Wednesday 14 November 2018

Sportstar Tim heads to Scotland with his dogs

A REMARKABLE career as a sportsman dating back to the forties will pass another milestone shortly when Tim Flood steps up to the post in One Man And His Dog' next month. Though he now lacks the pace that earned him All-Ireland hurling medals in 1955, 1956 and 1960, the Cloughbawn stalwart remains a redoubtable competitor into his 80th year, as a dog triallist.

As a member of the Wexford team that enjoyed success on a sumptuous scale such as the current Model hurlers can only dream of, Tim was a superstar in his younger days. His county career with stick and ball began in 1947 and continued into the early sixties before huge adoring crowds. However, even as the tide began to ebb on his involvement in the team game, he was laying the foundation for a more relaxed alternative pastime on a bigger field. The routine of driving, shedding, penning beckoned.

Though he had previous experience with dogs after dabbling in greyhound racing as a teenager, the shift from scoring points to rounding up sheep was eccentric. The hound capable of winning over 525 blistering yards at the track in Enniscorthy is, of course, a very different canine from the cute collie that coaxes a stubborn hogget to do as his master bids. Moreover Wexford at the time had no great record in the shepherding game, so there was no-one around to teach the aspiring champion the tricks of the trade. The Flood farm had no flock anyway.

Nevertheless, Tim was already harbouring ambitions as a triallist when he stayed on in London after a 1961 trip with the Wexford team, in order to attend a sheepdog contest at Hyde Park. He returned home convinced that this was a hobby he could pursue with purpose. A pup out of a litter from a Welsh import border collie bitch was his first partner and the founder of a major doggy dynasty at Cloughbawn.

I got dogs first and then the sheep,' he chuckles. The first dog I had, I trained on pigs he was a right one at pigs.' Such an unorthodox grounding clearly did him no harm. Tim competed in his first national trial in 1970 and made his debut on the Irish team in 1972. He and a collie called Cosy won the national title in 1975, the first of his twelve All-Ireland titles.

Six of the dozen were in the singles event, while six were doubles, working with a brace of dogs. The pick of the pack over the years was Pip, who worked with partner Flash to bring their master the coveted Supreme crown in 1988 the best team in all of Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. It rankles slightly with the arch competitor that he has never taken the singles title at that level, though Screen neighbours Frank Cashin and Toddy Lambe have scaled that height.

There was compensation in the repeated invitations to appear on screen in One Man And His Dog', competing in the BBC sponsored event three or four times in the past. He is back in this year's edition of the programme, and the television company has already called to the farm to interview the Irish representative in advance.

The One Man' competition will take place at Stranraer in Scotland shortly, though it will not be broadcast until Christmas time. Tim Flood will feature on the box this time with Bert and Spot, though he warns supporters there will be more agile combinations in the field They are a bit over the top, like myself. We nearly have one hundred years racked up between the three of us.'

Tim Flood has been an enterprising ambassador for his sport. Party tricks at shows around county and country have included rounding up pigs (in a throwback to his early days) or controlling up to five dogs simultaneously, each one programmed to respond to its own set of calls. He favours a brass nose whistle capable of delivering messages to a collie up to 800 years away.

A wonderfully gifted dog man, Tim remains very active on the competition circuit and works away in the background, as a breeder and trainer of cute, intelligent, gentle border collies.

Training a dog takes a long time,' he observes. I do little else at the moment.' He retired from farming five years ago after a B.S.E. outbreak spelt elimination of his dairy herd. The small flock of sheep that remains is more of a trial training unit than a commercial venture. They are strictly barred from grazing the grass being grown by sons Gary and Seán for lawns all over Ireland.

Their father has remained at the top of the sport which has consumed his later years, though the number of rivals has grown. In the sixties, trials were low key affairs. When he made his debut in national competition in 1970, just thirty dogs turned up. Nowadays, a limit of 150 has been put on the championships, for practical reasons.

The preoccupation with the dogs has reduced Tim's involvement in his first love, hurling, but his store of lore and expertise has not been lost. At the urging of his family, with the assistance of son-in-law Andy Doyle, a book load of memoirs has been handed over to Blackwater Press.

Micheál O Muircheartaigh has been lined up to launch the new volume. Never let it be said that his Rathnure friends Martin Codd and Billy Rackard were given a clear literary run.

Tim Flood, the complete sportsman.