There was a sad start to the new year for the greyhound community with the news legendary trainer Matt O’Donnell passed away yesterday.
Based outside Killenaule, in Co. Tipperary, O’Donnell, 82, won virtually everything there was to win, and was responsible for some of the finest greyhounds of their era, or any era.
O’Donnell, who first took out his training licence almost 50 years ago, counts four Irish Derbys amongst his greatest achievements, the first of which came courtesy of that brilliant bitch, The Other Toss, in 1990.
He then recorded back-to-back victories in the stake when Ardfert Mick beat litter brother Ask Clare in the 1991 final.
O’Donnell’s dual Easter Cup winner Farloe Melody was sent off favourite for that decider, but finished fifth. He went on to give his trainer his only success in the English Derby, winning the 1992 renewal at Wimbledon.
Litter comrades also filled the first two places in the 1995 running of the Irish Derby and, on this occasion, O’Donnell was responsible for both – Batties Rocket and litter sister Batties Spirit. The former also reached the final of the English Derby the following year, while Batties Spirit won the Irish Leger.
The last of O’Donnell’s Irish Derby victories came in 2012, when Skywalker Puma got up late to take a thrilling decider.
Along with the Irish and English Derby successes, O’Donnell won the Leger seven times, the Easter Cup on five occasions, most recently with Skywalker Farloe in 2014, the Oaks on two occasions, the most recent of which came courtesy of Skywalker Queen, in 2009. Latest that same year, the brilliant bitch gave O’Donnell one of his four Dundalk Internationals, and finished runner-up when trying to defend her Oaks crown in 2010.
O’Donnell recorded one of the most remarkable feats in greyhound racing history when training the first five home in the Produce Stakes of 1978, a competition he won three times.
With many, many more top-class victories to his name, O’Donnell’s achievements earned him legendary status in the sport, and he is a huge loss to the greyhound community. May he rest in peace.
He is survived by this wife, Frances, daughters Mary and Jennifer, son Matthew, and extended family. There will be a Requiem Mass for Mr O’Donnell at the Church of St Joseph the Worker in Moyglass on Thursday at 11.30am followed by cremation at the Island Crematorium, Cork
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