Fagan’s shearing brilliance
David Fagan is making his farewell tour. The 53- year- old shearing great recently finished second in the Southern Shears in Gore. Over the weekend he was a semi- finalist in the Golden Shears in Masterton – the Wimbledon of shearing, he calls it.
It will all finish at the New Zealand championships in his home town, Te Kuiti, next month.
Former All Black captain and coach Brian Lochore, a farmer for several decades, once told me the best shearers were at least as fit and strong, if not fitter, than the world’s best rugby forwards.
‘‘Shearing is relentlessly demanding and requires skills, dexterity and incredible stamina,’’ he said.
Fagan has proved a sports freak. Imagine Richie McCaw playing top international rugby at 53, because that’s the equivalent of what Fagan is doing.
He was a world-class shearer by 1978, before McCaw, Kieran Read or even Keven Mealamu were born. In 1979, Fagan set a world record by shearing 702 ewes in nine hours at Brunnel Peaks, Te Anau.
How he’s maintained his form and motivation in the most backbreaking of sports defies belief.
I liked the answer he gave to one reporter last week: ‘‘ I’ve just eaten good food, nothing flash, just potatoes, vegetables and that. There’s no substitute for experience. A lot of our sportsmen chuck it in a bit early.’’
Despite his 12 world titles (five individual, seven team) and 10 world records, he’s fairly much anonymous in New Zealand. For example, he’s never even been a Halberg Awards finalist. In shearing, though, he’s a giant. The end of the Golden Shears on Saturday night was extremely emotional when Fagan was called to the stage and received a prolonged standing ovation.
He then presented the Golden Shears trophy to Gavin Mutch.
It reminded older shearing fans of the send- off given to New Zealand’s other shearing legend, Brian Quinn, four decades ago. They played Manfred Mann’s Mighty Quinn that evening and the crowd sang along.
When Quinn bowed out, it seemed unlikely his feats would ever be matched – just as when Don Clarke, and later Grant Fox, retired, their goal- kicking records seemed unbreakable. But then came Fagan. He was taught shearing by his brothers, John, Geoff and Ken. For a while John and David vied for top honours, but then David cleaned up.
In recent years he’s been known inside his sport as ‘‘ the Federer of shearing’’, a compliment to the Swiss tennis maestro.
New Zealand has produced many brilliant shearers, which makes Fagan’s record all the more amazing. He’s had to fend off the likes of Edsel Forde, Alan MacDonald, Paul Avery and John Kirkpatrick, each a champion.
As Mutch said in Masterton, Fagan has cost a lot of good shearers titles over the years.
Fagan, easily recognisable because of his shaven head, was always the benchmark, though.
He had ferocious determination, was technically skilled and had a tremendous temperament. He negotiated the fine line between speed and quality perfectly.
Fagan would shear sheep during the week – up to 50,000 a year – as his job, then compete on weekends. His stamina was extraordinary.
Now he’s bowing out. What a legacy he leaves.
Durability: David Fagan remained a world-class shearer for 35 years.