Dundalk's name up in lights in all kinds of weather

Joe Carroll's look at the sporting year ahead

Joe Carroll


Joe Carroll

Dundalk's name up in lights in all kinds of weather

Action from Dundalk Stadium

Michael Heeney had myself, Joey Maher and Gerry Gover along to give a talk to the students he had under his care at DkIT. It was about 12 years ago, and the theme was the importance of sport.

Heeney picked a surefire winner in Maher, the Drogheda man having had a distinguished career in handball, winning multiple Irish titles and some 'Worlds' as well. And he was good to tell a yarn.

And he couldn't have picked anyone better than Gover if he wanted the gathering of about 100 to learn firsthand how vital a role a mentor has to play in the preparation of youngsters, regardless of the game they play. It requires patience, dedication and an almost total disregard for your own spare time. And there's no money in it.

Back then, the Castletown man had decades of looking after underage soccer teams behind him; and he continues in a vital role with the Dundalk Schoolboys' League.

I don't know if it was because I was the organiser's first-cousin, or, that I was at the time wielding the red pen of mass correction with this paper, having previously worked on sport, that I got the gig. Odds-on it was the former.

Anyhow, for my party piece I spoke of how sport – or, more specifically, Steve Staunton - had played a major part in Dundalk being seen in a more favourable light than it had been when The Troubles were at their height.

Younger readers won't know of the time when a BBC correspondent came into town, took a look around and thought it would be a good idea to label the place El Paso. He didn't intend it to be complimentary, nor was it.

But it stuck, and for years townspeople had only to disclose their address and there was mention of the West Texas town which might never have won international recognition had Marty Robbins not sung about it.

What would you call a gathering of editors? A circus, perhaps? Whatever, I was in one back in the time, and when I mentioned the name of the paper I was overseeing, the chap beside me couldn't wait to shout “El Paso.” I wouldn't mind, but his sheet was fighting its way out of Limerick City. I was tempted to meet fire with fire but, being the softie that I am, chose not to.

I spun this yarn for the DkIT students, and, fair play to them, the Shannonsiders present took it on the chin when their colleagues playfully rounded on them.

May main point was that Steve Staunton's involvement in three World Cup finals was a positive for the town. His deft left foot helped him win him over a hundred caps, and whenever he was in profile, Dundalk nearly always got a mention. El Paso became 'nice pass, Stano', the ball from the Ard Easmuinn lad's boot finding its way down the wing often enough for Big Jack - and later, Mick McCarthy - to make him one of the first onto the teamsheet.

In the meantime, it's been good for the county town in a sporting sense, not only since Stephen Kenny took charge of the Oriel Park football team, but further back than that, to the day the country's first all-weather racetrack staged its initial meeting.

The Dowdallshill award-winning facility is nowadays witness to upwards on 40 meetings each year, and with all of them being carried live on television, shown to an audience of many thousands, Dundalk's name is up in lights, and there's no-one calling it names. Well, there is. Luke Harvey and Jason Weaver, the two former jockeys who co-present of Sky television's At The Races each Friday evening, like to refer to it as 'Dunners'.

People are being attracted to the town that might not otherwise visit, and from a racing perspective, trainers, the people with the biggest say in where horses show their paces, like to run their charges at the track, still affectionately known by some locals as 'The Mash'.

Some racing predictions: Michael O'Leary not to send any horses back to Willie Mullins; Matt Chapman to get the chop as a presenter with ITV's new racing programme; Aidan O'Brien not to train all English Classic winners, just three of them; the tide to come in during the Laytown Races.