By his own admission Anthony Collins is seldom left speechless, but that is exactly the position he found himself in with events that transpired in the race commentary box at Toowoomba during the recent running of the Darryl Gollan Memorial race-day … and you have to go back many years to understand the full impact of that moment.
“Right from when I was a young kid … I think I must have attended my first race meeting when I was about ten years old … I’d always had a fascination with race-callers,” said Collins taking up the story, “particularly the way the late Pat O’Shea used to go about his craft.
“Pat was synonymous with the media on the Darling Downs … and not just from the track but on radio and television where he would broadcast the three codes of racing and he would read the sport.
‘When I went to the track at ten or eleven years of age to watch the families horse go around, I got my first glimpse of Pat O’Shea in the lofty heights of the commentary box at Toowoomba when standing out in the grandstand.
“I was there to watch the horse go around, but all I was trying to do was get a glimpse of Pat calling the race. My fascination from then was complete. I just didn’t want to do anything else but be a race-caller.
“Much to the disgust of my teachers … and my parents didn’t really know that I wanted to do that … I pursued that goal even though it is a job that not many people will set their sights on.
“So firstly, Pat was absolutely instrumental for me setting that target for myself … but his influence on me became far more than that. It was massive.
‘I started calling harness racing when I was going for my driver’s license in harness racing. The person who was calling the trials at Marburg didn’t rock up on time one day, so I jumped up and had a go … and that was the kick-off for me.
“When I started doing work on mainstream, that was when Pat started listening to my calls a little bit more. I was very green and, a bloke by the name of Barry Jones, who sadly passed away a few years ago, gave me my first meetings with the thoroughbreds at Dalby and Warwick.
“I’d only done about a dozen of those when the Northern Rivers rolled around for me and it was probably from then that I got more directly involved with Pat.
“I’d get on the phone to him …and he would say, you need to do this … you need to do that, so he had now gone from being an inspiration to me to being a mentor. I was very fortunate in that regard as, while Pat was my mentors, he wasn’t the only one. Alan Thomas was very good to me and, of course, Barry was as well, but Pat’s input was invaluable.
Pat continued to give me bits and pieces of advice from time to time and we would catch up at the Grafton Carnival because he used to love to go to Grafton … and when I used to do Dalby, on Saturday afternoon back then, I would make a detour via Toowoomba on the way home and spend a few races in the broadcast box with Pat, just marvelling at how he used to go about his business.
“With all this interaction with Pat, I was also lucky enough to establish a decent rapport with Pat’s family, but it wasn’t until after Pat’s passing that his son James and I really got to know each other.
“James continued his father’s legacy with a show called The Racing Nation. Ben Hall, who used to do a lot of work under Pat years ago, and myself … we do the Toowoomba preview with James every week and, consequently, James and I have become very good mates.
“We do the annual Pat O’Shea Race-caller’s day every year. We got that rolling and every year I like to have something a little bit different … whether it is a new race-caller … Paul Dolan called his last race there and Darren Flindell came up one year, and then we had a relay race -call on another occasion … so there is always something different.
“The Pat O’Shea Plate has also taken on significance. It was always the Fitton Insurance race … which was the Hopeful Plate … and it was always the first two-year-old race of the season in Australia. It had a fair bit of significance then but it has just gone from strength to strength since.
“So, Pat’s memory is well preserved in the race-callers day and the Pat O’Shea Plate itself.
“This year, the lead-up meeting, a fortnight before the Weetwood, will become the race-caller’s night. You can standby for further announcements regarding that.
“So earlier this year, I asked James if he still had his dad’s binoculars. I told him I would love to call the Pat O’Shea Plate, or a lead up race, through Pat’s binoculars on race-caller’s night. I told him it was a special touch that I would like add this year.
“James said he loved the idea. He thought it was absolutely fantastic and that we would make it happen.
“Then, the Darryl Gollan Memorial night comes along and the family walk into the commentary box and hand me Pat’s binoculars. I was really chuffed that they were giving me the chance to have a look through them. I tried them while everyone was there. I said, yep, they will be great, lets use it as planned at The Pat O’Shea Plate … and I put them back in their case and handed it back to them.
“James said, and there is another thing. I said, what do you mean there is another thing … and he said we want you to have the binoculars. They told me Pat would have wanted me to have them.
“I tell you, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I was absolutely speechless.
“The last race was coming up on Darryl Golan Memorial night … so is said, ok, while everybody is here, let’s go … so I put my glasses down and replaced them with Pat’s binoculars and called the last race with them with Pat’s family watching me.
“It was quite a moment for me in a special story.”
Clearly Collins credits Pat O’Shea so much for helping him get to where he is today and realise his dream.
Collins for his part is repaying Pat O’Shea and the O’Shea family by helping keep Pat’s name and presence alive so that his name will continue to be treasured and live on within the industry.
‘I remain inspired by Pat,” said Collins. “I’ll let you into a little secret … I go back and listen to Pat’s replays when I feel I’ve got to pick up my form or do something a little bit different.
‘Don’t get me wrong … I feel as if I and my own broadcaster. I’m not setting out to copy exactly what Pat did, but I know I can still learn from him.
‘I’m not Pat O’Shea. I’ll never be Pat O’Shea. He was a master. There will never be another one.”
Pat O’Shea and Anthony Collins …. theirs is a bond between two race-callers which will never go away and, whichever way you look at it … looking forward or looking back … racing is all the better for it!
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