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High flying Mullins yard fielding most powerful festival team yet



Date Published: {J}

John McIntyre

HE’S the man who has established a stranglehold on Irish National Hunt racing which is in no danger of being broken in the foreseeable future; he’s the man who has turned out a staggering dozen winners at each of the last two Punchestown festivals; he’s the man who is already a distance clear in his pursuit of a fourth consecutive Trainers’ Championship; he’s the man whose stable runners are currently sweeping all before them.

Willie Mullins is also the man who is training his sights on the Cheltenham festival next week like never before with a powerful near 30-strong raiding party, one that is arguably more potent than what the rest of his Irish counterparts heading to the Cotswolds can assemble between them. In a nutshell, the former six-time champion amateur jockey has the firepower – at least, on paper – to take the sport’s greatest meeting by storm.

That might seem a brash statement, especially in the context of Cheltenham consistently proving a graveyard for fancied contenders, but when you consider that the Mullins yard is currently blessed with a multitude of top chasers and hurdlers, it’s easier to justify expectations of the Co. Carlow based operation having its most productive March National Hunt festival yet.

Never mind that Mullins is set to saddle leading fancies Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle); Mourad and Fiveforthree (World Hurdle); and Golden Silver (Champion Chase) in the festival’s showcase events, but he will also be represented by lively outsider Kempes in the Gold Cup, with the likes of Zaidpour, So Young, Day Of A Lifetime, Allez Garde, Gagewell Flyer, Sir Des Champs, C’est Ca, Quel Esprit and Mikael d’Haguenet heading the trainer’s assault on the big novice hurdle and chasing prizes.

Mullins, who will have the fit again Ruby Walsh back in harness, will also be strongly represented in the festival handicaps, not least by Final Approach in the County Hurdle – a race he won last year with the grey, Thousand Stars – Call The Police (Coral Cup) and Some Target (National Hunt Chase) while his several entries in the Champion Bumper, including Allure Of Illusion and Lord Gale, give Ireland’s top trainer a sporting chance of landing next Wednesday’s finale for the seventh time in its 19-year existence. And, of course, his banker will be Quevega which will be bidding for a hat-trick in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle.

That’s a formidable line up by any standards and Mullins will be disappointed if he fails to surpass last year’s festival haul of two winners. He has yet to be crowned leading trainer at Cheltenham, but 2011 could be a landmark year for the stable. Only Edward O’Grady of the current Irish handlers has managed to saddle more winners at the festival and his tally of 18 is now just one ahead of Mullins.

Yet, expectations of glory at Cheltenham can often be cruelly dashed and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Mullins yard could return from Prestbury Park having drawn a blank. That’s how competitive the famed four-day meeting is – there’s no place to hide on a demanding, undulating track with its stiff uphill finish and while many Irish runners are visually impressive on home turf, the pace they are forced to run at Cheltenham is a different level. They simply don’t hack around under the shadow of Cleeve Hill.

Naturally, huge interest will centre on Mullins’ bid to land the Champion Hurdle for the first time with Hurricane Fly. The French import has missed the last two Cheltenham festivals due to injury, but has had an uninterrupted preparation this time around and is generally second favourite behind title holder Binocular for the highlight of next Tuesday’s card. The seven-year-old has been dominant in small-runner fields in Ireland this season, putting further distance between his main challenger, Solwhit, on each occasion they have met in the current campaign.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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