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High flying Mullins yard fielding most powerful festival team yet

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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

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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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Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr

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Date Published: 23-Jan-2013

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Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup

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Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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