Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Going to the dogs has a new meaning at Drumbo

Let’s beat the drum for Drumbo Park. That’s the message going out today as the traps lift on a new £3m greyhound adventure which heralds in the best sports stadium in the province in terms of modern and corporate facilities at Lisburn Distillery FC.

No longer will the names New Grosvenor and Ballyskeagh be used for this magnificent stadium which lies between affluent Upper Malone and the village of Drumbeg.

A fresh name, a fresh approach to greyhound racing, not only as a sport but as a means of entertainment to match the standards at Dundalk, Lifford and Shelbourne - just three of the venues in the south that have benefited from Irish government funding through the Irish Greyhound Board who have transformed the sport in the last two decades.

This venture comes at a time when other tracks in the UK are closing, such as the famous Walthamstow circuit in London which has followed the sale of the White City, Catford and Hackney in being sold off for development.

And of course, we know all about that here with the demise of Celtic Park which gave birth to the sport on this island in 1927 and Dunmore Stadium.

Dungannon and Ballyskeagh fell by the wayside in 2001 and 2005 for different reasons, the latter after a long and protracted court case which left only Brandywell in Derry to carry the flag north of the border.

But now a new dawn has arrived thanks to the vision and enterprising spirit of the business trio of John McCollum, Michael Adams and Tommy Anderson.

Patrons tonight can’t fail to be awestruck by the facilities which involve an upgraded and cambered track, the latest in hare and trap technology with an emphasis on safety for dogs, particularly on the bends.

But the piece de resistance, is the new stand which incorporates superb dining facilities and viewing area for 300 people along with plasma screens and tote betting thereby delivering live coverage and means of betting from other tracks.

While the show gets on the road this evening, the fanfare and trumpets of an official opening will come later.

"We want to start low-key," said John, "and allow things to bed in.

"Eventually, we hope to cater for 100,000 people annually and we see Drumbo Park as being at the forefront of Northern Ireland entertainment.

"On the greyhound front, there is no reason why we cannot get the sponsorship to stage the likes of a £50,000 Ulster Derby, attracting the best greyhounds in the country.

“Also, we will cater for charity nights and play our part in helping the community as a whole.

"Greyhound racing has been transformed in the south in terms of marketing and hospitality and, for too long, that type of approach has been missing in Northern Ireland.

“Changing political circumstances have paved the way for new beginnings at every level in our society and we aim to be part of that renewed confidence.

"What we have at Drumbo is something different. The cloth cap image has long gone and as far as we are concerned, we want people talking about having a good night out on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays."

Trials have been carried out in the last few weeks and the reports from owners and trainers have been positive.

The sport here has never enjoyed the largess of government funding and the backing of an august body such as the IGB.

Track racing in the six counties is currently administered and controlled by the Irish Coursing Club and while it continues to provide an umbrella of authority and regulation, the ICC can not provide the investment and wherewithal to keep greyhound racing flourishing in a manner enjoyed in the south.

Drumbo Park aims to bring the sport into line with southern competition and is determined to live up to the standards which owners, trainers, punters, patrons and indeed even greyhounds are entitled to expect in this day and age.

Under general manager Paddy Toal , no stranger to operating at this level at the Dublin tracks and racing manager John Paul Connor who coincidentally, was the man who announced the closure of Ballyskeagh in the dark days of October 2005, the future is looking extremely bright for all those who love the sport of the long tails. Many doubted such a night would arrive, believing greyhound racing in the greater Belfast area was gone for ever.

What a delight to say that their pessimism was unfounded.

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