Weekend coursing proves a huge hit - and likely to remain

If attendances are to be used as the benchmark, then the days of the midweek National Coursing Meeting in Clonmel look likely to be confined to history.

If attendances are to be used as the benchmark, then the days of the midweek National Coursing Meeting in Clonmel look likely to be confined to history.

Crowds greater by about 20pc than last year and a mostly positive reaction to the weekend staging of the event left organisers smiling on Monday evening after this year’s version of one of the biggest sporting events to take place on an annual basis in the region.

Helped by benign weather for the time of year, over much of the three-day festival at any rate, the Powerstown Park venue once again drew coursing enthusiasts and their families from all over country, the UK, Europe, and even America and Australia for the highlight of the year in the coursing game.

Hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, pubs and shops across Clonmel and the surrounding areas reported brisk bookings and sales over the three days, taking their share of the estimated €16 million economic injection provided by the meeting, and it now looks probable that weekend national coursing is here to stay.

“People voted with their feet,” Irish Coursing Club chief-executive DJ Histon said on Monday. “The move to a weekend has certainly been very positive and it’s reflected in the numbers.”

Up to 40 anti-coursing protesters picketed outside the venue on Monday to voice their opposition to the sport.

Mr Histon urged those who hold such views on coursing to “come to a coursing meeting and see for themselves what it’s like.”

Among those cheering on from the stands during the meet was former Irish international and Powerstown Park regular Niall Quinn, present to support the dog he co-owns with Patsy Byrne of Surrey - Windsor Forest - trained by Pa Fitzgerald from Duagh in Co Kerry.

Unable to attend on Saturday because of his punditry commitments with Sky Sports, the ex-striker whose father Billy hurled for Tipperary, arrived in good time on Sunday to see Windsor Forest power through the second round of the Boylesports Derby and then, that afternoon, the third phase, before returning on Monday for finals day. The quarter-final proved to be the limit of Windsor’s run, however.

Once a keen greyhound racing fan, Niall said he doesn’t get to the tracks “as much as I used to, but I try and get here every year,” for the coursing. “Great people here, you might only meet up with them once a year, but it’s a great day.”

Mayor of Clonmel Billy Shoer was there in his chains on Monday but, in fairness, attended as a punter on Sunday in his capacity as a long-time greyhound fan.

“I’m a coursing man since I was about 10 years old, in Nenagh,” he said. “My uncle and cousins would have trained dogs... I would have caught hares for the open coursing in Nenagh and in Co Galway as a young lad. Once you start, it stays with you all your life.”

Borough council and county council colleague Siobhan Ambrose was an early contendor for Most Appropriately Dressed Woman at the event.

Another woman dressed for the day was Mary Whelan, from Kilganey, Clonmel, who is a familiar face in the booth beside the club stand, selling club badges.

She’s now been working the patch for over 20 years and is a big supporter of the move to weekend coursing for the big meet.

“The weekend is fantastic,” she said. “A fantastic crowd and I’m delighted with all the lovely people. A very good idea and it has worked out very well.”

Anyone she spoke to about the switch was all in favour, Mary said. “They all said to have it again next year, the very same.”

Meanwhile, in the betting ring, many veteran bookies of Clonmel in February were back on familiar ground, on familiar duty, but reluctant to report any improvement in fortune.

“Money is scarce,” bookmaker Dinny Gould of Duagh in Co Kerry pointed out. “Turnover is down a lot.”

Betting was “not too bad, a few bad losers,” but the man with the slogan, “there’s nothing skinny about Dinny,” acknowledged the importance of the event to bookies and the wider public.

“I’ve been coming every year for the last 18 years... I stay locally, in a hotel, and enjoy every bit of it.”

For Dinny and many others, plans are already in train for Clonmel 2014.