On duty at Clonmel Races were, from left, James Kennedy, TJ Leahy, Vincent Fahy, John Power, course foreman Tommy Kelly, Thomas Kennedy and Lorcan Wyer, clerk of the course
It was a case of the show must go on for course foreman Tommy ‘Ned’ Kelly and the ground staff at Clonmel racecourse, even when Irish racing stopped from March 24 to June 8 last year as part of the first lockdown measures due to the coronavirus emergency.
“Everything in the course still had to be maintained,” he stated.
“If we were locked up at home and unable to work we would have returned to a jungle.”
“The grass had to be cut and the hedges trimmed, and fences had to be repaired.
“If we left it too long without cutting the grass we would have come back to silage.”
However Tommy recognises that the staff were fortunate to stay working.
“We were able to keep ourselves occupied for the sake of our mental health. I would have dreaded sitting at home for the last year and-a-half.”
Even with racing continuing behind closed doors, the strict protocols in place throughout the sport and the industry mean that even staff have to log onto the IHRB (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board) app and register before reporting for duty at race meetings.
Tommy Kelly says it has been worth it to stay working and to be out in the open air.
He says the atmosphere on the course without spectators is “eerie”.
He’s pleased that owners have returned but says that without spectators, especially families and children running around the place, it wasn’t the same.
“Normally it takes me two and-a-half hours to get home after racing. Now it’s a case of locking up straight after racing.
“You’re not trying to encourage any stragglers to leave the bar!”
He’s one of many who are looking forward to the return of spectators at the September meetings.
The course might be closed until then but it will still have to be maintained. It will be stripped with the rails, fences and hurdles taken down.
The break will also allow time to carry out an upgrade of the stables.
Neither will there be any Clonmel Show or pony club camp at Powerstown Park this year.
The National Coursing Meeting last February also fell victim to the lockdown, although Tommy Kelly is looking forward to its return next year, with the preparations for the event starting in the autumn.
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