Saturday night will mark the end of a golden era at The Meadows when Marg Long, the only General Manager the venue has known, officiates her final meeting at the track she helped build from the ground up.
When Long walks out the door for the final time after 27 years at the helm of the Melbourne Greyhound Racing Association (MGRA), she’s certain to be feeling a wide range of emotions, the most overwhelming being pride.
“There’s definitely a sense of pride,” Long said.
“It was a big job moving from Olympic Park. Building The Meadows on virgin ground was a really great project to be involved in.
“You don’t often get the opportunity in life to be involved in a project from scratch – very few people do – and it’s been very rewarding. The venue is quite spectacular today.
“It gave me a fantastic grounding and I was fortunate to work with some outstanding people. The Project Manager, Andy Evans, was amazing, and so was Tom Reynolds, who was the Sports Minister at the time.”
Diminutive in size but indefatigable in nature, Marg cut her administrative teeth at Traralgon and Geelong in the 1980s and ’90s.
She then took the reins at the MGRA at a pivotal juncture in its history, overseeing the move from Olympic Park and the development of The Meadows to its opening in February 1999.
“It was very difficult to find a site; we looked at over 80 sites,” Marg recalled.
From those very humble beginnings, The Meadows has developed into one of the world’s premier greyhound racing venues and is now host to nine Group 1 events, highlighted by the rich Australian Cup Carnival and the Topgun.
“I consider it a privilege that I’ve been able to spend my life working with my passion,” Long offered.
“I’ve been working six days a week for a very long time but I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve never once woken up and thought I’ve got to go to work today.
“The big nights are always a favourite. A lot of work goes into the carnivals and big nights.
“I’ll really miss the people. I think I’m what you would call a people person. You’ve got to keep your feet on the ground and I’ve really enjoyed walking around on a Saturday night having a chat with trainers. They’ve all got a story to tell and I’ve been lucky to develop a rapport with so many of them.
“I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve never once woken up and thought I’ve got to go to work today.”
“I’ve got great respect for trainers. They’ve got such a tough gig – it’s 24/7 – and they have to get it right.
“People keep asking me about the best dogs I’ve seen but I hate comparing dogs. There’s been so many good ones over so many years. You’ve only got to look at the names on the Australian Cup honour roll.
“Brett Lee was obviously a standout. He’s one of the best of all-time and I would describe him as the ultimate racing dog. Fanta Bale winning Group 1 races over all distances (525m, 600m and 725m) at The Meadows was an amazing feat too.”
By her own admission, Marg is rarely left speechless but she admits that was the case when she was deservedly inducted into Greyhound Racing Victoria’s Hall Of Fame in 2016.
“It was a very, very humbling experience and it was quite a shock at the time. I honestly had no idea.”
Greyhound racing has been Marg’s life but she feels it’s the right time to pass on the baton, with new CEO Ashley Baker facing the daunting task of stepping into her sizeable shoes.
“You don’t get any younger and I actually gave my notice about 12 months ago,” Long explained.
“It’s best to get out before your time is up and now’s as good a time as any. It’s also good to get somebody new and new ideas – I’m a big believer in that.
“We (Victorian greyhound racing) have a really good product. We’ve been struggling a bit with noms but that was to be expected because we’re at the tail-end of the breeding downturn. I think we’re about six to nine months away from getting back to where we were.
“Ron (Hood, partner) and I are heading off to the United States in July for a holiday and we’ll definitely up the ante with football attendances because we haven’t got to too many games recently!”