Clonmel for the puppies, Limerick for the yuppies

“LIMERICK Racecourse is probably the only coursing venue in the country where you can come in your good clobber, and stay in it all day.

Everything is on dry ground, on concrete or tarmac outside, well sheltered with top-class catering facilities inside.”

So had promised Damien Delaney, secretary of the Co. Limerick Coursing Club, organisers of the JP McManus Irish Cup, which this weekend celebrates its centenary running.

Well, you can take Damien at his word (as I did), turn up for the 11.30 start in your Gucci shoes, Tommy trousers, Lauren Polo shirt, Versace jacket and scarf (as I certainly did not), leave after several hours of magnificent entertainment, and not get wet, not get even the merest speck of muck on your outfit (mind you, that grand old sponsored brolly might be handy, to get you from car-park to stand). Oh yes, the contrast with Powerstown Racecourse, host venue for the annual Derby and Oaks for young dogs and bitches, could hardly be more stark.

Clonmel for the puppies, Limerick for the yuppies, that could well be the new calling cry of coursing.

I made my way to the stratosphere, the third tier of the spectacularly-appointed stand, into one of the corporate boxes. Out to the viewing balcony, and pause, truly commanding view. Magnificent panorama, the business end of the coursing field right in front, the full circuit of the race-track itself beyond that, with its enclosed man-made lake, swans gracefully grazing the shallows; in the distance, thoroughbred horses galloping in open fields, the glorious Galtees on the horizon. Ah yes, this is coursing, in the 21st century, “this is the way it should be everywhere,” says one battle-hardened veteran lady to her companion, in passing.

Then, the coursing starts, and all of a sudden, it’s not so different anymore. Yuppies? No, not yet anyway. Coursing people are a breed apart, hardy, open-air types; the best view may have been from up top, level three, but the best buzz was down on the ground. Mind you, because the stand in its entirety is set so high, there is still a superb view of the end of every buckle, all the drama played out in front of our eyes, everyone with a decent vantage point, and here too all the facilities are in place. You can duck inside for a pint of plain at the Doran’s Pride bar, dine on a variety of feasts from The Carvery, never missing a beat from the action outside, with closed-circuit television in every nook and cranny.

The action, the most pertinent element of all, and what action there was, on day one of the Irish Cup. The legendary Tony Reddan from Sixmilebridge is the man on the mighty steed, making the judgement call in every buckle. Unlike his counterparts in Clonmel, Tony is outside the rails, on a purpose-built track; unlike his counterparts there also, Tony confines himself to just a very short trip alongside the racing hare-chasing hounds out on the field, rarely even breaking into a trot.

It’s a bit like watching Mick O’Connell, or any of the true greats of gaelic football, under a long kickout, gauging the landing area of the ball, them timing their leap to perfection. Tony takes his position, watches, waits, then slowly wheels his mount, gently walks or trots along, gets it spot on every time. Not once in this Irish Cup opening round was there a contentious decision, at that end of the field. But, in true coursing fashion, there were shocks, in abundance.

How the bookies must have been smiling, at the end of the first quarter. Bar None, Ashmore View (last year’s winner), two of the hot overall favourites, gone, beaten fair and square; Kyle Tiger (beaten semi-finalist last year), hot favourite in his buckle, gone. The shocks didn’t end there, with Cuban Boss, another fancy, gone in the first course of the second quarter (64 dogs, divided into four quarters of 16 each, with the winners of each guaranteed €6,350 each; overall winner gets ten times that amount, not bad at all!), and before the day was out, they would be joined in exit by Trajectory and Bar Club.

Bitter-sweet day for PD Ryan, who was celebrating his 51st year of nominating a dog for the Irish Cup; PD will have to wait to his 52nd for a winner however, Whateverhappens gone in one.

Another nominator with a much better chance of breaking his Irish Cup duck however is the Earl of Dunraven, president of the host club, sponsor of short-odds outright favourite, Castle Pines. Impressive winner yesterday, his clock must have really impressed, because Pines now sits alone at the top of the book, an intimidating 5/2. Still there also, Droopys Saunders and Rio Rooney, from the high-powered Waterford Dunphy kennel, Boavista, Vacume Legend, Torbal Wok, Bar Hill, City Mayor, all serious contenders. Bubbling away, bubbling away nicely.

Today’s head-to-heads are truly mouth-watering, with champions in every quarter, just eight to emerge for Sunday. Even if you’ve never been to a coursing meet, take yourself along to Patrickswell. You will not be disappointed (Gucci’s optional).

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