"Dusty" Sheehy acquired his nickname by missing the sliothar with his hurley, spraying a dry clod of earth instead, and acquired his ambition to train racehorses by falling off one, in the process breaking an arm, finger and ankle.
The first metamorphosis dates back to the school playground, the second to his days as a bumper-race jockey. Since then, however, he has discovered a career that will finally get him off the ground.
Not that it has happened overnight. Still only 35 – "though I feel older, and look it" – Sheehy has already been training for 10 years and, rung by rung, is clambering towards the elite of Irish jumps trainers. For the moment, his most recognisable charge remains Justified, second to Taranis at Down Royal 12 days ago and favourite today for the biggest chase in Clonmel's calendar. But that could change this weekend, when Rindoon, second in the Champion Novices' Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, seeks to confirm that he is going to prove even better over fences.
Cheltenham in March is very much on Sheehy's mind for Rindoon, and as such he is tempted to run him in the valuable novices' chase sponsored by The Independent at the course on Sunday. But he has an alternative closer to home, at Punchestown the same day, and remains undecided whether or not to send him on reconnaissance at this stage.
"I must say we'd love for him to familiarise himself with the fences there," Sheehy said. "I fancied him at the Festival last season, but he was lame afterwards, so we took him home and got him right for Punchestown, where he might have been a bit unlucky.
"He's a high-class horse and, touch wood, has looked natural over fences. It was my fault he got beaten in his first chase – he wasn't that fit and ran too free – but he did it very well for Ruby Walsh at Thurles the last day and I think he'll improve a little again."
Sheehy has no background in the game – his father is a car mechanic – but could scarcely have found himself a better education, first with the Mullins family and then with Aidan O'Brien, still during his National Hunt days at Piltown.
"You couldn't be with better people," Sheehy said. "And I learnt a lot from them. At that time, at least, O'Brien was all about fitness. Willie Mullins was the same, I suppose, but with a totally different system of training."
Despite his intimacy with the quality of the competition, Sheehy built himself half a dozen boxes on local land in Co Kilkenny. He put up another 11 with the winnings of one of his first mares, got her in foal and paid for a barn with the proceeds. He now has 55 horses in his care, though he sometimes yearns for the chance to train in Britain.
"Racing here is very competitive," he said. "It's hard even to get a run in most races, so many horses get balloted out, and that makes it difficult to train a horse for a target. We're just trying to build the quality every year, trying to get the owners who can buy the nice horses."
His young bloods include Trafford's Boy, who won a bumper at Cork and maiden hurdle at Punchestown within 10 days last month, but for now Justified bears the standard. Sheehy dismisses the popular theory that this horse does not stay three miles, albeit he drops in trip at Clonmel.
"It's just that he ran too free at Down Royal," he said. "Paul Carberry said that if he had settled, he would have won. You couldn't judge him on that."
Either way, there is no mistaking the fact that Sheehy himself is here to stay.Reuse content