Why this young pedigree breeder swapped his wellies for football boots

Niall Canning (fourth from left) following the UnderDogs Match versus Dublin with his brother-in-law Ben, dad Brendan, selector Valerie Mulcahy and sister Nicola.
Niall Canning (fourth from left) following the UnderDogs Match versus Dublin with his brother-in-law Ben, dad Brendan, selector Valerie Mulcahy and sister Nicola.
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Until this year Niall Canning was used to spending summers presenting his family’s award-winning cattle at agricultural shows all over the country, but this year he swapped his beloved wellies for football boots to take part in Tg4’s Underdogs series.

Since 2009, the renowned Sagesse Charolais pedigree herd, which he runs with his father Brendan, has won an All-Ireland each year.

However, when Niall got the call to take part in the series, the family made the decision to sell their bull Sagesse Nigel so Niall could dedicate his time to the programme.

“I went to a trial match in Trim with Dad. I had no expectations but all of a sudden you’re thrown in to a pitch and Paul Galvin is beside you, shouting at you. It was a really surreal moment for me,” says the Drumcliffe/Rosses club player.

“Selector Ray Silke told us that this was a chance of a lifetime and that really resonated with me. I knew that there would hopefully always be cattle shows but that I would have to grab this opportunity with both hands and put cattle in the back seat for a while.”

Every week the team were put through their paces on the pitch, but the toughest week for Niall was when he was put up for elimination following an army training session in the Curragh.

“I found that very tough but looking back it was probably the best training I ever got. There was also a time when I didn’t get on and I just said to myself ‘look Niall you can either walk away from this or pick yourself up and work hard’ and that’s what I did.

“I was lucky enough to be handed the No 12 jersey by Paul Galvin to play against Dublin in Parnell Park which was unbelievable,” he says.

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The night before the big match against the All-Ireland champions, Niall got the call from Sligo manager Paul Taylor inviting the 29-year-old to come on the county panel.

Niall had his first meeting with the team on Friday and already had his sights set on how he can go about creating a successful inter-county career.

“My aim now is to do my best in the League and hopefully get a chance to be on the squad for the Connacht Championship and be running after the likes of Mayo and Roscommon, that would be a dream come true for me,” adds the Bank of Ireland employee.

In 2016, Niall’s mother Anne passed away following a year-long battle with cancer; Niall says she would be “proud like any Irish mother” of what he has achieved, and she didn’t share his and his father’s passion for pedigree cattle, she always supported them.

“It’s been two years since she passed away but it’s still so fresh. She always supported me at club matches and is no doubt looking down on myself, my dad and my sister,” he says.

“She used to always joke at my dad and me when we would go out to sell cattle but come back with some bought in the evening then.”

In 2017, Niall helped raise €37,000 for the NorthWest Hospice when he ran a Farming Roadshow event for the charity, which gave great support to his mother during her illness.

While Niall’s father is from Mayo and his mother was from Meath, the pair met in Dublin. In 1987 they moved from Celbridge, Co Kildare to Sligo,  where his father set up the town’s first Permanent TSB branch.

However it didn’t take his father long to buy his first animal.

“Then I was born in 1989 and they built the house  on some land they bought but I always remember by mam saying that she hadn’t as much as a curtain bought for the house and Dad had already purchased his first pedigree from the renowned Skidoo herd in Dublin,” says Niall.

Niall and his father aren’t the only pedigree breeders in the area. Close family friend and neighbour Paddy Hennelly — originally from Mayo but  “glad” to see Niall in a Sligo jersey — runs the nearby Seepa Simmental herd.

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