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Monday 22 May 2017

Tony Sweeney

Doyen of racing journalists who was regarded as essential reading by punters and bookies alike

TONY SWEENEY, who died last Monday aged 81, was a highly regarded racing correspondent and historian.

Racing was in his blood, for he was the grandson of Senator JJ Parkinson, who was one of the dominant forces in Irish racing in the first half of the 20th century. As a youth, he spent many happy days in Parkinson's Maddenstown Lodge establishment on the Curragh.

Tony's father was a high-ranking detective, who was once in charge of guarding the crown jewels in London. It is little wonder that history held a fascination for him all his life.

However, it was the history of the turf, and especially Irish racing, which dominated his output. He made a huge contribution to recording the history of Irish racing and this was acknowledged by Grand National-winning trainer Ted Walsh, who remarked: "Young people have Google and Yahoo, we had Tony Sweeney."

Noted for a boyish enthusiasm for the sport, the pinnacle of his career was the publication in 2002 of the Sweeney Guide to the Irish Turf 1501-2001. He assembled it with his late wife Annie, and bookmaker Francis Hyland.

"Tony wanted a statistical record for Irish racing like they have in Britain," explained Hyland. "He felt it was important to record the history of racing here."

He also wrote the definitive work on Irish Stuart Silver, and a history of the printed word in Ireland. In 2001 he was conferred with a doctorate in literature for his published work by the National University of Ireland.

Of course, it was as a racing correspondent that he was best known. For 42 years, up to 1997, he was the Daily Mirror's racing correspondent, and regarded as essential reading, not just for punters.

"Every bookmaker bought the Mirror because Tony was a great man to price a race," explained Hyland. "There were no morning-lines then and the whole thing for a bookmaker was to find a favourite in each race. Tony was a great help in that regard."

Tony also wrote for the Evening Press under the pseudonym 'The Toff', the London Times and the Irish Times.

His voice was also well known to RTE viewers as he was the paddock commentator and later the betting ring commentator for 35 years.

In paying tribute, Dermot Weld summed him up well: "He has been an encyclopaedia for racing in Ireland. He was a man of tremendous ability and great trust. I regarded him as the doyen of racing journalists. He had great credibility and a great love for Irish racing."

Tony is survived by his son Nick.

Sunday Independent

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