'Nothing to better this as a spectator sport'
Published 01/06/2010 | 05:00
"If you want to see a sport that takes genuine skill and effort, then go to watch sheep shearing."
That bold statement was delivered by former Macra na Feirme president Joe Healy.
And the Galway farmer certainly knows what he's talking about. When I spoke to him last week he was himself taking a break from shearing sheep.
"Competitive sheep shearing is a combination of skill, speed, concentration, strength and stamina. A wrong move or the slightest miscalculation and you're out of the race," he said.
A conversation with Joe would convince anyone with a competitive bone in their body that sheep shearing is a serious sport.
"You're working against the clock, from the minute the chief steward declares the off; you have to select the sheep, position it and shear it in a way that ensures the wool comes away in one fleece. There must be no wool left on the animal and no damage to the skin."
Most shearers use the Bowen method, developed by Geoffrey Bowen. It involves turning the animal away from the fleece during the shearing so that it doesn't kick the wool and damage it.
Joe paints a lively picture of what a spectator at the shearing championships might expect to see.