Paul winning in Ballyhaunis as a 13-year-old
On Saturday last on Achill Island off the Mayo coast, a Kilcar native came tops in Ireland in the National Sheepdog trials.
Paul O'Donnell and his dog Tim scooped the top prize in the national final competing against 150 competitors from all over the country.
And he did it with a dog that was attending the Nationals for the first time and is really a novice at just three years of age.
“It doesn't happen too often. To go to his first National and to do what he did. He had never won an Open competition and even in nursery events last winter, he didn't qualify.
“But the talent was there. He was pushing too hard. But I felt once he calmed down, he was special,"said a jubilant O'Donnell, who is now domiciled in Co. Wicklow.
What is really remarkable about the win is that O'Donnell is a Garda based in Dun Laoghaire and doesn't own a farm.
But his interest in sheepdog trialling goes back a long way. His father, Jimmy and uncle, Proinnsias Boyle, were into sheepdogs and Paul's family were all brought up with sheep and dogs. “It was dogs, dogs, dogs and football,” said Paul, who played with Kilcar until he left for Wicklow. He didn't have any football success with Kilcar but he went on to play O'Byrne Cup with Wicklow and then won an All-Ireland Junior Championship with the Garden County in 2002.
His first success with sheepdogs came as a 13-year-old when he won a competition in Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo.
And that was not unusual for the O'Donnells. “Mark (older brother) was the first to take it up and he cleaned up in Ardara as a 16-year-old. We were just bred into it and we were all given a pup when we were young.”
Another brother, Stephen, is also very much into the sport and has had many successes.
Paul only owns a few sheep and keeps them on a few acres that he has in Wicklow. “I have about six acres, which is owned by my wife, Dora. I do most of my training on neighbouring farms and the farmers are very helpful. I help out then with the dogs when they are bringing in their sheep,” said Paul.
It is an arrangement that is working really well. Because of the win he will now be part of the 15-man Irish team who will go head to head with Wales, England and Scotland in the Home Internationals in Dromore, Co. Down on 6-8 September.
“The aim is to get Tim to qualify for the final day when the top 15 dogs fight it out for the Supreme Championship. Dogs usually reach their prime between four and eight years. It is just like a footballer, you could be good at 20, but your best years should be between 24 and 30, and then it is downhill.”
Tim's journey to Paul was also a dramatic one. He was bred by Pat Byrne in Knockcroghery in Co. Roscommon before being sold to Antonio Cassino in North Spain. But in the world of sheepdog trialling, word got out and Paul bought him and brought him back and, as they say, the rest is history.