Monday 26 August 2019

John aiming to win back world ploughing title

Co Wexford ploughman prepared to face gruelling challenge in 35 degree us heat to claim back reversible ploughing title

John Whelan with his trophies and medals from the 2017 world championships in Kenya
John Whelan with his trophies and medals from the 2017 world championships in Kenya

David Looby

Having come second in the World Ploughing Championships last year, Ballycullane man John Whelan is hoping that the intensive training and preparations he has made over recent months will give him the edge over the competition in America this August.

The father-of-four is part of a two man team, including world champion conventional ploughman Eamonn Tracey from Carlow, who are flying out to Minnesota this week ahead of the world championships in mid-August.

John won the world championships in Canada in 2013 and again in Kenya two years ago. 'With the help of God I'll win. I did a bit of practise on the tractors before they were shipped over a month ago. The machine is going well. We are going to get out there two weeks ago before the event. We have plenty of practise.'

He said the reversible category he is competing in will be very challenging this year. 'You have the Swiss who are very competitive and the lads from Northern Ireland, Scotland and France. The Americans are good too. Gene Gruber won the conventional world title in 2017. It comes down to fine margins.'

John and Eamonn, whose wife Ailish runs Ailish's beauty salon in New Ross, will be joined by coach Matthew Sims and judge DJ McHugh (the son of Anna May McHugh) in Minnesota.

John said having the luck of the draw when plots are allocated is vital to success.

'Ploughing is the same as any other sport. If you prepare right things will feel right on the day. There are so many plots so hopefully we'll have the luck of the draw. You can be very unlucky with the plot selection which has happened us and other competitors (in the past). We are confident we'll keep the man-made mistakes to a minimum. We're looking forward to the challenge and to good results hopefully. Any time you win it's by fine margins.'

John said technology and standards have improved dramatically in the sport, even within the past six years. 'Judging expectations have gotten a lot higher and if you make a mistake at all people are wondering how you made it. The standards have risen and we are the ones that are driving the standards up. We are all the time making changes to the machines, trying to improve them. They are like Formula One cars; it's just about getting that little bit more out of them all the time. We've won in the past but the past is the past. We have to try to improve ourselves.'

The three weeks in Minnesota will be anything but a holiday as John and Eamonn will be working in 35 degree heat all day, every day.

There will be no rest for the two men as they are facing into the national Ploughing Championships three weeks after they return from Minnesota. 'Our tractors won't be back until October so it's a huge challenge. We will have to yoke up something different.'

'You meet people and they'll say "you've a grand life, you have it great". It's no holiday. You're out in the heat all day - as we were in Kenya - and you're golloping water as the sweat is running down your nose all the time. There is an expectation that we will do well and we want to do well for our clubs, for our counties and for our nation.'

John has passed his love of ploughing on to his children, Stephen, Sean, Katie and Padraig. Stephen is competing in the U20 A Class in the National Ploughing Championships and Sean is also very interested.

Wexford People

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