A Newbridge sheep shearer and fire-fighter, originally from Australia, proved he is made of strong stuff by taking part in a 24-hour long shearing event for charity at the weekend.
Geoff Coller, who lives in Walshestown with his wife and two daughters, raised vital funds for Barnardos and Aware as part of the All-Ireland Sheep Shearing competition in Kilkenny at the weekend.
“I work in Newbridge Fire Station and I have been living in Newbridge for about 20 years,” said Geoff, who followed his heart from Victoria in Australia all the way to the Curragh when he fell in love with a Kildare woman, his now wife Maragaret.
The couple now have two daughters, Sarah (16) and Lucy (9).
“I came from a sheep shearing background and came over for a visit after I met my wife who was back packing in Australia and stayed for 20 years. A good sheep shearer is someone who isn’t afraid of hard work. You have to do a good job otherwise you will get a bad name and that will stick to you like mud. You have to be determined which makes being a fire fighter ideal and you have to have a sense of adventure.”
Geoff set up a co-operative with other sheep shearers and travels all over the East coast where ever the sheep take him.
“We had a boost in numbers of shearers from America, Germany, England and Australia a couple of years ago when the Irish guys were all on the building sites,” he added.
“We have three current world record holders in the co-operative one of whom has sheared 1,066 sheep in eight hours. My record is 380 in eight hours.
“I decided with a friend last Christmas to do somehthing for charity and sheep shearing for me was the way to go.
“I chose children’s charity Barnardos because it campaigns for children’s welfare and AWARE because it helps fight depression.”
Geoff had to stay up for 34-hours on Saturday in order to complete his 24-hour challenge.
“You have to take regular breaks,” said Geoff who tries to get back Down Under at least once a year.
“I have been in training in the gym and I practised shearing all last week. Once I am fed then I am ready to go again and I break every two hours or so. It as important to the sheep as it is to the shearer as you have to get the balance right. And whenever I get tired I just snuggle up to a sheep to keep me warm.”
The All-Ireland and International Sheep Shearing Championships is held annually.
The show has been described as a great success and a real showcase for the agricultural skills in Ireland.
At the 2010 event, over 2,500 sheep were be shorn by shearers from all over Ireland, the UK, Europe, USA , Australia and New Zealand.
Sheep shearing is the process by which the woollen fleece of a sheep is cut off.
“It is extremely important for the welfare of sheep that the fleece is shorn annually,” said Geoff.
“On average a sheep produces about 4kgs of wool annually.”
Meanwhile the championships also include wool handling which is the process of how the fleece is presented and packed for sale. According to the organisers, the wool handling competitions are of “great importance in the presentation and marketing of wool worldwide and the style and grace of these supreme athletes creates a colourful and exciting contest”.
Usually there are about 300 entries for all the competitions over the weekend and some participants compete in both disciples.