The eyes of the sheepdog trialing world will be on County Down next year and local enthusiasts would be barking mad to miss out!
The International Sheepdog Society has confirmed that its International Sheepdog Trials will be held at Gill Hall Estate at Dromore in 2018.
Held over three days in September - from the 6th to the 8th - the event brings together the top 15 sheepdog and handler combinations from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Hosting the event is a great honour as the Irish National President explained.
“This is the biggest trial of each season,” said John McCullough, from Portadown,who has been at the head of the Irish section since 2014.
“What you have is the top 15 dogs from the four nations. Thursday and Friday is the qualifying which will see the top 15 dogs go through to Saturday’s final.
“After three days of competition the winner will be crowned supreme international champion,” added John.
The Gill Hall Estate will be a familiar location to many, not least those familiar with James Porter and his Old Glenort Angus herd.
John explained that the Gill Hall site will be an excellent venue and met the requirements laid down for such a large event.
“Gill Hall is a super venue. A number of previous winners have visited the site and they say it is one of the best they have ever seen,” said John.
In order to host a trial of this standing certain criteria has to be met.
John continued: “We had to find a suitable site, one that had a field of 80 acres and is able to meet the needs of the competition. Clear viewers for the competitors and also the spectators is a must.
“Once we had identified Gill Hall Estate and gained permission from the landowner the venue was put forward to the society’s ruling council for approval.”
While sheepdog trials may not seem like a major event they have been proven to have a significant economic impact.
Last year’s host nation was Wales and the society has recently received information showing it boosted the local economy.
John continued: “An economic impact report showed that in Wales last year the event brought £2million to the local economy.
“The event will attract many local enthusiasts but also visitors from much further afield. We have seen visitors from across Europe, the USA and Canada at previous events and there’s no reason to think that a Northern Ireland venue wouldn’t be just as popular. Last year we had visitors from Brazil!”
For sheepdogs and their handlers this is an event of major significance. Hundreds of combinations will compete just to earn their place at Gill Hall Estate.
“This is the highest standard of sheepdog trials,” John explained. “2018 will feature top dogs and handlers.
“One hundred and fifty dogs will challenge to be on each of the home nations so by the time the winning dog and handler is declared on the Saturday they will be the best out of 600 combinations.”
Earning a place at the trials will be secured through a qualification process with the Irish National qualifier for 2018 scheduled to be held at Achill Island, Co Mayo, in July next year.
The format of the trials will see four judges allocated to the event - one representing each of the home nations.
There is both team and individual honours up for consideration as every competitor scores points for their nation in qualifying as the top dogs in the final will battle it out for individual honours.
However, while 2018 may seem a long way off there is still plenty of trials to be held between now and then. The 2017 International Trials will be held in England this September where the Ireland team will be out to get their hands on some silverware.