Dougal tries to crest the hill again

Amongst his more familiar but less tactful friends, Donal Leahy is oft jokingly referred to as The Nearly Man. Mafi Magic and Two Excuses must accept their share of the blame for that.

In 2010, the former, owned by the Shamrock Bar Syndicate, Kilworth, reached the final of the Derby at Powerstown, where he found Adios Alonso too good on the day.

That was preceded by Two Excuses, which Leahy trained for his father, Liam, filling the same position in the Keen Laddie Stakes at the 2007 National Meeting.

There’s no residue of regret for the Glounthaune trainer, more affectionately known as Dougal, when he reflects on those ‘brilliant experiences’, and he takes the mocking in the manner with which it is delivered.

“Pat Kiely would always remind me he won the (track) Oaks (Tracy Budd), Johnny (Linehan) won the Oaks (Droopys Twirl, track), Skinner (Mick O’Driscoll) won the Oaks (Mountain Guest and Skellig Babe, both coursing) and I won ‘feck all’, as he would put it,” explains Leahy.

Embracing and even encouraging the humour, last year he named a dog Nearlymandan. It nearly won a trial stake.

But the achievement in getting a greyhound to the final course of the three-day National Meeting is beyond the wildest dreams of many who have spent their whole lives dedicated to a sport which demands more than most lifetimes can give.

“I’d be happy if I got that far again,” he says earnestly.

But it wasn’t straightforward with his star performer and unlike most top athletes, whose talent is abundantly obvious from an early stage, Mafi Magic, much like his trainer, liked to hide his light under a bushel.

“He nearly broke my heart,” explained Leahy. “No matter what you did, he would not go up the gallop at home. I’d put him up behind some ordinary dogs and by the top he could be a hundred yards behind.

“Then I brought him to Dunphy’s one day, and the very first time he went up there, he did a clock that told me he was very good.”

Although it has since been removed, Leahy remembers Clonmel’s famous ridge as a positive feature.

“I thought it was a good spectacle. Some dogs couldn’t gallop it: they’d go in a length up and come out two behind. All I know is, it was my last hope when I saw Adios Alonso going up over it.”

Leahy, hare driver at Curraheen Park, has had the best possible education with greyhounds, beginning when he and his father had open coursing dogs and trackers.

Along the way, he worked in Youghal Carpets, but his contracts there were interrupted and during one such break he spent time with Matt O’Donnell.

Over the course of 12 broken years with the company, he continued to train dogs and one prolific sprinter, Dougal, left a lasting impression.

“He won a lot of races and by the time he was finished there were two of us called Dougal, but I got stuck with it,” he explains.

Leahy finally switched his entire focus to greyhounds after a chance link-up with legendary gambler Harry Findlay.

“Through (bookmaker) Edward Donnelly, Harry bought a dog off me. He rang one night, asked where I was, and I said I was working nights in Youghal Carpets.

“In his inimitably blunt way, he told me to get the eff out of there, get up to Denis O’Driscoll in Skibbereen, spend six months with Denis and then come across to England to train dogs for him. Those were the terms, and that’s what happened.

“I went over and stayed seven months but came back and spent another three years with Denis. It was a great place to learn.”

Time with Timmy O’Driscoll, Glounthaune, provided further experience and, in 2006, he went out on his own. Coolnakilla Star and Droopys Pipolo, which he trained for O’Driscoll, proved particularly prolific on the track.

Respecting his role at Curraheen, Leahy has turned his attention to training exclusively for the coursing field and this weekend, with the help of his brother, Bart, and aforementioned friends, he will have three runners in Powerstown.

Fota Castle, in the same ownership as Mafi Magic, and Ballyverry Snowy, owned by Denis and Kevin Cashman, contest the Oaks, while Must Name Him, owned by Dan Creech, will run in the Derby.

“I’m expecting all three to run well. They’re fit and healthy and that’s the bottom line. The Fota bitch is very good, and Snowy qualified in Glanworth, which was probably the trial stake of the year - six or seven winners came out of it.

“Must Name Him is a rocket out of slips. I got him after Fermoy and he was beaten just-up in the semi-final of the Champion Puppy in Old Kilcullen by Needham Simple, who is one of the favourites for the Derby.”

Could any of them be the one to break his Classic duck?

“You never know how any of them will take to Clonmel but they’re three good ones,” he says.

It’s a statement which shouldn’t be taken too lightly.

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