IRISH KENNEL CLUB RETRIEVER CHAMPIONSHIP 2017
Sponsored by Connolly’s Red Mills Premium Dog Food
Mr Declan Boyle with INT FTCH MILLER MCDUFF wins the 51st Irish Kennel Club Retriever Championships
For my uninitiated readers….every year the top field trial retrievers and their handlers in the country come together at an epic two day event to find the Best of the Best among the Retriever elite.
The dogs that are eligible to qualify for this event will have been on a relentless trialling campaign which stretches from January to mid-February then recommencing again in September through to the cut off in early December. By the beginning of December qualifying stakes are completed and at that point a draw is done to decide the running order of the qualified dogs.
The purpose of field trials has always been to ensure that when bringing breeding stock forward you are choosing dogs that will hopefully pass on traits that are compatible with the work that is required of a specific breed or group of dogs. Although I am not a trialler, I am a strong advocate of preserving good working gundogs and feel the importance of preserving field trials and to a lesser degree working tests as an invaluable tool and benchmark for the future of preserving all round good working quality in Gundogs.
The 51st Irish Retriever Championships was held at Shelton Abbey Shoot Co. Wicklow on December 29th and 30th 2017 by the kind permission of Mr Harry Nash and the Shelton Syndicate and Gamekeeper Mr Philip Gregory.
Judges for this year’s competition were Mr Pat Hearne (Ireland), Mr Ashley Donnan (Ireland), Mr Kevin Doughty (UK) and Mr Mike Tallamy (UK).
The shoot has long been a supporter of both Retriever and Spaniel field trials and has hosted the Championships for both categories of Gundogs over the years. This would be the first time however, that Shelton would be the sole host for both days having shared it with neighbouring Ballyarthur estate in the past.
As acreage goes Shelton is not a massively sprawling estate. The shoot has been developed within Irish forestry ground (Coillte) that surrounds the ancient Abbey. The gamekeeper and syndicate have taken full advantage of the natural landscape and currently its signature drive, known as The Oaks, is most likely producing some of the highest, fastest and most sporting birds in the country. Running from the boundary wall at the back of the Abbey for about two kilometres the valley rises steeply to display the most magnificent stand of mature Irish Oak trees. The impact this stand of trees makes is made all the more impressive by the wide flat spread of ground below it, of what is known as the tailings, (a legacy of the past when ore was mined here).Just to stand back and watch the magic unfold from the back of the tailings as the birds break in small controlled clusters from the very top of the majestic Oak treeline is truly one of the gratifying sights on a cold winters day.
Meet up was at the shoot clubhouse before sunrise, where competitors collected their armbands, official photos were taken and then before we set off the Championship Chairman, Mr Michael Corr introduced the Judges. He thanked Mr Harry Nash, The Syndicate (who were shooting on Day one), and gamekeeper Philip for all their help and support in the run up to organising this event. He welcomed Mr John Geoghegan and Mr Ger Foley who were representing the sponsors Connolly’s Red Mills. He expressed gratitude to Red Mills for their continued support and urged everyone to support our sponsors by buying the Red Mills products. Red Mills ENGAGE is widely used by field trial competitors throughout the country. Finally wishing everybody an enjoyable two days we set off in convoy down through the abbey gates and onto the tailings for the start of the first drive.
Thirty-nine dogs had qualified. There were eight withdrawals. Four handlers had qualified two Dogs – Mr Matty Lambden with Ulverton Punch and FTCH Tamrose Argon; Mr Billy Lundy with INT FTCH The Newcam Boss and INT FTCH Drumgoose Warlord; Mr Declan Boyle with INT FTCH Miller Mc Duff and Highwalk Kerry; Mr Sean Diamond with Copperbirch Mandela and Ardnahoe Fine Design. All of the dogs qualified were Labrador Retrievers bar two. These were two Golden Retrievers, both littermates bred by Mr Mike Hamilton – Tealcreek Isla owned and handled by Mr John Williamson and FTCH Tealcreek Aran owned and handled by Mrs Rita Corr.
