This is a story about a greyhound that gripped a sport and a commentary that provided the perfect soundtrack to what many believe was one of the finest performances ever seen in an Irish classic decider.
Over the years the best and most memorable moments in sport have been accompanied by iconic words. The tone and delivery of the commentary is often as important as the words themselves but there is no doubt a good call can live as long in the memory as the moment itself.
Peter O’Sullevan’s famous call on Dawn Run’s Gold Cup triumph, Harry Carpenter’s eighth round commentary in the Rumble In the Jungle and Kenneth Wolstenholme in the final seconds of the 1966 World Cup are just a few examples that come to mind.
Closer to home, Jimmy Magee’s commentary on John Treacy’s silver medal display in the 1984 Olympic Marathon, George Hamilton’s famous line “a nation holds its breath”, Michael O’Hehir’s words over Seamus Darby’s late goal to deny Kerry a fifth All-Ireland in a row in 1982. Now, try and imagine those moments without the commentary – it’s difficult to do.
In 2009, my late father, Michael Fortune was on duty in the crow’s nest at Shelbourne Park for the Paddypower.com Derby decider. As a greyhound racing commentator, it’s the biggest stage of all and a great responsibility.
He had called many classic finals through the years and many more in the subsequent years but the 2009 Derby final commentary is the one that seems to resonate most with followers of Irish greyhound sport, in particular the words “and here comes the Causeway…”.
Dad passed away last July and my family and I were astonished by the reaction to his death. In the subsequent days, weeks and months so many offered their condolences, passed on stories, while so many continue to refer to his commentary on ‘the College Causeway Derby’.
College Causeway after crossing the line as the 2009 Irish Greyhound Derby champion. Pic: Imelda Grauer
The first time College Causeway entered my consciousness was in October 2007. With the deadline for the Irish Greyhound Review Annual approaching fast, I had yet to complete the Twelve To Follow column of which I was responsible.
Sitting just five feet from my father I told him I was stuck and needed a couple more names. His response, “Why don’t you ring [Sean] Flaherty and see if anything caught his eye around Tralee”. Moments later I was speaking to the wee man from Lixnaw and he offered up two names.
“Killahan Phanter looks a right dog and there’s one called College Causeway that has big pace”. Sean was spot on in his assessment – and yes, he has held it over me since. In my wisdom, I chose not to include College Causeway in the list.
In hindsight that may not have been the wisest decision. It was soon evident College Causeway was destined to be a top tracker. He certainly had pace and power although many felt his future lay over staying trips.
After some tremendous displays around Tralee, he ran in a Novice 750yd competition at Thurles, winning both rounds in easy fashion. It would be the last time he ran over the extended six bend trip as bigger things lay in store.
After a failed crack at the Cesarewitch, and a move to Pat Buckley’s Cappawhite base, College Causeway next appeared in the Easter Cup at Shelbourne Park. The early season classic announced his arrival on the track scene as a special talent.
Displaying his now customary pace and power, he reached the decider unbeaten and, just days after his second birthday, finished third to Tyrur Kenny. College Causeway was now a household name and, just weeks later, he reappeared in the Ladbrokes 600.
The son of Go Wild Teddy, who was owned throughout his career by Mike and Vincent McKenna, was made for the 600yd trip at Shelbourne and he proceeded to go through the famous event unbeaten, although he had to work extremely hard in the decider. In what was one of the great finals of the modern era, the Pat Buckley trained superstar came from off the pace to collar the powerful Ballymac Penske on the line.
After finishing fourth in the Champion Stakes, College Causeway was amongst the favourites for the 2008 Derby. All went to plan in the early stages of the blue riband as he justified odds-on favouritism in each of the first three rounds. He was the 6-4 favourite in the quarter final and duly obliged despite finding trouble on the turn.
However, luck deserted the powerful tracker in the semi finals. Carried wide at the second turn by subsequent Derby winner Shelbourne Aston, College Causeway lost all momentum and could only finish fourth.
He seemed likely to gain some compensation in the North West Derby at Lifford later in the year but, again, was out of luck. After smashing the 550yd clock in the early rounds, he started a 2-5 favourite for the decider only to finish a half length behind Target Kewell.
He was then given a break over the winter period with connections feeling he had some unfinished business to take care of in 2009. How right they were.
The new year didn’t start too well for April ’06 whelp. On his one and only trip across the water he finished second in a race at Wimbledon on Racing Post Juvenile night. He then took a tumble in the opening round of the Easter Cup.
This certainly wasn’t part of the plan. A return to 600yds saw him get back to winning ways as he marched through the early rounds of the Ladbrokes 600. He was a warm favourite in the final to defend his title but ran into traffic at the wrong time behind the wrong greyhound.
Accordello got first run on College Causeway and he eventually lost out by a length. It was to be the last defeat of his career.
While a big race victory eluded College Causeway in the early months of 2009, it was obvious to most he was the fastest greyhound in training. The charismatic black was installed favourite for the Derby and, after a near two and a half month layoff, made his intentions clear in the opening round.
