Veterans are there for the long haul

The first day of the last big classic of the coursing season, the JP McManus Irish Cup, and there he was, Brian Tansey, taking up his usual position on the viewing balcony at the top of the stand in Limerick racecourse in Patrickswell.

To call Brian a veteran is something of an understatement; in the close and familial world of coursing, Brian is the Daddy of them all, the Granddaddy of many. “I’ll be 94 on August 10, if the Lord leaves me on this planet,” he tells you; “I used to smoke, a lot – I bought my cigarettes by the carton until a good friend of mine worked on me to give them up, brainwashed me for two years – that was about 33 years ago, and I haven't smoked since.

“I rarely take a drink these days, not since my wife died, 1997 – that came as an awful shock to me. We were married for 56 years, a wonderful woman, always brought happiness to my life. What keeps me going is a passionate interest in life, in what’s happening all round me in the world. I still read a lot, I’m a crossword fiend, but most important, I have a very positive outlook on life.”

One of his major interests now, as always, is coursing, and the Irish Cup in particular.

Born in Sligo, educated in UCG, worked in Tipperary for 17 years (1946-63, based in Nenagh), thence a promotion to the county council in Cavan, where he has lived since, coursing has been one constant in his life, a love picked up as a young fella in the small family farm outside Ballymoate, nurtured through decades of involvement thereafter.

Very early in his professional career, however, the Irish Cup entered the scene. “I qualified as an engineer in 1938, came to my first meeting of the Cup in the 1939/40 season, and apart from last year and a couple of years when the meeting was called off, I’ve been there every year since.”

Back then, of course, it was Clounanna, legendary Clounanna with its huge field, its open ditches that saw an end to many a high hope, “The Mecca of coursing,” as Brian calls it.

“Clonmel (the annual National Coursing Meeting) has gone very high up the pecking order, but for me, the Irish Cup will always be number one. Clounanna was always about the sport, far more so than about the money, the betting; and it’s the people, the great people I meet year after year, great friends, lifelong friends.”

One of those friends is Con Ryan, from New Ross by way of Crosshaven, another who has been involved in dogs all his life, another whose interest is purely sporting. “I’ve won two Oaks in Clonmel, with Redundant Pal and Ardnalee Pal,” says Con, “But you don't make money in this game, you spend it. It’s your interest in the sport, that’s what keeps you in it.”

Brian has been ‘nominating’ in the Irish Cup for over 40 years – “I can't remember for exactly how long, but I do know that while I AM the oldest, I’m not the longest-serving!”; Con has only been there for a few years.

In one of his first years as a nominator, Con did come close, very close, beaten in the semi-final in Tralee with a dog of his own, but Brian? Well, as proof that good things DO happen to good people, after four decades of trying, Brian eventually had his day in the sun.

“Over the years I’ve had many dogs, but had only limited success; I always bred well but failed hopelessly to ever even win a Trial Stake. Then in 2007, Eoin Rua won here, and that was the dream of my life. The one big regret is that my wife wasn’t there to see it. The same day I was named as Sports Personality of the Year in coursing, so it was a double success - I really appreciated that.”

He’s still in the full of his health, Brian Tansey, and a morning spent observing him observing the first round of the Cup was an education.

It’s coming closer and closer to the turn of Brian’s own nomination, Geneser Trail, who faces rank outsider Freniti Options. Getting nervous Brian, you enquire – “Not at all – why would I be getting nervous at this stage of my life?

And he’s not, remains as detached as ever as the two hounds pound up the hill. Geneser, in the red collar, is trailing, begins a fightback – “The red is coming, he’ll get there now!”, says one man, an attempt, perhaps, to give Brian some support – “No he won't!”, responds Brian, immediately, and again he’s correct – Geneser is well beaten.

At least they got the run; what of Black Chalk and Nearlygotmaggie, beaten in the final two courses of the Cup, but neither of whom were ever in the running at all, unsighted even before the halfway mark, Black Chalk even doing a full 180-degree turn, heading back downfield, leaving Kieran’s Charisma to continue on his own.

“Not a course at all,” says Con, “My heart really goes out to the owners there. But even if you get through today, how do you know your dog will go up a fifth time, a sixth? Because that’s what they have to do to win here.”

Yes indeed Con, it takes a special dog to win the Irish Cup, at €80,000 for the winner the richest single prize in coursing; it also takes special people to make this what it is, a special event. People like Brian Tansey, like Con Ryan. Long may they thrive.

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