Top dogs... sheep dog trials competition hots up
Competition from unlikely quarters is snapping at the heels of Ireland's champion sheep dog trialists
Doctors, lawyers, accountants and schoolteachers are all turning their hand to the growing sport of sheepdog trials.
Once seen as solely a countryside farming pursuit, now office-bound professionals throughout Europe are putting time and thousands of euro into ensuring they have the top dog.
One of the best-known sheepdog trialists Con McGarry says the action-packed events attract thousands of onlookers eager to hear the whistles echo out across the open fields and see the wiry collies hold the sheep with a steely gaze.
"It's very popular at the moment. Sheepdog trials are an ongoing thing practically every week of the year. On the Continent it has also grown big and the number of handlers has grown immensely," says the top winner McGarry, as he walked a field on his farm among his 150 Suffolk Cross sheep at Ballyglass, outside Tulsk in Co Roscommon.
"It is not just farmers, they started off calling themselves hobby trialists but a lot of professional people - vets, medical doctors, members of the police force, accountants, schoolteachers - you name it, they are all taking part."
Farmer McGarry, along with his top dog Megan, is just one of more than 150 dogs and their handlers destined for the 2015 Irish National Sheepdog Trial's at Tullyvolty, Johnstown, Co Kilkenny from Thursday August 13 to Saturday August 15.
The handler, who learned the sport in his 30s from watching the pros in action after he returned to the farm from England in the 1980s, says it takes a clever dog and months of training to deliver a top performing trialist.
"It is like looking for a county player amongst a whole group of youngsters - male or female. You're looking for the elite, that would keep up the pace and have that bit of the extra flair," he explains.