The morning was bright and sunny but a yellow weather warning was in place threatening snow for later in the day. This was certainly borne out by the biting North West wind that blew down the valley.
In the initial stages of the trial the dogs were split into odd and even numbers. This is normal practice in most trials with competitors moving from one side to the other as they move through their individual retrieves so that by the end of the first round of retrieves every dog will have been seen by all four judges.
And so at just after 10.am the horn blew to indicate the start of the drive on the First Oaks.
For the beginning of the day I followed the uneven numbered dogs with Judges Mr Pat Hearne and Mr Mike Tallamy. They lined up their sixteen charges near the back of the tailings behind the last four Guns. From this particular vantage point dogs and handlers would be treated to a full visual of the birds breaking cover from the very top of the treeline.
This is a long drive, not easy if you have a dog slightly on edge and as the drive progressed and the beating line moved along through the trees above us the birds landed in nearer and nearer. We lost one dog at this point when a hen bird fluttered into the brambles near the end of the line, Unfortunately 2 others were lost on the even side of the line during this drive, Not long after a winged cock bird tumbled to the ground about 70 meters out, found his legs and ran for cover. Number 3 dog Int FTCH Miller McDuff being first dog up was immediately sent by Judge Mr Pat Hearne. Handler Declan Boyle cast him straight out to the initial fall and then with a quick right cast McDuff took up the scent trail ,disappeared into the thick bramble line and returned promptly with the wounded bird.
Finally the horn sounded to signal the end of the drive. I’m sure there were many in line that let go and breathed deeply as they put their leads on their dogs. Now the task of retrieving began as our teams of dedicated markers communicated with judges and one by one dogs came to the line.
Two dogs were lost on our side in this round of retrieves. Both dogs worked well, entered cover when asked and hunted well but as is the nature of trialling to stay in or out of a trial, particularly in the early stages, can be as simple as turning your dog to the left or right and coming on the scent or lie of the bird.
There is one part of the Oaks where the ground is free from cover. It is a wide grassy area about the size of a football pitch. It looks easy but to cast a dog from one side of it to the other after they have watched birds fall run and maybe even pick from before makes a long cast decidedly more difficult. So here a dog’s ability to push through old falls would be put to the test, also the risk of picking the wrong bird if a dog should pull onto stronger scent than where you want them to go increases the further the dog goes away from you. We lost another dog here as a result of pulling onto the wrong bird at the last second.
Meanwhile word was filtering through to our side of the line that dog number 3 Int FTCH Miller McDuff had just completed his second retrieve having scaled a cliff face, up through brambles to bring back a duck from the base of a holly tree; he was certainly blazing a trail for others to follow so early in the competition.
Once the judges were happy that the ground was cleared from this particular drive, we waited for the Guns to return and followed them further down the valley to the Fourth Oaks.
This drive is equally as challenging, the birds here break from the trees at a tight angle, offering more snap shooting that long visuals. It is a tighter drive, with the guns being double backed, with more cover than open area and a few cliff faces to add to the interest.
Again the field was split and dogs sat in line. It is a shorter drive and all remaining dogs remained steady until the final horn sounded…
With more cover dogs have to be allowed to work on their own more and their handlers have to trust them to do so. I felt the judges allowed ample time once the dog entered cover to hunt without putting pressure on the handlers to call up their dogs too quickly. Alas a few more dogs were lost here failing to find in some very thick unrelenting cover.Several dogs were really impressive here; number 14 FTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood…was sent for a retrieve where a previous dog had failed…. A cock bird had fallen about 60 meters down the track past the boundary gate of the shoot. It is an area of no man’s land between Shelton and its neighbour, Ballyarthur estate. The bird to be searched for had fallen behind a bank of laurel along a nice looking track but behind the laurel the ground falls away steeply to the river below. Handler David Latham cast his dog down the track then stopped him promptly before casting him left into the laurel and then we waited. At one point down at the bottom of the valley we could hear the flutter of wings then all again went quiet….then up out of the laurels the dog appeared carrying the wounded bird.