For only the second time in his career, he made every inch to post a sensational 29.21, taking an incredible three lengths off the previous record which had been set by Bypass Byway some seven years earlier in the 2002 Derby decider.
A week on, he came from off the pace to collar the Laurels champion Cashen Legend on the line to win in 29.71. He won his third round and quarter finals assignments in similar style, clocking 29.81 and 29.47. With each run he looked more and more invincible as his fanbase grew and grew.
Causeway in action in the 2009 Irish Greyhound Derby Quarter Finals. Pic: Imelda Grauer
A week later he took things in his stride in the semi-finals, again coming home fast to emerge a two-length winner in 29.53. By now College Causeway was a rock star. He had built a huge fanbase and was about to perform on the biggest stage, the final of the 2009 Paddypower.com Irish Derby.
On September 12th, 2009, Shelbourne Park welcomed a capacity crowd for one of the most anticipated Derby deciders in memory. College Causeway was a warm favourite, but faced a talented line-up and a very tricky draw.
In what was to be his final career start, the eyes of the greyhound world were on the swashbuckling black and his subsequent display gave the impression he knew it. The buzz and sense of excitement ahead of the race was beyond a ‘normal’ Derby final night atmosphere.
There wasn’t a spare inch on the terraces, while tens of thousands watched on from the comfort of their own home with RTÉ televising the contest. Most tuning in knew what to expect. College Causeway was never going to turn in front. In fact, he was going to struggle to turn close but there was little doubt he was going to be involved at the finish.
How close could College Causeway turn to the pace? Would he leave himself with too much work to do from the second turn? Could he find a traffic free passage? All of these questions were being asked in the days preceding the final.
As a journalist, Michael Fortune attempted to answer them in print. It was no surprise that College Causeway was his choice to win but, like most, he knew he would need to be at his imperious best.
College Causeway was installed the 5-4 favourite to land the €175,000 winner’s prize. Leger and Champion Stakes runner-up Shaneboy Lee was next in the betting at 4-1 with Faypoint Man a 9-2 chance.
The likely pace-setter Oran Classic was an 11-2 chance, while the Laurels winner Cashen Legend was at 7-1. Belvedere Champ was the 25-1 rank outsider but he was to play a major part in deciding the outcome.
And so, to the race itself. College Causeway was about to produce one of the most memorable displays ever witnessed on the biggest stage, although his army of support had more than a moment’s worry in the early stages of the contest.
Oran Classic flashed from the trap two to lead into the turn. College Causeway, by his own standards, came away reasonably well from trap five but soon found himself with little room to race as Cashen Legend drifted wide from four. Shaneboy Lee was on his outer and close enough to deny him room to move wide.
The Derby dream was drifting away. College Causeway found further bother on the bend. With nowhere to go, he was forced to ease slightly between Cashen Legend and Shaneboy Lee. The fastest greyhound on the planet was now in last place and in dire need of some racing room.
But then, in front of our eyes, the complexion of the race completely changed. As the runners hit the second turn, Oran Classic remained four lengths clear. Faypoint Man was second but drifted to the middle of the track, allowing Cashen Legend up his inner.
The proceeding sequence of events would ultimately allow College Causeway achieve his destiny. The galloping machine was about establish himself as one of the all-time greats. Both the knowledgeable crowd and the commentator knew it.
Cashen Legend moved wide entering the back straight, carrying Faypoint Man with him. At the same time, Belvedere Champ clipped the heels of Cashen Legend and was forced to check wide. In a matter of strides a golden highway opened along the fence and College Causeway didn’t hesitate.
In the commentary, as they head into the back straight, the words “there goes four, Cashen Legend with a huge run down the back…” are quickly followed by the now immortal line, “and here comes the Causeway”.
The Pat Buckley trained superstar was starting to advance. He joined Faypoint Man for third and had room to race. The famous line of commentary was accompanied by a roar from the crowd. Both Fortune, behind the mic, and the packed stands could see what was coming.
To rapturous noise, College Causeway advanced into the third turn. The commentary continued, “but out front it’s Oran Classic, the Causeway moves into second. He’s still four lengths down.”
He may have been four lengths adrift in second but the result was now beyond doubt. For all of Oran Classic’s qualities, he was never going to contain one of the biggest finishers in the history of Irish Greyhound racing.
Oran Classic was still in the lead as they hit the final bend but in Fortune’s words, “But the Causeway is flying in second. Off the final bend and here comes the Causeway. Up the straight College Causeway wins the Derby, a magnificent performance – he came from nowhere. He’s undoubtedly the greatest dog we’ve seen in years. College Causeway has roared his way into the record books.”
Words on a page don’t do either the display or the commentary justice. But all these years later, everything remains just right about the race. College Causeway was majestic, Fortune at his best in the commentary box and both performances should stand the test of time.
Video: Listen back to the Michael's commentary
"And here comes the causeway..."
Derby 2009 celebrations. Pic: Imelda Grauer
Michael Fortune joins the celebrations after College Causeway's Derby win. Pic: Dawn Quinn IGB