Strabane man Tom Perry making a buzz in sheep shearing world
Strabane man Tom eyeing up accolades
Tom Perry wants to be the world champion - but not in football, boxing, snooker or athletics.
The 28-year-old Strabane man is a competitive sheep shearer - and is heading towards the top.
Up-and-coming star Tom has recently returned from New Zealand and Australia where he sheared just over 30,000 sheep ahead of the 2018 shearing season.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph Tom, who helps his dad Ian run the family farm in Co Derry, firmly puts his success down to hard work, not to mention, sheer talent.
"Sheep shearing is hard; we just make it look easy," he said. "I've always had a passion for sheep. We've around 200 on the farm at home.
"My dad runs it and I help out at lambing time. I earn money shearing to help modernise the farm and, off season, I do other jobs like fencing."
Tom's competitive highlights have come from contending at open level for three years and his major achievement has been representing Northern Ireland in the Six Nations Shearing Competition at the Royal Highland Show in Scotland.
Up until now, he has been in a few finals and, going forward, with his eyes firmly on the prize, he said he wants "to be able to lift the silverware".
Tom said his personal shearing milestone event to date was at the World Championships in Invercargill, New Zealand, which he described as "a tremendous event and fantastic opportunity to shear on the world stage".
He added: "I was in the international open grade and was delighted to be placed just outside the top 30, in a field of 120 shearers."
Tom, who is eldest of his dad and mum Gloria's three children - his sister Kim (27) is a nurse and brother James (23), an engineer - sheared his first sheep aged 16 at a British Wool Board training course in Kilcoo.
Since then he's come a long way and aims to represent Northern Ireland in the World Championships in France next year. "It's a quiet period from March to the end of May so I'm now killing time helping out a fencing contractor at the moment," he said. Tom has also sheared in Scotland and Norway and he's off to France today "for some training before Balmoral".
No one's going to be able to pull the wool over Tom's eyes about how sought-after his talents are, but he remains tight-lipped about the salary and will only say: "I'm over-worked and underpaid".
These days it takes him just "a minute-and-a-half" to shear a sheep and he said he finds that the trickiest part of his job is always being on the road.
Despite the constant need to be on the go, there are, however, a number of plus points for Tom who said: "It's very social job and I've a lot of friends across the world." Born and brought up at Urney Park Farm in Strabane, Tom, who is currently living in Antrim, takes time out from shearing to help on the farm at busy times of the year.
The Greenmount Agricultural College past pupil started competitive shearing aged 19.
Securing his Blue Seal Award nine years ago, he sheared his own sheep at home, which proved to be a challenge for the young novice. "When I returned home, I promised my father that I would shear the sheep that year," he recalled.
"It took me nearly a week to shear all 400 of them - much longer than my father was used to!"
Every year Tom, who also has his bronze and gold seals, is eager to complete one of Ulster Wool's refresher or advanced courses.
He said Ulster Wool has given him a career and a hobby.
He added: "Without Ulster Wool, these things would have not been within my reach and I would never have met the many great people within the world-wide shearing industry."
Colin MacGregor, Ulster Wool's head of shearing, described Tom as "a progressive young shearer who has a fantastic future career ahead of him, both in terms of professional and competitive shearing".