Silver lining for champion ploughman John Whelan
John Whelan is a giant in the world of ploughing and having won a silver medal at this year's World Ploughing Championships in Vestbo, Denmark, he has his sights set on another world gold title over the coming years.
John, 45, from Ballinruane, Ballycullane, won the world championships in Alberta, Canada in 2013 in the reversible category and along with Eamonn Treacy, who won gold in the conventional category of the championships in Denmark last month, they have secured three world titles between them in the past three years.
Father-of-four John, who is married to Margaret Whelan, said this year's championships came directly after the national ploughing championships at Ratheniska, County Laois, where he won silver.
'Normally we would go out ten days in advance to do pre practice, but we couldn't this time, so we felt we were lagging behind a little bit. The technical details were lacking a bit. We did have a few days of official practice and we were gathering pace.'
John's great rival Andrew Mitchell from Scotland was already well into practice.
'I made a few last minute changes to the plough on the morning of the competition that worked really well for me. The land was excellent, really sandy soil, but unfortunately luck wasn't on my side in the draw for plots the night before. On both days Andrew got better plots than me. The margins are so very fine.'
On the Saturday the men competed on stubble and on Sunday they competed on grassland. The weather held, although it was vey cold.
'There was fog on the Sunday morning, so much so that you couldn't see 20 yards in front of you. The competition was delayed for 90 minutes.'
Having competed to win, John was disappointed to lose out to Mitchell.
'I go out to win. I had nothing else in my head. There are one or two others at the top level who have that mentality. We were disappointed we didn't bring the gold home, but I was in the medals on both days and I won silver so I am happy with what I achieved. Luck was with Eamonn and he is the kind of fella who takes his luck when he gets it. If I had a bit of luck in my category I think I would have won.'
John said he works very well with Eamonn Treacy, adding that it helps that they don't compete against one another.
'We share ideas with each other and the whole team works well together and we have achieved a lot over the last number of years. There would be a huge rivalry between Sean Keating from Creacon and Eamonn. Sean has come second to Eamonn in the All Ireland over the last number of years in the conventional category. There is also Willie John Kehoe, Barry Kent and Mick Roche.'
Speaking about his ambitions, John said having won seven All Ireland titles, two European titles and one world championship title, he aims to add another world title medal to his collection.
'I would like to win another world title. My son Stephen is 16 and he is eager to take over from me and plough and I would like to be able to help him by winning.'
John said there have been a lot of changes in ploughing over the past two decades.
'The type of furrow we are turning has improved a lot. The sport of ploughing has grown substantially over the past 20 years. It's more popular in Ireland than in any other country due to the big national ploughing championships showcase we have here every Autumn. We have performed at a high level in recent years, and in the past also, and this has spurred on the next generation of young lads. Success breeds success.'
John said ploughmen finance themselves, apart from travel costs for foreign competitions. 'We use our own tractors. I'm driving a New Holland T5040. The sport of ploughing is like the GAA in a lot of ways. It's about more than money. We have a passion for it. Personally, I come from a very strong farming background. My mother and father, Anastacia and Stephen brought us up that way. From a very young age I was working the land, along with my brothers and sisters. I was driving tractors from a very young age. It was the done thing back in those times. I've always had a real interest in farming and I'm a dairy farmer to this day. There is nothing on a farm that I don't like to do.'
John said there is a great rivalry between himself and Mitchell, but this is all swept aside after each competition.
'After the ploughing we walk the fields together and analyse it very fairly. It's a friendly rivalry. When we are in the fields we are trying to beat each other. There are no half measures, but then we have a meal and a drink after. Some people do take losing very much to heart but you can't win all the time.'
John thanked the Irish supporters who travelled to Denmark to support Eamonn and him, especially those who made the bus journey over from County Wexford.
'We appreciate the support from home. It means a lot to us to see your own country people standing on the headland cheering you on.'
John said he is looking forward to catching up with his family and some farm work having been away for three weeks between competitions, but he has qualifiers in a fortnight's time.
He praised champion Eamonn Treacy from near Borris, whose wife Ailish runs a beauty salon in New Ross, for his continued success, adding that there are plenty of reasons for ploughmen in County Wexford to be optimistic going forward with rising star Sean Keating from Creacon, New Ross, representing Ireland in the Five Nations Championships in Scotland later this month.