Quite a number of dogs impressed in this round, all being sent for retrieves from the path up through relentless bramble to find birds among the undergrowth… No.28 FTCH Tamrose Aragon, No.29 Quarrypool Charley, No.30 Tealcreek Isla, No.34 Watergreen Hunter and No.36 Lettergreen Razzle were among those catching the eye of the judges.
We worked through one more drive before light finally got the better of us and then we retired for day 1.
Call-backs for day 2 were:
36 Lettergreen Razzel handler Mr Sean Nolan
39 Drumgoose Oscar handler Mr Colin Montgomery
3 Int FTCH MillerMcDuff handler Mr Declan Boyle
14 Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood handler Mr David Latham
16 Ulverton Punch handler Mr Matty Lambden
19 Int FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose handler Mr John Barr (Jnr)
23 FTCH Skerryview Alisha at Annaloughan handler Mr Peter Colville
27 FTCH Copperbirch Mandela handler Mr Sean Diamond
28 FTCH Tamrose Aragon handler Mr Matty Lambden
29 Quarrypool Charley handler Ms Ciara Behan
30 Tealcreek Isla handler Mr John Williamson
32 Int FTCH Camgart Tomo handler Mr Gary Mc Cutcheon
33 Lassy Moonlight Sky handler Mr Alan Harper
34 FTCH Watergreen Hunter handler Mr Thomas Lowry
The second day saw temperatures rise considerably with the harsh north east wind dropping off. This should make scenting conditions good as warmer air along with warmer noses is generally a sweet combination something that would certainly need to come into play as the remaining dogs would be tested to the limits in regards to ability to both face and work in cover out of sight of their respective handlers.
The drives known as ‘ The Snuff Box ‘ and ‘The Upper Staffords’ are not for the fainthearted.
Both are relatively sheltered by a high sided valley. The Snuff box is currently in its second season as an area of felled plantation so patchy bramble growth is starting to take hold of the rough uneven ground. The Upper Staffords, next door, has not yet been harvested but it being forestry ground has been left to grow wildly and unkempt for many years. There is enough light beneath the spread of conifers to have enabled more bramble and bracken to grow. The wood is cut through by a series of parallel paths and a stream.
And so as the horn sounded to indicate the start of the Snuffbox drive on the second day all eyes were on the 14 remaining dogs and handlers as they waited and watched for the birds to break cover.
The even numbered dogs here were faced with long retrieves across the wide open area of felled plantation while the uneven numbered dogs were taken to retrieve from the thicker scrubby ground where the foresters had left huge piles of broken tree branches mixed with last summer’s bracken growth and of course brambles….lots of them. All of the dogs that I watched in this round of retrieves really handled the ground very well, never backed off cover and again the judges were very understanding in allowing ample time for dogs to work their way through thick cover.
We moved onto Upper Staffords. It is the Holy Grail test for a dog to truly face cover….
I have worked my own dogs on this ground and in this cover for over 11 years so fully appreciate every obstacle faced by all of these dogs on this day however I think when Dog number 3 was brought to the line to find a bird that three previous dogs had failed on none of us watching expected to witness what unfolded.
The bird had been marked as having fallen above the second parallel path behind the gun line in a dense; I would say almost impenetrable bed of bramble. In fact in any other circumstances you would say it was a job for a spaniel as they can get under cover when a retriever can’t get through it. Between the path and where the dog would be cast from ran a stream, again overgrown with bramble and bracken on both sides….easy here to knock a dog off its original line and indeed that is what had happened three dogs previous to McDuff.
