In every sense it was a fitting farewell to the Markets Field Stadium in Limerick last Saturday night. The venue, which has been home to greyhound racing since 1933, got a rousing send-off as it closed its doors for the last time to make way for the new stadium, which will open in a different part of the city next October.
Despite the inclement weather conditions, big crowds started to converge on the venue from early on and when racing got underway there was a carnival-like atmosphere in the stadium. It seems everyone who had anything to do with greyhounds wanted to say they were in the Markerts Field for the last meeting.
Long-standing supporters of the Markets Field were there in strength and they included a good number of stalwarts from Clare. They included Michael Marrinan from Ennistymon, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, Christy Kelly from Mullagh and Alphonsus Tubridy from the same area, as well as another Ennistymon native, Timmie Keane from Shannon. They and many others have happy memories of the venue, which has served the Mid-West well but which has grown old and now lacks the comfort and modern amenites of tracks in other parts of the country.
Christy Kelly is a long-time supporter of the Markets Field and has been going there for the past 67 years. He missed only one Leger final and was there with his very young daughter Pat when Tom and Jude O’Doherty won the classic with Own Pride. He said the closing night was like old times. He also made a presentation of a 1950 race programme and a 1960 sales catalogue to the Irish Greyhound Board for its collection.
Many old friendships were renewed on the night and a 40-year gap was bridged when Ennis publican Frank White and Munster IRFU man Gerry Moore met for the first time since they were work colleagues in SPS, Shannon.
Limerick has been home for many years to one of the great greyhound classics, the Irish St Leger, and as part of the closing down ceremony, presentations were made to past winners and their representatives. Listed among the Clare winners are Own Pride (1969), owned by the late Tom O’Doherty and his brother, Fr Jude O’ Doherty, Florida; Pat Hogan from near Ballyala, Ennis, who won in 1986 with Storm Villa; Bryan Murphy and his wife Kathleen, who won back-to-back St Legers with Barefoot Dash and Barefoot Martyin 1992 and 1993 when they were living in Doora, Ennis and Liam and John Garrahy, who were successful with Extra Dividend in 2000.
Pat Hogan was there on Saturday night to receive his presentation, as were Gary, Jamie, Cathal, Niall and Noelle on behalf of the O’Doherty family. Clare-born Liam Garrahy, originaly from Moy and now living in Greytstones, Limerick, was also there and he was acompanied by John Garrahy’sons, Diarmaid and Eoin.
A special presentation was made to the legendary Ger McKenna, who had the distinction of training 13 St Leger winners.
There was also plenty of excitement on the track with the 12-race card, which had two Clare winners. Ballyhannon (Tucks Mein-Adorableiventia), trained by Denis O’Malley for Seamus Duggan, came with a great run in the final few strides to win the Ballina GAA Buster A2 550 final by a head from Elka Kewell in a time of 29.96
In the second-last race of the night, the final of the Ladbrokes Irish Greyhound Derby qualifier, Yeah Me (Yeah Man-Minnies Divine), owned and trained by Nicola Downes, Killaloe, started to make up ground down the back straight, led at the third bend and came home a 29.84 winner by six lengths.
The last winner at the famed Markets Field was Mustang Johny, trained by Pat Fizgerald, in the Farewell to the Markets Field Open 550, which was won in 29.70.
At the end of the night, the attendance was addressed by Tony McKenna, chairman of the Limerick Greyhound Stadium. He said that while they were looking forward to going to the new stadium in Ocober, they were also anxious that the Martkets Field would continue to be an important sporting venue for the years to come.
He said that at at the Irish St Leger final in Limerick two years ago, Dick O’ Sullivan, chairman of Bord na gCon, promised that there would be a new stadium in Limerick within two years. He was a man of his word and shortly they would be moving to a state-of-the-art stadium.
He paid tribute to past managers, including Brendan O’Connell and Gus Ryan, staff, owners, trainers, bookies, patrons and the general public, who made the Markets Field a unique place.