Thursday, December 14, 2000

Paddy McEvoy - Greyhound Trainer

Paddy McEvoy’s success with “Daws Dancer” in the 23rd Greyhound Derby at White City London in June 1953 was a unique occasion for both dog and trainer. “Daws Dancer”, not then yet two years old, was the youngest greyhound ever to win the English Derby and its trainer, Athy born Paddy McEvoy was the first County Kildare person to win this most coveted prize in greyhound racing.

The joy of Paddy’s success was shared with his many friends and in the suburbs of Ealing London, Fr. Tommy Doyle, formerly of Woodstock Street and John Blanchfield, formerly of Leinster Street were but two of those who celebrated Paddy’s success. John Blanchfield had a betting shop in Ealing where his brother Christy Blanchfield also worked. The Blanchfield’s sister Bella married Paddy Gibbons of St. Martin’s Terrace whose mother taught Paddy McEvoy to play the piano when he was a young lad and still living in Woodstock Street. Mrs. Gibbons who was a reporter for a local newspaper had two other sons, Frank who later married Josephine Horgan and Joe who died at a young age of TB. Now 83 years of age Paddy McEvoy still recalls how he envied Joe Gibbons who during the summer months lived in a tent in a field next to the present Tegral factory. Paddy was not then to know that Joe’s ill health required him to live in this way in a vain attempt to arrest the onward progress of the deadly TB.

In 1956 Paddy McEvoy had his second winner in an English Derby. By then he was attached to Clapton Stadium in the East End of London where he managed the racing kennels and trained dogs on his own behalf. The 1953 winner of the premier classic was “Dunmore King”. His final career total of three Derby winners was achieved with the success of “Palms Printer” at White City on 21st June, 1961. Paddy had attended dog trials in Shelbourne Park the previous November and bid 250 guineas for a dog which had impressed him in the morning trials. When the dog was withdrawn from sale Paddy contacted its owner Nick Breen of Ferns in Co. Wexford and agreed a price of £400 for Palms Printer to be delivered to him in London. He sold on the dog and successfully brought him through the first four rounds of the English Derby before achieving the satisfaction of winning his third English classic in the space of eight years.

Paddy and his family left London that same year and returned to Athy having bought a shop in Leinster Street. The shop now owned by Tom Jacob was home to the McEvoy family for the next four years and during that time Paddy had breeding kennels and a paddock built at Russellstown on the Dublin road. With the McEvoy family on their return to Ireland was the now retired winner of the 1953 Derby “Daws Dancer”. An affectionate dog, he was particularly fond of children and was apt to wander down town on occasions. Paddy always rewarded with a few sweets the youngsters who brought the Derby winner back to the shop. Only now he wonders if his generosity was in itself an encouragement to the youthful entrepreneurs to entice the over-friendly greyhound away from his base in the expectation of the usual sweet-toothed reward so beloved of youngsters.

In 1965 the shop was sold to Andy Conlon and the McEvoys returned to England, this time Paddy taking the management of Wimbledon Stadium. This was the most prestigious position available in the greyhound racing world, and that same year Paddy trained the winner of the Laurels. It was a success he repeated in 1968 while at the same time winning the Scurry Cup on two occasions. Dogs trained by Paddy McEvoy won many races over the years including the Produce Stakes in Catford but he can never forget his greatest racing disappointment in the same Produce Stakes final. On that occasion Paddy had four dogs in the six-dog final. However, they came in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th and to this day Paddy cannot understand why the expected victory eluded him. For Paddy, a lifetime spent in breeding and training greyhounds has taught him that a greyhound can only be a good running dog if it is genuine, intelligent and speedy or as the late Pat Mehigan once described a greyhound in his sporting column,
“Head like a snake, neck like a drake,
Back like a beam, side like a bream,
Heart room in plenty allow -
Tail like a rat, feet like a cat,
And breast to the ground like a plough”.

When Paddy finally retired from greyhound racing in May 1993 Wimbledon Stadium Chairman John Cearns made a presentation to him following the last race at Wimbledon that evening calling Athy-born Paddy as “one of greyhound racings greatest trainers”. That same day “Sporting Life” in announcing Paddy’s retirement after 33 years as a greyhound trainer referred to him as “gentle, kind, helpful and a fountain of knowledge, he is one of the world’s leading experts on greyhound breeding with which he has been closely involved throughout his career”.

Paddy and his Australian-born wife Patricia returned to Athy where they continue to live. Their grown-up family of four are all living abroad, Jim, a Computer Consultant in England, Patrick, a dentist in California, Tim, a Company Director in England and Mary, a Public Relations Consultant in California.

The eighty-three year old Paddy has retained a remarkably sharp memory of Athy in the 1930’s. He recalls the times when working on the Curragh he cycled over there and back each day. Mick Johnson of Convent View was then in the Army and like Paddy cycled there each day, calling Paddy, then living in Geraldine, as he passed his house each morning. The young athletic Paddy would invariably catch up with and pass Mick at Booleigh. It was the same athleticism and power which on one occasion permitted Paddy as a young man to cycle to Baldoyle races for afternoon horseracing and from there to Shelbourne Park for an evening dog meeting, leaving for Athy at 10 o’clock at night.

While interviewing Paddy I went through a list of local greyhound owners stretching back over the last 65 years. Without a moment’s hesitation he recalled for me the names of the various dogs owned or trained by those named, indicating important races won and identifying the better dogs involved. I was intrigued to hear his account of Fr. Maurice Browne, who while a curate in Athy in the 1930’s owned a series of greyhounds, all of which he raced under the name “W. Twyford”. The reverend gentleman, later to be Parish Priest in Ballymore-Eustace and author of The Big Sycamore used the nom-de-plume to avoid the critical scrutiny of his Bishop who did not allow his clerics to indulge in such pastimes. The success of Joe Daly’s dog “Cheeky Robin” in the coursing derby in Clonmel was remembered, as was the duo of Nellie Holland and Grace Carty, one a Catholic, the other a Protestant who shared a belief in the efficacy of holy water in improving a dog’s performance in Shelbourne Park.

The stories of dogs, owners and trainers come easily to the man whose working

life revolved around the chasing of the hare and the explosive break from the trap of the noble and graceful greyhound.

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