Declan Boyle cast his dog, on a line directly towards the heaviest bunch of bramble and Miller McDuff took it on. He disappeared beneath the cover and all we could see for many moments was the movement of the briar leaves as he pushed his way through. He got over the stream; still we had no visual on the dog just the movement and sound of bracken and briars being pushed aside as he made his way up the valley side. When He appeared at the Upper path Declan stopped his dog and directed him into the next patch of brambles where the bird had fallen. Again we watched in trepidation as the bramble leaves moved and twitched…up, up, up he went then a moment of snuffling and the movement of cover told us all he was on his way back. There was one fraction of a second that he tried to make his way through and we all glimpsed his prize. He had the bird….Miller McDuff had shown us all in one magical moment what he was made of and that this was his time.
The final judges’ huddle brought us down to 8 dogs:
3 Int FTCH Miller McDuff
14 FTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood
19 Int FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose
23 FTCH Skerryview Alisha at Annloughan
28 Tamrose Aragon
30 Tealcreek Isla
34 FTCH Watergreen Hunter
36 Lettergreen Razzel
Well done to these final eight dogs, they really were tested to the limits in the two days and showed us some fantastic dog work on very challenging ground.
After the 6th round of retrieves these dogs were called to water to decide the placings.
In the late afternoon a full house gathered in the Shoot Clubhouse and there was an excited buzz as everyone appreciated and tucked into tables laden with sandwiches, tea, coffee and soup all very generously laid on by our host Mr. Harry Nash
Chairman Mr Michael Corr first stood and thanked everyone involved in the running and organising of such an event- the committee, the stewards and in particular Lady Waterford, our Treasurer for her many years of service to the committee. Michael then went onto thank the Shelton syndicate who shot on day one and the six Guns who shot so well on day two. He thanked Gamekeeper Mr Philip Gregory and His wife Michelle without whose amazing support the event would not have happened. Thanks, was also extended again to Mr Harry Nash. Harry offered endless help, not only during the two days but throughout the year, going above and beyond what was expected to ensure that the event ran smoothly and was enjoyed by everyone.
Thanks from our Chairman was also extended to our very generous sponsors Red Mills who supplied all competitors with goodie bags and jackets for the Judges and winning handlers.
Harry Nash was invited to say a few words he said, “it was a great pleasure to host the Championships over the two days, the second day in particular providing a lot of action”. Harry also thanked Robert Irwin for his help and assistance throughout the two days.
Michael then asked head Judge Mr Pat Hearne to speak. Pat opened by saying what an honour it was to judge the Championships at Shelton Abbey. To watch dogs work over very different ground over the two days and he felt, in particular that day two showed dogs performing at their best.
Michael then invited our overseas judges to speak. Mr Kevin Doughty said that he was impressed by the dogs’ ability to face and work cover so well over the two days. Mr Mike Tallamy spoke of what an honour it was to be invited to judge such a prestigious event and thanked everyone for their warm hospitality and sportsmanship over the two days.
- Int FTCH Miller Mcduff owner/ handler Mr Declan Boyle
- Lettergreen Razzel owner/ handler Mr Sean Nolan
- FTCH Beileys Aguzannis of Fendawood owner Mrs Stefanie Latham handler Mr David Latham
- FTCH Tamrose Argon owner/handler Mr Matty Lambden
COM INT FTCH Willowmount Regal Rose owner/handler Mr John Barr Jnr
COM FTCH Skerryview Alisha at Annloughan owner/handler Mr Peter Colville
COM Tealcreek Isla owner/handler Mr John Williamson
COM FTCH Watergreen Hunter owner/handler Mr Tom Lowry
Special awards went to:
The Fred Mc Guirk Perpetual Cup for the highest placed bitch was awarded to
Mr John Barr (Jnr).
The Sam Jennet Raughlin Perpetual Trophy for the breeder of the winner of the Irish Retriever Championship was presented to Mr Declan Boyle on behalf of the breeder Mr W.R.C. Haughey.
The Ballyfrema Perpetual Cup for the breeder of the highest placed Irish Bred dog/bitch in the IKC Championship was presented to Mr Declan Boyle on behalf of the breeder Mr W.R.C. Haughey
The Irish Country Sports & Country Life Perpetual Trophy for Guns Choice was awarded to Mr Declan Boyle