Seamus O’Farrell is an ordinary family man who lives in a big house where he has raised and reared a superbly talented family with his wife Cathy, writes Barrie Henriques.
With respect, the use of the adjective, ordinary is a misnomer when used in context with Seamus Farrell and his life as a father, husband and business man, because in truth his achievements on a personal level and those of his family have been anything but ordinary.
He is a member of the O’Farrell family from Thomastown, synonymous with the meat and cattle trade, and on the normal family progression graph, it is not surprising that he would have been involved at some levels of the family business.
Not surprising either that Seamus O’Farrell wears his Thomastown birth rite on his sleeve, even though his allegiances have been tested periodically by a changing landscape, orchestrated by the demands of his children’s wishes.
Living in the sleepy hamlet of Kilmoganny, and starting his young family on the education ladder under the tutelage of Tom Duggan (a personal friend) in Newmarket – “because he taught through Irish, which attracted me”- the Thomastown blue was one time chairman of the bustling Carrickshock Juvenile Committee, and eventually chairman of the club.
Involved in business
Not surprising that his allegiances were stretched taut in a myriad of directions.
Let us start at the beginning!
He was Thomastown born, son of Jimmy and Bridie O’Farrell. He was Thomastown educated initially, before being installed as a border in De la Salle in Waterford. Second levels completed, he started the rest of his life as an apprentice meat man in Cork, and from thence, returned to the expanding family meat trade in his home place.
His brother Eamonn preceded him into the family business, when Jimmy returned to the fold. He involved himself in the retail end of things, and as the trade expanded so too did the demands. Eamonn sadly passed away at the early age of 33, leaving his wife, Aine and a baby daughter, Lisa.
Seamus found himself being more involved in the wholesale side of the business, which he grew with tremendous vigour.
“I went on the road sourcing cattle suppliers for the business, and that really needed acute attention and never taking the finger off the pulse of the business going forward,” he told us.
On a re-wind, Seamus Farrell is a hurling junkie, an “affliction” that was so much a part of his DNA growing up in hurling-mad Thomastown, the town of Ollie (Walsh), Tom ‘The Blonde’ (Walsh), ‘Cha’(Whelan) and many more schoolboy heroes.
He was always interested in horses. In fact, he was the proud owner of a pony from the age of 10 when his father bought “a yoke” from Travellers.
“We called him Billy the Tinker because animals or human beings were addressed as such if they were difficult, and that yoke was a tramp,” he recalled with a smile on his face. “He cost me an eye one day when he tore off through the ditch, with me trying to hold him. He had no mouth (equine parlance for a horse, ass or pony who could not be steered) and a mind of his own.
“We tore through a ditch, and I got a slap of a bush into the eye, and lost the sight of the eye as a consequence. But it didn’t, for a mini-second, dissuade me from riding horses whenever I got a chance.” Back to hurling!
Seamus O’Farrell played his early hurling with his Thomastown school, and his appreciation and admiration for the iconic Brendan O’Sullivan as coach, mentor and confidante knows no boundary.
“His contribution to hurling in Thomastown, and the school was immense. His knowledge was unsurpassed, and his legacy is still there, even though he is long retired. Whatever we youngsters learned about the skills of our game is certainly down to Sir,” he smiled.
The record books will show that under the guidance of Mr O’Sullivan, Thomastown won the county Roinn A championship with Eamonn Farrell as captain in 1970. They actually coupled the county League title with it.
That feat was not the first, and certainly would not be the last such achievement under the inspirational O’Sullivan.
“There were a lot of great young hurlers on that team captained by Eamonn,” Seamus said. “I remember Dicko (Hara), Paudie Lannon, John Costello, Dan Breen, Pat Minogue, Jim ‘Boxer’ Walsh were playing. They were all super hurlers. Lannon could have been anything he wanted to be.
“You could play him in a game of pool, and he would destroy you. You could play him in a game of darts, and he would murder you. And you could take him on in a game of ten-pin bowling, and as sure as you are talking, he would execute you. He had a tremendous talent that knew no bounds, and you just couldn’t meet a nicer guy.
“John Costello too, and sure what about the hairy lad? When you would see him thundering out with a ball, you would be well advised to give him plenty of room. The ‘Boxer’ too was a tremendous player,” he said.
Later Seamus hurled with the likes of Martin Farrell, David and Alan Hoyne, the Donnellys’, the O’Hara clan and many more. He truly has a great grá for his own place, which will not be dissipated with the passage of time, or any geographical relocation. Why didn’t the Thomastown of that era morph into a senior championship winning outfit, Seamus?
“Some might suggest that it could have been a case of poor decision making by respective managerial elements, but I feel that emigration played a huge part in the answering of that question,” he offered.
Job constraints put unbearable pressure on the young Farrell continuing his hurling career. He was working in Youghal, learning his trade, and had to leg it to Thomastown for games and training. It was not an easy call. Even when he came home to start in the family business, he found the ever increasing demands of the expanding business curtailed his involvement in his hurling, which broke his heart.
He was a very good hurler, of that there is no doubt, but he needed to give more time to the game. That was not practical. He just could not burn candles from both wicks.
“He was a real tidy hurler,” recalled Brendan O’Sullivan, “and considering his handicap, it was amazing how he managed to be as good as he was. All of that generation were tremendous players, and it still rankles that a senior championship never came our way.
“When you consider the talent at the time, you wonder not why, but why not the senior didn’t come the way. Seamus’ interest in hurling has never waned. He is still as passionate in the game as he was as a small boy in the class Leagues we ran at lunchtime in the school. I have great respect for him as a friend, and as a hurling man. We could do with a few more of his kind around.”
