By Terri Leonard
A MACOSQUIN man has be-come the first ploughman in history to have done the treble by triumphing in all three of ploughing’s top contests.
In sweeping to victory earlier this month in Germany, County Londonderry’s Thomas Cochrane made history after being crowned the Reversible Ploughing World Champion, having already won the Conventional World and European Reversible Championships.
On Saturday night his achievements were honoured at a special dinner hosted by Coleraine Ploughing Society in the Drummond Hotel, Ballykelly, where the president, William King, a friend and neighbour of Thomas, congratulated him on his success, noting his dedication and natural talent in ploughing.
Upon returning from the 65th World Ploughing Championships in Baden-Wurttemberg, south west Germany, earlier this month, he told FarmWeek how his road to success has had many twists and turns since first taking up ploughing at the age of 11.
“I’m 52 now so it’s been a long time. My father had a potato farm but he knew I was always more interested in the machinery side of things and as we had quite a few world champions living in round the Coleraine area such as my neighbour, William King, it made sense that I developed an interest in the ploughing as well,” he recounted.
“By the age of 16 I had started competing and my dad got me my own competition plough so it took off from there.”
In the ensuing years Thomas was crowned the Conventional World Ploughing Champion and won the European Reversible Ploughing Championships three times.
“I think that while some people would be very nervous going out to compete, I would have been quite cool and confident, I would still have had nerves but I kept my cool,” Thomas said, explaining how he first scooped the Conventional World Champion title in 1997.
Although he retired from com-petitive ploughing in 1999, the prospect of competing in the World Championships on home soil pr-ompted Thomas to return to the field in 2004 where he was named runner-up in the Reversible World Championships.
He went on to be named runner-up several more times, including once when he was frustratingly beaten by just one point — something which spurred him on to victory in Germany.
He continued: “Having come so close it made me very focused going to Germany this year. I’ve spent the last two years preparing for the championships.
“The team was out there for two weeks and I used the week and a half before the competition to acclimatise and get used to the soil.
“I was confident that I could do it and everything just clicked into place for me over the two days of competing. There weren’t any real bad plots but it was very dry and warm which made it a bit tougher, but that’s where my experience really stood to me I think.
“In training people were watching me to see what way I was doing it and why I was doing it that particular way so it felt good to know that I was setting the benchmark for others going into the competition.”
He added: “The first day was stubble ploughing followed by a second more difficult day of grassland ploughing. Some of the Europeans absolutely hate that but we’re well used to ploughing grass at home so it didn’t bother me.”
Using his own Keverneland plough and McCormick tractor, which he had brought from Northern Ireland, Thomas claimed the top prize while simultaneously writing himself into the history books.
Two weeks on, the shock is still sinking in.
“Previously an Englishman had managed to do the double but that was 20 years ago. We’ve never had someone do the Reversible World Championships as well until I did. Now people just call me Mr Ploughman!” laughed Thomas.
Next up are the Northern Ireland International Ploughing Championships at the end of September in Eglinton where Thomas intends to earn his place at the 2019 World Championships so he can go back and defend his title.
Before then he hopes to travel to the Ploughing Championships in Tullamore where he will help judge some matches.
In the longer term, however, he is committed to keeping Northern Ireland ploughing in the spotlight by helping the next generation take up the plough.
“Northern Ireland has a fantastic history of ploughing and producing champions, for somewhere so small we really hold our own, in fact we’ve more world champions than anywhere else in the world,” he said.
“In Northern Ireland the association is definitely getting smaller and it’s harder to get funding for competitions but those of us that are still in it want to see the skill kept going so we’ll make sure we keep passing it on to our sons and neighbours to try and keep the tradition alive,” he added.