Con all set for dog trials

  ‘The better the handler and the better the dog, the less things seem to go wrong,’ wryly observes Con McGarry from Ballyglass, Ballinagare. After 20 years of sheepdog trialling, including some national and international events, Con knows what it takes to get man, dog and sheep working in unison, but it’s worth all the effort when it comes together. The Ballinagare farmer is one of the few for whom attending Elphin Agricultural Show was a life-changing event.             It was a wet day in 1988 and because of the rain, Con’s wife and children decided to stay at home and he hit off himself down to Elphin. ‘I went down to have a look and there were sheepdog trials. That was the first time I saw sheepdog trials live. I had seen them on TV when I lived in Manchester. The first Irish handler I saw was David Brady from Northern Ireland. He has become very famous since.’             One of the first people that Con encountered at that sheepdog trial was Dan Moran from Four Roads and Con notes that Dan is now in his 80s and is still hale and hearty and works and runs his dogs at sheepdog trials.             ‘I got interested and thought I might have a go. I bought some pups and started from there. I was farming sheep and sucklers and returned from England and started this place in ’82.’ Con had a good working dog but he was not suitable for trials. ‘I bought some dogs from Dan Moran and some from Marjorie Qualter in Tipperary. I also bought a young dog from George Flanagan.’             ‘The first event I attended was at Ballyhaunis with a dog that was not suitable for the occasion. The second trial I went to I competed with a different dog, that was in Mount Venus in Dublin at Joe McGrath’s and I won that one.’ Con’s rise through the ranks of sheepdog triallers has been pretty impressive. He first competed on the Irish team in 1994, at an event in Nuts Corner in Belfast and he has been on the team every year since then. Twice, he has won the title of Irish National Brace Champion and once he claimed the Irish National Single Champion title. He also qualified for the World Trials in Bala, North Wales in 2002 and won the qualifying for the world trials at Tullamore Show in 2005.             It’s not all plain sailing though, and as with anything involving animals, things to wrong from time to time. ‘Things go wrong, mainly with the sheep, but of course the dog or handler can have a bad day too. If the dog happens to be off form and not responding to commands, then things will inevitably go wrong. If the handler makes a mistake and gives a wrong command, things will undoubtedly go wrong. The better the handler and the better the dog, the less things seem to go wrong,’ observed Con wryly.             In his career as a sheepdog trialler, Con has had some very memorable dogs, among them Dan, Nell, Tod, dogs Con has at the moment and Clifton Taff. However, there are two dogs that always stand out in the memory, Gyp and Di.             Speaking of the dogs he has at the moment, Con said, ‘Dan was Irish national champion and Nell is on the Irish team since last year. Tod is just after winning the All Ireland nursery finals.’ Some of the dogs are also sold from the farm in Ballyglass and find themselves in good homes all across Europe. ‘I have a young bitch called Meg, she ran in the nurseries. I just sold her to Germany. You have to sell some. I breed puppies and rear some of them. If you have too many, you have to sell them to people that can give them a chance to be out working.’             Con also recalls the famous duo of Gyp and Di. ‘They were very good. They were twice Irish National Brace champions. In nine years Gyp was only off the Irish team on one occasion. Dan, the dog I have now, is bred down from Gyp. He was an exceptionally good dog and Irish national champion. Nell is very good and I also had a very good dog called Clifton Taff, who took sixth place at the Supreme International in 2004.’             So, what are the qualities a good dog should have? ‘Instinct and the ability to work with sheep and be a good listener,’ said Con.             Con’s involvement with sheepdog trialling has seen him travel all over the world and he regularly travels to the continent and the US and teaches people how to train young dogs. To date, bringing dogs with him to the US has been a problem but that problem now looks as if it is going to be overcome. ‘At the moment we have only travelled within Ireland and the UK, but now the borders are opening up for taking dogs back without putting them in quarantine. I would have all the paperwork done and rabies injections, so the world is getting to be smaller.’             One problem faced by Con and the dog-trialling fraternity is the fact that Aer Lingus have stopped carrying dogs and now Con and his fellow triallers are restricted to American Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines for transporting their canine colleagues.             Con can be seen in action at this Sunday’s Roscommon County Ploughing Championships in Rahara. His exhibition has become a highlight of the annual event as he puts Dan and Tod through their paces, so get yourself along to the exhibition on Sunday afternoon.