When Seamus popped his clogs with the active hurling side of life, he found it easier to accommodate soccer as a sport.
“There was not the same intensity with the game, and while we had a great few years with Jerpoint Forrest, the demands were not as stringent. There was great camaraderie in that club, with the likes of Eugene Kavanagh, the Donnellys’ and John Brennan to name but a few.”
So when did you leave Thomastown?
“When I got married, we bought this house and moved over,” he explained. “Tom Duggan was teaching in Newmarket and I knew him from my De la Salle days. I also knew that he taught through the medium of Irish, so we decided that we would send the kids, all six of them, to Tom in Newmarket.
“It was a decision I never regretted. The three lads, James, Conor and Brian started hurling with the school. So answers your question about the attachment to Carrickshock,” in anticipation of my next question.
I spoke to one of the valuable under-age mentors in Carrickshock, Richie Power (senior).
“Seamus Farrell was an enormously important element in the developing process of our under-age system,” Richie insisted. “His two lads, James and later Conor emerged as excellent talents, especially James. He was a member of our under-14 outfit as an emerging wing back.
“We had a marvellous, once-in-a-lifetime young squad at the time. Daltons’, Dwyers’,Tennysons’, Rice, Powers’, and more. James Farrell was right up there with all of those starlets. We won two Roinn A under-14 titles, followed by two under-16 titles and two minor Roinn A titles.
“The only regret I had about that golden period was that we never went on to win an under-21 title. We lost some valuable players after minor grade, including young James Farrell. That certainly didn’t help. He was interested in horses, and he was offered a job as a jockey in England. It was hard to blame him when he took up that challenge. He was on the St Kieran’s College panel in 2003 when they beat St Coleman’s in the colleges hurling final in Clonmel.”
“Our three girls, Rachel, Aisling and Katie were very bright, and did very well at school,” Seamus said when he took up the story. “They were brilliant Irish dancers and won many Irish titles, as did James. He too was brilliant at school, but the other two, Conor and Brian, were - what shall I say - somewhat academically disinterested. They would cause havoc in an empty room.
“Anyway, Conor left academia and went off to R.A.C.E up in the Curragh (the horse riding college run by the Irish Turf Club and Horse Racing Ireland). In addition to his development as a jockey, they also put him through his studies, which is brilliant really, so that in the event of the students not succeeding, they would leave the college with a decent education at least.”
Seamus was at pains to point out that the college has a strict code of ethics, with good conduct very high on the agenda. Conor got into a couple of scrapes along the way, but he came good, in fact very good at the finish, as subsequent events will underline.
His dad had nothing but the highest of acclaim for the work being done in R.A.C.E.
“They are brilliant people,” he insisted. “I would have seen kids going into the college with little but hope, and coming out with colours flying, as good jockey prospects.”
Prior to Conor emigrating, his elder brother, James acquired a job as a jockey in England. Now here is a sad story, which is replicated many times in racing, but to which the public might not be too familiar.
Let Seamus O’Farrell tell the story.
“James was an excellent horseman, and just when it seemed that his star was on the rise, injury nailed him,” he opened. “He broke his neck, his back twice, his knee and picked up numerous other injuries. He was a very good jockey, but the injuries took their toll.
“In the end it was the lack of power in his wrist that prevented him getting back his license. He won the American Grand National, which was amazing, and he won many other races, but injury was his undoing,” Seamus sighed.
All the Farrell children were, and still are, accomplished horsemen and women. Katie is keeping company (an old-fashioned expression) with Patrick Mullins. She delivered her first winner (Strain of Fame in Clonmel) a few weeks ago. She rides out in the Mullins yard at weekends.
When in College in Dublin, she rode out very regularly for the Gordon Elliot yard.
So to the Cheltenham winner, Conor O’Farrell.
Having been initially attached to the Patrick Prendergast stable in the Curragh, Seamus felt that he would be more strategically placed if he changed stables, so he moved to J.J. ’Shark’ O’Hanlon.
‘Shark’ was brilliant with him, and he gave him plenty of chances,” Seamus insisted. “He rode a few of my own horses with the ‘Shark’ and other owners like the Durkins and Michael Mee were very good to him as well. He won on Truckers Delight at Punchestown and in Galway.
“He rode a few winners too for Charlie Swan, and in fairness to Charlie, a job with the mighty Pipe stable in England came up, and didn’t he recommend Conor for the job.”
At 17 years young, Conor O’Farrell set sail from the Emerald Isle.
Won at Cheltenham
David Pipe now runs that stable, but Charlie was stable jockey there when David’s dad, Martin was king. He left Ireland in September 2010, and in March 2011, he thundered up the Cheltenham hill to win on Buena Vista. He came out of his claim 12 months ago, and his strike rate this year is 11 winners, and plenty of place money.
I had known Seamus O’Farrell on a “how’s things” basis, but I know he is a pragmatist in every sense of the world. A successful business man, he is a man who craves to be good at whatever he is involved.
Like any successful sportsman, you are no good if you do not want, or need to be the best. Such an ambitious streak is inherent in him, and by genetics, in all of his children. He loves what his children have achieved, and in that special parental way, he glories in it.
Not in a bombastic, or boastful way, but nonetheless in a very proud way. With other children, like his under-14 kids in Carrickshock, he treats them with tough love, and by the time they pass on to the next levels he has earned their respect.
Hurling has been his passion. Horses run it to a short head in his affections. Thomastown will always be No. 1, but two will do the Carrickshock people, which is understandable in the circumstances. What a delightfully captivating raconteur.