Volunteer Tony Murray reflects on 68 years in racing - and counting

The Order of Malta volunteer remembers times gone by with plenty still to come

Thursday, September 23, 2021

If you’ve been to a racecourse in Ireland - which we’d guess some of you have - then you’ll have seen the work of the Order of Malta, writes Jack Lacey.

The Air Ambulance Corps are ever-present in the sport and unsung heroes, at that.

Their joint longest-serving volunteer is Tony Murray, who has given freely of his time since 1953 and first staffed a meeting at Naas at the tender age of 12.

Tony is a popular figure at tracks nationwide, and when he turned 80 this month he was showered with gifts at the Curragh and posed for a photo with jockeys at Fairyhouse. 

“They brought me a lovely cake and non-alcoholic champagne,” explained Murray.

“It was a really kind gesture from all the people there. There a few of us who are 80, and still actively involved in the business.”

A fully-trained EMT, Tony is one of thousands of volunteers for the Corps, a voluntary ambulance and first aid organisation.

They are always the first on the scene to any accidents or falls at the racecourse, and play a vital part in ensuring any injured receive medical treatment as quickly as possible.

This octogenarian shows no signs of slowing down and is fascinating to hear talk about how the role has changed over the years.

He said: “I was around 12 when I first started. So much has changed in that time.

“The facilities they have now in particular, have changed radically from when I first started. In my recollection of the early days, there was no road for ambulances so you had to just go over the grass, and most times they wouldn’t go out unless somebody fell.

“Then it would be a case of trying to get across. If the weather was exceptionally bad as well, it made things take far longer.

“Nowadays we have the ambulances with access to the track and the horses. We also have a doctor travelling with us in the ambulance. 

“Back in my early days we had to pick up the jockey, and bring them to the first aid post for assessment.

“One thing about jockeys is they always say they are not hurt! You learn that. 

“When I started it was basic, if a jockey broke his leg, he got wooden splints tied up in triangular bandages. 

“There were also little or no painkillers back then. Now we have penthrox and all sorts of stuff. 

“So it was tough back then. We’ve seen some injuries of course, but to us it becomes nothing out of the unusual."

So exactly why does he keep dedicating so much of his time to the sport?

“I think first of all, I am just proud to feel that I am of service, and that you can really help people. That gives a great feeling of pride,” he explained

“It is the only thing I really ever got involved in, particularly as a teenager, so it was always just my hobby really. 

“And it has improved, nowadays the equipment we have is superb. It is a different world now. Every facility we have is first class.”

For all the trials and tribulations of the work he has been a part of for well over half a century, you can sense Tony still loves being a part of the racing community.

He added: “My favourite course is Punchestown. Basically I like the jump courses, and Punchestown is a big course. The facilities are top class also.

“I do also like the Curragh as well, but the flats are off and over in seconds, so jumps has always been a slight favourite for me. 

“Most jockeys are pretty good. I would say Davy Russell might be my favourite, closely followed by Barry Geraghty. 

“Some of the lads are less happy to fall obviously than others, but the majority are great.”

Jennifer Pugh, Chief Medical Officer at the IHRB, is well aware of just how important volunteers such as Tony are to racing.

She is quick to highlight the vital work carried out by the organisation. 

“The Order of Malta are a wonderful organisation,” she said. 

“For them to provide these volunteer ambulance services and partake in valuable community work within their regions, is incredibly important.

“We are so fortunate to have them provide care for racing at so many of our racecourses.

“Tony in particular has played a huge role in racing for many years. You find him at the last at Punchestown no matter what the weather.

“He has a huge amount of valuable experience, but as well as that he is a great character.”

One thing about jockeys is they always say they are not hurt! 

- Tony Murray

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