Wexford's Whelan is the one to beat in senior reversible
Published 24/09/2013 | 05:00
Some 330 men and women from all over Ireland are to take part in 24 classes at the prestigious National Ploughing Championships, with every individual hoping to secure a national title.
Among the highlights of the ploughing over the next three days will be the senior reversible and senior conventional two-furrow classes, both of which will feature medal winners from the World Ploughing Championships in Canada earlier this year.
World champion ploughman John Whelan is set to face stiff competition in the senior reversible class, which begins at 10.30am tomorrow. The two-day competition will see 22 ploughmen open their first splits and plough for three hours and 20 minutes with the utmost concentration.
Wexford man Whelan will be defending his national title from 2012, while his 21 fellow competitors will be aiming to beat a world champion if at all possible. On form so far this year in the senior reversible two-furrow competitions have been Ger Coakley from Cork, Offaly's Brian Mahon and Brian Ireland from Kilkenny. However Liam O'Driscoll from west Cork and Declan Buttle from Co Wexford will not be taking any prisoners.
All will be hoping to draw a good plot and impress the judges enough to gain points in this two-day competition. Day one will take place on stubble ground, while day two is on grass and the effort required to produce winning performances on both days is not to be underestimated.
National Ploughing Association (NPA) chairman James Sutton explains what the judges are looking for:
"They are looking for straightness and a uniformity of all sods in the plot that measures about one-third of an acre. They want the competitors to make plenty of 'flesh' available, which means plenty of soil available to create a good seedbed for next year's crop," he says.
"All trash such as weeds, stubble and other debris must be completely buried so that it won't come up and germinate again. The sods must be tight and firm to keep the trash down."
'Tus maith, leath na hoibre' is an old Irish saying that could easily apply to competitive ploughing. According to James, competitions are won and lost at the opening and closing of each plot.
"These lads spend hours practising the starting and finishing of a plot," he remarked. "They don't just turn up on the day and hope it all goes to plan; there is an exact science to getting a good opening split."
The other major competition in the senior classes is the senior conventional two-furrow class, which will feature Carlow man Eamonn Tracey, who finished third in the conventional ploughing competition at the World Championships in Canada last July.
A remarkably consistent performer under pressure, Eamonn is defending his third consecutive national title in this class but faces fierce competition. Among his challengers will be his own father, John, and Wexford's Willie John Kehoe, son of three-time world champion Martin Kehoe.
Tyrone ploughman Brian O'Neill, Longford man Anthony Reynolds and Larry Bergin from Tipperary also will be hoping to take a shot at the 2013 title.
However Eamonn has a particular hunger to win again this, with 'unfinished business' at the World Championships.
Having competed eight times at world level and taken both silver and bronze, he is intent on returning to capture gold in 2104. Some tweaking of class sizes has allowed competitor numbers to increase to 330 ploughmen and women at Ratheniska this year, compared to 310 last year.
The bigger allocation will see some first-timers compete at national level, but the field will also see some old favourites return. Among those will be crowd favourite Gerry King, who competes again in horse ploughing.
The Ardee man will be attempting to equal the national record of 11 national horse ploughing titles by winning in 2013. However the septuagenarian faces stiff competition from the Galway duo of Joe Fahy and Gerry Reilly and the Cork pair of JJ Delaney and John O'Driscoll.
Meanwhile, Anna Marie McHugh will take some time out of her hectic schedule to take part in the farmerette class. Ms McHugh is the new general secretary of the World Ploughing Organisation – the first woman to hold this role. She is also a former winner of this national class and will take on the likes of Cynthia Geelan from Longford, Joanna Deery from Monaghan and the Cork women Lisa Ring and Rose Nyhan in her quest.