Monday 23 October 2017

Greyhound racing: Proud as punch with Special Merit Award

You could say greyhounds took over my sporting life once I had finished with football and I must say I have made some great friends and had some wonderful times in my involvement with both the dogs and the Longford track.

It is 35 years since I got involved and it all came about through buying a raffle ticket for a tenner in a fundraiser in Edgeworthstown.

I won it and the prize was a greyhound bitch that was bred by my old friend Ned Reilly, who was to become a member of the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB).

The bitch was Cranley Jill and she won races at Longford, Mullingar and Harold's Cross. She bred a number of decent dogs, probably the best being Shantum Gamble, which won the Cox Cup Consolation.

The best I ever owned was surely Cian Jamie, which reached the final of the Derby Plate in 2011 and another useful dog was Shantum Express, which got to the final of the Longford Derby, but got injured.

Back in 1990 John Doris retired from Longford track and a committee was set up to run it. I was a member of the 10-man committee and became secretary, with Ned Reilly as chairman.

We got a lot of help at the time from the IGB. Michael Field was the CEO and we got in the region of €250,000, which went to providing a new sand track, new watering and hare systems, new photo finish equipment and so on.

It was hard work and I remained secretary until I retired last November, but I am still on the committee.

We got great support from the owners, trainers and breeders. They've been brilliant and last year we made €25,000 from a benefit meeting that they ran for the track. The support we got even from people who have never been to the track was amazing.

I even had friends from my football days who contributed to the cause, but, then, there has always been a close relationship between the GAA and greyhound racing.

The legendary Mick Higgins ran his dogs here for years and my old friend and rival Paddy McCormack is also a regular visitor – and he still threatens me every time he is here.

I sincerely hope the board keep supporting smaller tracks like Longford. I know they won't make any money out of us, but I have always regarded Longford as a sort of nursery for Shelbourne and hardly a night's racing up there goes by without a few runners from Longford.

At Longford we are happy to keep our heads above the water, but if the track closed, a lot of people in this area would drop out of the sport. The other thing I would like to see is more young people coming into it.

It was an extremely proud occasion last Sunday when I received the Special Merit Award in Athlone. I felt very privileged for the recognition, but I took it to be an honour for Longford track and the committee for all the work they have done.

It was also great that my wife Margaret and my daughter Patricia were there to share it with me.

Irish Independent

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