playing like that it’s pretty tough to beat us.

“The belief that we were able to do it this time made the difference. We maybe had a few slack shots in other tournaments that just didn’t give us as much confidence, whereas this time we just felt like we were controlling every situation. We maybe had a few ends where we didn’t, but more often than not we would be in control.”

He admitted that a key moment in the final against top Canadian rink Team McEwen had been the ‘pick’ at the third end, when a piece of debris meant his opposing skip’s first stone was knocked off track. 

“At the first end I had to draw to the side of the button for one, which was quite a tough shot and we obviously got away with it, then at the second end we had to make two really good shots just to force,” Mouat acknowledged.

“So we were maybe on the back foot at that point and the four kind of came out of nothing because Mike had a pick with his first and a really tough draw with his second. It’s a shame to have that in a final, but we were in a really good position before the pick, so who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t had the pick.”

That 7-2 win in the final saw them match Team Muirhead in going through the event unbeaten and they knew they had earned their win.

“Team McEwen are obviously playing well and beating the likes of Ross Whyte and Ross Paterson shows they’re on good form, because those two are playing really well right now,” said Mouat.

“We were expecting ourselves to come out and play really well, though and we did that and managed to get that win. 

“Especially because it’s in the same ice rink as the Scottish Championship, that’s quite a big thing. It’s quite important for us because last year we managed to win the Perth Masters then go on to win the Scottish, so we’ll try to do that hopefully and come the Scottish we’ll be really focused on trying to get that win.”

It was also a more physically demanding challenge for the skip since an injury to his regular vice skip meant they underwent a role reversal in between delivering their stones, with Grant Hardie calling the shots and Mouat having to take on sweeping duties.

“My mixed doubles experience probably gave me a wee bit of insight in terms of helping with my sweeping, but there’s a lot more work in this than there is in mixed doubles,” the four-time Scottish Mixed Doubles champion observed with a laugh.

“I feel all right just now, but tomorrow when we’re heading to the airport I’ll probably be walking like a caveman, dragging my hands along the ground.

“I think it was a really good exercise for us to do it, because it gave me the perspective of what Grant feels and gave him the perspective of what I feel. As a skip you’re quite isolated at points, but for me if I missed a shot I had to go and sweep Hammy’s next one, so I have to continue to be positive. That was quite an interesting dynamic for me to always try to brush off what I’ve done as a skip and hopefully I’ll learn from that when Grant comes back from his little niggle.

“He said just give me five days off and he’ll be sweeping at the Continental Cup next week because that’s what I’m going to make him do. We obviously now know that it can work if I have to sweep, so I’m excited to go back to skipping if I can, but if not I won’t hold it against him. 

“Judging weight and getting to see the dynamics between Bobby and Hammy was really impressive. For me to try to add to that was quite an experience for me this week and I’m really happy it’s worked out.

“If we ever need to do it at a championship like the Scottish, the World or the Europeans if we’re ever there again, then we know it can work, so we’ve definitely added another buckle on our belt.”

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