Greyhounds are good for the mind and body says Fr O'Neill's hurler Billy Dunne

Ballyhimikin Farm in Garryroe has produced a number of promising dogs
Greyhounds are good for the mind and body says Fr O'Neill's hurler Billy Dunne

Billy Dunne in action for Fr O'Neill's. Picture: Larry Cummins.

WELL-KNOWN as a sharpshooting hurler with Fr O'Neill's, Billy Dunne's other passion is greyhounds.

At Ballyhimikin Farm in Garryvoe, he has set up his own kennels where the dogs are "looked after like babies".

“They are very placid and love getting attention. Rearing them from babies and watching them grow and progress and graduate to racing is very satisfying.” 

Watching them win is satisfying too. Dunne's first dog Ballyhimikin Jet is a champion sprinter who won the 575-yard John Slyne Memorial Cup and made great strides in Irish Derby races.

Potential champions need tender loving care and a healthy diet to perform: “They get fed chicken mince and nuts twice a day."

“They are groomed, walked, massaged and they are all very well fed.

“Their nails and their coats are kept trimmed and they get a bone tonic to keep their bones strong. There is a bit of work involved keeping the dogs in tip-top shape. 

"It’s a whole process but a very rewarding one. The first three months; it’s important to keep the animals’ vaccinations up-to-date.” 

The canine residents at Ballyhimikin Farm are causing great curiosity in the locality.

“My uncles are very techie now and they enjoy watching the races looking up the racing results,” says Billy, laughing. “My friends are all interested knowing I’m stone mad about the dogs”

Fr O'Neill's hurler Billy Dunne is now a greyhound trainer at Ballyhimikin Farm.
Fr O'Neill's hurler Billy Dunne is now a greyhound trainer at Ballyhimikin Farm.

The dozen or so contented hounds all with the prefix Ballyhimikin to their names have their own comfortable beds lined with straw. The puppy litter of nine, seven girls and two boys frolic and play together in their own stall.

“We built five kennels last year and a run for the dogs outside it in the field that is fenced off where they are walked and where they can gallop. 

“There is a hole in the wall where the dogs can go outside to do their business when the shutter is opened. Before, I’d have to take them out on the lead every morning and evening.” 

The dogs come out of the traps on a regular basis.

“It’s great we can still go to the track and go greyhound racing. We weigh the dogs first and then we have to sit in the van because of restrictions-but at least we can have a chat with other dog enthusiasts socially distancing. It refreshes the mind." 

Youghal track is a great asset to have.

“There’s great credit to the local people like JJ Fennelly who keeping it going smoothly.” 

Billy, who is farming full-time with his father, John, is a graduate from Clonakilty Agricultural College, qualified in dairy herd management.

“Our neighbour Pat Maloney used to call to us for milk for his greyhounds. When his dog Sonic was competing in the Irish Derby; we went up to Shelbourne Park to see the race. I was out injured at the time and I was taking time out from playing GAA.” 

He was bitten by the greyhound racing bug. “After that, we begged Pat for a pup."

Billy’s luck was in. Ballyhimikin Jet was a winner.

Some people involved in the sport take years to get a good dog. We got one straight-away.” 

Ballyhimikin Jet's sons and daughters will follow in his footsteps, racing the track.

“I remember the Irish Derby Final in 2019. A local dog Kilmacdonagh was a great prospect to do well. The dog ran a good race, but much to our disappointment he wasn’t the winner. Ballyhimikin Jet ran the next race and he won it. All the locals were delighted. It lifted them.” 

WHEN YOUR LUCK IS IN

It was a win-win for Billy that night in more ways than one.

“He met his girlfriend, Maria, the same night!” says his mother Noreen. “Her family from Tipperary, are keen greyhound breeders so Billy and herself have a lot in common.” 

Ballyhimikin Jet is retired now but he’s staying put.

“We were offered money for him. But we always enjoyed having Jet around. Life is about more than money. When Jet was in a cast after being injured; she was here at home in the middle of the sitting room with her legs in the air! 

Greyhounds are good for the mind and body.

“Being out in the fresh air is great for mental health,” says Billy.

He has to mind himself.

“I remember a while back there was a big hurling final coming up and I was out with the dogs when one of them hit off my knee and hurt it. The GAA lads gave out to me; saying; don’t be going near those dogs!”

But the dogs in the street know Billy Dunne’s dogs, up there with the best, won’t be left lacking any attention or left short of any tender loving care anytime soon.

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