The national coursing meeting in Clonmel enters a brave new world this week as it moves to a weekend billing for the first time in its 88-year history.
The meeting at Powerstown Park opens on Saturday morning and will come to an end with the finals of all the competitions including the Boylesports Derby and the Greyhound and Pet World Oaks, on Monday afternoon, but not before providing an estimated €16 million boost to the local economy.
While there may have been some surprise at the decision - taken last summer following an annual review of the meeting - to switch the action to a weekend, most of the reaction has been favourable, according to Irish Coursing Club chief-executive D.J. Histon.
“The early soundings are very positive,” he said on Monday. “Locally, hotels in Clonmel and surrounding areas are showing strong bookings and many places have been booked out for the last six weeks. I think we’ll see bumper crowds.”
In recent years, the national meeting has attracted crowds of about 30,000 people over the three days so any increase on that will be seen as a sign that moving to the weekend has worked.
“If we left everything as it was and we saw a decline this year, we would accept it, because of the recession, but I think with the weekend slot whatever downside we would have suffered by not changing, we will offset with an uplift,” Mr Histon said.
About 200 greyhounds will compete in the various competitions taking place over the three-day festival, with the action getting under way at Powerstown Park at 11.30am on Saturday.
The ICC chief said that, while there were a few dissenters when the “major step” was taken to reschedule the meeting, the mood of most people within the sport was agreeable.
“I have to say we had very positive support from around the country. The overwhelming majority would be in favour. You’ll always have people who don’t like change but I would hope that, if it proves a success, they will row in with us. Ultimately, the event itself is the very same and it will be the same experience, just on different days.”
The reasoning behind the change was to accommodate those who can’t make mid-week events at this time of year: “Young people of school-going age and students going to college were prevented from attending prior to now and then you have people in the workforce who were finding it more difficult to take annual leave. In many workplaces you can’t just pick and choose when you’re taking your holidays any more.”
The business community around Clonmel has also welcomed the move, Mr Histon said. “Very much so. I think that’s indicated by the strong booking numbers. They want to see people coming in and spending money and enjoying themselves in a very healthy way.”
A €16 million economic injection to the area is “very significant,” he pointed out, particularly at a time of year when there is little else to attract visitors.
By mid-afternoon on Monday, the ICC should have an early indication of the success or otherwise of their big move.