Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 17 October 2017

'ACDC, marathon training and a good team' - Record breaking dad on life traveling the world as a sheep shearer

Mark McGeown (right) getting encouragement from Dwyane Black during his record setting at the County Louth Agricultural Show on June 13.
Mark McGeown (right) getting encouragement from Dwyane Black during his record setting at the County Louth Agricultural Show on June 13.

Anne Campbell

THREE top tips from Ireland’s newest record setter Mark McGeown. One: have ACDC’s back catalogue available to be played loud and long; two: train like you’re preparing for a marathon and three: have the best team around you.

That, in three over simplified steps, is how Mark, a dad of three from Annaverna in Ravensdale, managed to set an Irish record for sheep shearing at the recent County Louth Agricultural Show, a huge achievement even for a man who travels the world each year, shearing for a living.

But the same guy is quick to point out that while he was the one on stage at the show shearing 514 ewes for eight hours, he could not have done it without a huge team of supporters, helpers and even professionals who travelled from the Southern Hemisphere to help make his achievement come true.

Less than 48 hours after setting the Irish record, Mark admits that he’s ‘still sore’ and had just come from his latest physio session with Colm O’Neill.

He’s still buzzing, however, from his stupendous achievement and keen to dish out the thanks to the many people who helped him.

Seven farmers from the surrounding area supplied their sheep, making sure they were in good order ahead of the record attempt, without them the record would not have been possible.

The Cooley Sheep Breeders’ Association were the ones who provided the sheep pens and organisation, anything wrong with the ewes or their fleeces would have cost Mark vital time in his record attempt.

In addition, professional shearers and judges from all over Ireland, including from Sligo, Donegal, Kerry, Wexford, Tipperary and Fermanagh, assisted him on the day, along with physio Colm O’Neill who helped keep Mark moving throughout the day, while seven times world record shearer, Dwayne Black from Australia and Mark’s friend, Andrew Hamilton, aka Rocky, from New Zealand, travelled to Dundalk to lend their pal essential support and know-how.

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They were the guys who were his ‘co-pilots’, keeping an eye on the time, shouting support when he seemed to be lagging, putting ACDC and Dire Straits on, loudly, to give him an extra burst of energy.

Mark said: ‘Dwayne was doing my thinking for me when I was up there. All you can concentrate on is your hands really so he was able to tell me to go quicker, what was coming up, to keep going, to even tell me to breathe at times’.

In addition, the week leading up to the event was hectic with a gruelling schedule, in this time, local farmers, carpenters and friends from North Louth who, after working all day themselves, turned up at Bellurgan Park and worked tirelessly to help Mark construct the stage and lay out the pens.

Farmers John Wehrly and Eamon Toner were particularly supportive, telling Mark: ‘If you want to do this, we can make it work’, they made the record possible from the beginning. On the day John really got the crowd going and made sure Mark could hear their cheers.

Mark would also like to thank, the Louth Show and Bellurgan park for their venue and support; his parents, brother, friends, farmers and members of the local community who worked hard all day ensuring the sheep were looked after and thank you to Lindis and Nicola who kept the hunger of the busy crew at bay all day.

The huge crowd who flocked to the tent at the show to watch him and offer support on the day meant the world to Mark, too.

Their encouragement is something, he says, he will never forget and he can still hear their words and cheers ringing his ears.

And away from the limelight, at home every evening and providing not only the healthy eating options and organic protein shakes, but the moral support, the kind words, the belief-instilling praise was wife, Eileen, along with their three children aged 11, eight and five.

The record setting was the result of all these people’s belief and support, along with two years of training for a man who has travelled to New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and other countries, as well as around Ireland to shear sheep and make a living for his family.

Despite setting the Irish record, a world record attempt is not possible in Ireland at the moment. ‘To do a world record, you have to have a particular breed of sheep that have a top knot on their heads. There’s plenty of them in New Zealand and Australia, but the record stands at over 600 and you simply don’t have the number of sheep available here for that’.

In addition, competitors would have to pay for judges and all the rest of the adjudicators needed for a world record attempt, at large expense.
But Mark wasn’t focused on that, his one goal was to set an Irish record and for that, trained like he was preparing for a marathon, knowing full well the huge strain shearing 514 sheep, with few breaks, would take on his body. Mark had a personal trainer helping him ahead of the record attempt, the proceeds from which went to a cystic fibrosis charity.

‘It’s the lower back and the glutes that take the strain, standing in the unnatural position you have to be in for so long in order to shear sheep’, says Mark.

And he also had to catch a hold of the sheep, each weighing on average a hefty 60kgs and keep them in one hand while shearing with the other.

‘They’re live animals, they’re not predictable and I have to say that as the hours went on, I thought they were getting bigger and heavier!’
But on Sunday night, with the target achieved, the show closed and the crowds had drifted away, he was able to take a breather and enjoy a lamb on a spit donated by Irish Country Meats.

After almost a year without any alcohol he was able to have a couple of beers with the guys who helped him so much along the way and begin to reflect.

‘Very few men take this on (shearing) full time’, he says. ‘People have asked me why I did this and I can say that I have always loved it, and I’m now in my forties so I was thinking if I’m going to set a record, I’m going to try now.

‘Once I had said it to a few people, there was no going back. I have always been goal driven and I worked hard on the fitness and health aspects as well as getting the technique right.

And part of the reason for doing it was to show the kids that an average Joe like me, with a big heart and a goal, doesn’t have to have a God-given talent to do something like this.

‘You can achieve what you want in life if you simply work hard enough at it. You don’t have to be something amazing to achieve something amazing’. Now, that’s a top tip for anyone, in any walk of life.

Mark will attempt to break the 9-Hour Lamb Shearing record at a family fun day which takes place at Bellurgan Park on July 29. You can contact Mark at markmcgeown74@gmail.com.


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