Grassroots have to be the fulcrum of any sport

Grassroots have to be the fulcrum of any sport

Over time, living with a disability, the realisation dawns that there are certain things you simply will not be able to do. Often a very long period of time. Furthermore, at no point is the possibility or mere nation of acceptance guaranteed. Foremost among them, and the latter point applies here more than anywhere else, is farming. I will never accept that I will never farm myself…again. Being directly involved on our own farm in my own way gave me the happiest seven years of my life. With the exception of more recent romantic developments, obviously!

However, almost exactly a year ago today, my most beloved outlet was taken from me, without explanation or apology. Which would’ve been heartbreaking enough to stomach at any time, but now consider that, being honest, buying cattle was, at the time, only Plan B because the real number one desire at the time was to buy a racehorse or at least buy into one. Specifically, Spruce Cottage, owned by da’s best friend, the late undertaker, Ollie Cunningham (and quite possibly at least partially by the senior director of operations here, it was always suspected). But when that proposal was met with scorn and even a degree of ridicule.

Thus, when the opportunity presented itself to restart the family tradition in beef farming, it was quite literally jumped at. For reasons which will become obvious in my autobiography which is back on the production line after a ridiculous hiatus caused by nothing other than absolute apathy about actual life itself.

Now however, things have gone full circle, in a lot of ways. Having been denied the farming outlet thoughts have gradually turned back down the horse road. In what capacity I don’t know. Look, ideally you’d be talking about having a horse in training with Noel Meade or Jim Dreaper or Tony Martin. Failing that, there are some folks very well known to me who are extremely au fait with the breeding side of the racing industry and have the bank balances to prove it.

All of the above returned to the forefront of thoughts lately. Partly due to the proximity of the Cheltenham Festival last week, but also due to a marvelous initiative put together by the IHRB. By way of putting on fixtures made up entirely of bumpers. Which themselves comprised of horses which had come from the Point-To-Point circuit.

As a further attachment to the arrangement, the string pullers enlisted the assistance of the standout candidate to be commentator for the contests. The only man for the job, in fact. Now read on…

There have always been commentators and/or journalists who become revered for the variety of sporting activity upon which they could comment with authority. Think Con Houlihan, Hugh McIlvanney, David Walsh.

Then, however, there are those who specialise in covering just one area of sport. For example, Alastair Down on horse racing, Peter O’Reilly with rugby or Rod Liddle’s ‘unique’ take on the world of soccer. If one was looking for representation of the Irish Point-To-Point scene in such a way, step forward Richard Pugh.

This corner could be incorrect on the following but as far as is known, Richard is the person behind the excellent www. p2p.ie website. At this juncture, it will be admitted that it’s only belatedly yours truly has become properly attuned to what a wonderful resource and endless fountain of information about what is the very lifeblood of the horse racing and bloodstock industries it is.

Prince of the Point: Richard Pugh

Richard’s name first appeared on the radar in this seat when presenting a segment about the weekly goings on in the ‘Point’ circuit during the Irish Angle programme so brilliantly put together by David Duggan when At The Races had the broadcast rights to Irish racing. David is somebody I’ve gotten to know through online communication, as his career in racing has taken him to some far flung corners of the globe. His loss to the Irish racing media has been an immense one. How great would it be to see DD back on our screens once again.

What that segment of the programme did, mind you, was introduce a whole new world to the comings and goings within the the very vibrant ‘Pointing’ community. Thus, both Irish and overseas viewers – this one included – became very familiar with hearing of places Tattersalls, Oldcastle (better start with two of the nearest ones!), Tinahealy, Ballindenisk, Oldtown, Athlacca, Ballinaboola and Dromahane, to name but a fraction.

A Point-To-Point in picturesque Dromahane

The last-named is something of a Mecca for those involved in that sphere of the sport. Akin to Augusta National for a golfer, Croke Park for a GAA player or the Crucible for a devotee of snooker. Basically, if you have a horse good enough to compete at Dromahane – without even contemplating winning at the fabled Cork venue – it generally means you have a fairly big but wonderful decision to make. Whether to hold onto the animal and put it into training yourself – none of the big noises would refuse anything deemed to be of a level good enough for Dromahane – or send the steed through the sales right where mention of the location of his victory between the flags could realistically be liable to add several zeroes to the horse’s potential price tag.

BREEZE UPS

No matter what code it may be, grassroots must be the fulcrum of all sport. For jump racing that’s the ‘Point’ world, while for the Flat scene, barrier trials and Breeze Up sales (where horses basically run trial races in front of potential buyers) are a good way for people to get their foot on the ladder in the sport.

Now, one of the many curious and frustrating oddities about the response to Covid-19 from a sporting perspective has been the treatment of amateur sportspeople as second-class citizens. Most obviously in the case of GAA, though in that instance the Association doesn’t help itself. In this day and age, inter-county players should be semi professional at the very least, but that can stay parked for now.

In the context of today’s offering, though, the decision to preclude amateur riders from partaking in the Cheltenham Festival was as unfathomable as it was unfair. To that end, at least IHRB have continued to allow amateur riders do their thing in bumpers. However, the decision to suspend the Point-To-Point season would appear to fly directly in the face of the above.

Making his Point: Barry O’Neill has dominated the scene in recent years

You’d imagine, though, that the decision to put on all-Bumper fixtures was designed to both appease short-changed riders and afford producers and preparers of young stock an opportunity to show their talents and young equine talent. Thereby enabling the natural order and mechanics of that whole facet of the sport and industry to return to some scintilla of normality. Or whatever passes for that nowadays.

What it also did, mind you, was stitch the seeds of equine dreams back into the thought stream in this corner. For all that, a lot of what has gone on – or hasn’t happened, to be more accurate, I can’t help thinking of an old classic by Dame Vera Lynn. Sadly, not so much We’ll Meet Again more so a case of If I Should Grow Too Old To Dream. Maybe that process has already begun…

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