Ireland-bound in bid for world title

It has been a while since Tony Dobbs competed on the world stage but the Fairlie blade shearer is determined he will once again be a force to reckon with.

However, his Albury team-mate and former blade-shearing student Mike McConnell might just be the one to watch.

Dobbs, who returned from shearing sports retirement in October, won the world blades title in 1992 and on Monday left for Ireland to prepare to contest the title again. With less than half a point in it, Dobbs and McConnell were first and second respectively in the Shearing Sports New Zealand open blade shearing final at the Mackenzie Shears in Fairlie.

This confirmed their places on the New Zealand team for this year's World Shearing and Woolhandling Championships in Gorey, Ireland next month.

In recent years, world championship blade shearing has been dominated by South Africa and Lesotho. Shearing was ''done on the blades'' in those countries because it was cheaper but a ''machine-style result'' was expected, Dobbs said.

''[Consequently] their quality is terrific.''

This competition season, his first in nearly 20 years, had been ''intense'' and it was a ''relief'' to have his place on the team confirmed, he said.

But it was ''easier to read'' his New Zealand competition and he had been working on his style for the past three or four months to ''lift it up another gear'' for the world competition.

His shearing experience in South Africa in the 1980s and '90s had taught him about their style of shearing.

Interestingly, many were left-handed shearers but used right-handed shears.

This meant the thumb was on the other side and the point of the blades turned away from the skin, allowing shearers to get a much closer cut, he said.

''But I've beaten them before.''

His hopes were in jeopardy a few months back when he broke his thumb, but thankfully it had since returned to full ''match fitness''.

Dobbs began his comeback bid late last year, in Waimate.

He was talked into entering the competition by a friend and was placed fourth in the New Zealand Spring Shears.

He followed it up with the New Zealand Corriedale title at the Canterbury show in November.

''My 18-year-old daughter was sitting in the crowd at the Canterbury shears and she was a baby when I last won it.''

He planned to compete in several Irish shows as preparation for the championships.

Competition between McConnell and Dobbs has been close throughout the season, with McConnell often winning points for speed and Dobbs coming through on quality.

The rest of the team to represent New Zealand at the world championships are machine shearers Rowland Smith, of Hastings, and John Kirkpatrick, of Napier; and wool-handlers Joel Henare, of Gisborne, and Veronica (Ronnie) Goss, of Kimbolton.

- by Ruth Grundy