North take the honours with victory over South in annual trial

James P McGee presenting the Martin O'Neil Cup to John MaGinn, winner
James P McGee presenting the Martin O'Neil Cup to John MaGinn, winner

The annual North vs South Final was hosted by North of Ireland Sheepdog Society, by kind permission of The Higgins family on Higgins Estate, Duneane Road, Moneyglass, Toomebridge, Co Antrim.

Sheep were supplied by Kieran McFadden. The judges were Mr John Rooney and Mr Tommy Brennan. Timekeeper and clerk Mrs Lorna O’Kane and Seamus O’Kane, course director.

Competitors consisting of the top 21 handlers from the North (Ulster) come head to head with top handlers from the south, with seven from each province. These are selected from sheepdog points achieved throughout the year. The overall winner receives the Martin O’Neill Perpetual Cup.

Higgins Estate provided an ideal venue for the championship. The trial field was a very large sloping field and the spectators are looking on the field from a lower gradient. Field consists of a 350 yard outrun, with a left hand drive of 130 yards, the cross-drive in around the same distance and then back to the pen about 80 yards and finish with the shed.

Sheep were in very good condition, light and a little touchy at the start in the morning and it wasn’t easy for any handlers to put up an outstanding run.

Sheep were changed at the half way point and proved to be a little more settled, waiting more on dogs instead of breaking away. Therefore the standard of runs were better in the afternoon, and new leaders were appearing.

First handler to start the day off was Frankie McCullough (North) with his dog Spot. Starting with a right hand outrun, good lift and fetch missing both drive gates, successful pen and shed.

Third run was Seamus Gallagher and Iona (North) first left outrun, very steady run, nicely through first drive gate with tight turn, however missing left drive gate. His pen and shed set the standard with a score of 158.

Run five William Gallagher and Blue (North). Left hand outrun, off line slightly on fetch, however with careful correct William managed to steady lines getting fetch gates. Narrowly getting both drive gates. Difficulty at close work, difficult pen. But, unfortunately timed out at shed.

Run seven Brendan Marley (North) and Gwen. The left hand outrun was wide, a few blow in whistles required. However lifted nicely with a steady fetch, nice lines and nicely around the post. Very good lines maintained on left drive gates. Cross drive lines maintained ensuring second drive gate. Gwen keeps a nice distance not disturbing her sheep. Nicely penned and shed.

Run 10 Ned O’Keefe and Jess (South). Right hand outrun, some blow out whistle, stopped short slightly on lift. Very straight fetch, nicely through fetch gates. Jess maintains good control and distance not disturbing her sheep. Nice drive, through first drive gates with nice tight turns. Very nice close up work, smooth pen equaled with smooth shed.

Run 13 Colm Doherty and Floss (North). Left hand outrun, sheep moving to right on fetch line, nicely corrected by Colm. Nice lines on first drive and cross drive. However narrowly missing second drive gate on upper side. Sheep proved tricky at Pen, trying to break away. However Colm managed to stay cool nicely penned and shed.

Run 17 JP McFadden (North) and Cap. Tight outrun, very straight lines on fetch. Very steady run at a nice pace. Cap keeps a nice distance, very good drive work and gates. Wide turn on second left gate. Successful shed and pen. Tidy around the course setting a new standard of 168 points.

Run 20 Con McGary and Cora (South). Left outrun, a few blow out whistles required. Sheep moving to left on fetch, well corrected, getting fetch gates. Nicely tight around post. Good drive, unfortunately missing first drive gate. Nice steady pace with pen and shed. 160 points

Run 23 James McLaughlin and Lyn (North Donegal). Left hand outrun. Sheep moved to right on lift. Lots of correction to get fetch line. Nice around post, nicely through first drive gate with tight turn, good lines on cross drive, getting second drive gate. Sheep a bit stubborn at pen, however Lyn kept her cool, making pen look easy, successful shed.

Run 24 M Healy and Sweep (South). Left hand outrun. Lovely outrun and lift. Very straight fetch line. Sweep demonstrated excellent control, not disturbing his sheep. Excellent lines on drive. Achieving all gates with tight turns. Excellent pen and shed. Fourth place on 176 points OLF.

Run 31 John MaGinn and Mozz (North). Left hand outrun, very good lift, sheep moving to right on fetch, corrected fetch, tight around post, first drive gate slightly wide on turn, very good cross drive, nicely through second drive gate, tricky at pen sheep breaking around it. However John successfully achieved both shed and pen within the time frame. Overall winner on 188 points. First place.

Run 32 Martin O‘Malley and Jock (South). Left outrun, nice lift and fetch, moving to right on lift, line nicely maintained by Jock, nice run to watch. Jock doesn’t disturb his sheep, keeps a nice distance on drive, through first drive gate with tight turn, perfect lines on cross drive, getting second gate with another tight turn. Very tricky at the pen to begin with, one sheep circulating pen, however with persistence of both man and dog, they finished with good pen and shed. Finishing in 10th place with 170 points. Previous to this Martin ran his dog Gwenno (South) run number 26, an equally good run leaving him overall second place with 186 points.

Run 33. Sammy Long and Shep (North). Right hand outrun, nice steady fetch line, nice drive, Shep maintaining full control. Straight through second drive gate, slightly wide turn. Successful and shed. Ninth place on 172 points.

Run 35 James McLaughlin and Ben (North). Right hand out run, over shot on lift, good fetch line and tight around the post. Through first drive gate with nice turn, very good Cross drive and second gate with tight turn, very good pen, second attempt at shed required. Eighth place on 172 points OLF.

Run 37 Sammy Long and Roy (North). Right hand outrun, nicely through fetch gates, very wide turn on second gate. Good drive and lines, good pen and shed within the timeframe. Seventh place on 174 points.

Run 38 Con McGarry and Tara (South). Right hand outrun, good start, nice steady lines on fetch, tight around post, good drive away. Tara fully in control, not upsetting or disturbing sheep in any way. Good cross drive slightly wide on second drive gate. Sheep stubborn at pen to begin with, successful and quick shed. Fourth place on 182 points.

Run 39 James P McGee and Silver (North). Slightly left on fetch, nice fetch line, tight around the feet, nicely through first drive gate with a very tight turn. Excellent lines. Lovely pen and shed. Sixth place with 176 points.

Overall winners

1st, John Maginn and Mozz (North) 188

2nd, Martin O’Malley and Gwenno (South) 186

3rd, Simon Moss and Peg (South) 184

4th, Con Mc Garry and Tara (South) 182

5th, M Healy and Sweep (South) 176 OLF

6th, James P McGee and Silver (North) 176

7th, Sammy Long and Roy (North) 174

8th, James McLaughlin and Ben (North) 172 OLF

9th, Sammy Long and Shep (North) 172

10th, Martin O’Malley and Jock (South) 170

North = 1996 points. South =1986. A narrow margin of victory for North of Ireland sheep dog trials.

The North of Ireland Sheepdog Society would like to thank the Higgins family for allowing this event to be hosted on their land.

Special thanks to Eamon McAuley (Toome) and Gerard Graham for getting the venue and setting up the course. The society are very grateful to Kieran McFadden for kindly providing the use of his sheep to run the event.

Thanks to everyone who put out sheep or helped in any way with the final. Specials thanks and congratulations to all competitors and spectators who made this a superb event .