Keith Wood is a legend of Irish sport.
The Munster man was a dominant presence in the Irish set-up for a decade crossing over from the amateur days into the professional era a year after making his Ireland debut in 1994.
However, Wood may have remained an amateur, in a different sport, had genetics not got in the way.
The former Ireland captain was a guest on ‘Wind Yer Neck In‘. A new podcast hosted by former Ulster player and Ireland U20s captain, Niall Annett.
The discussion turned to Gaelic games with the current Worcester player outlining how he and Donncha O’Callaghan would regularly guide their teammates towards watching Ireland’s national games.
Annett cited that many had heard of Gaelic football with hurling the lesser-known of the too. A former hurler, Wood explained how he basically quit rugby to focus on hurling before ultimately switching back in his final year at school.
“I stopped playing rugby in second year because I was too small.
“I gave it up and went back to playing hurling. I was always hurling and I didn’t start playing rugby again properly until halfway through my last year in school.
“I played little bits and bobs and I played wherever, it didn’t matter, I liked sports, I’m a sports billy and I would played a lot of soccer at the time and I liked that too.
“But I missed Ireland schools trials and Munster schools trials because I was playing hurling for Clare. I was playing U16 for Clare. The ages were different, they’re a year older now but it was U18 then at that stage for Senior Cup for us. And I played Senior Cup for Munchin’s.”
Woods lavished praise on the sport, citing that it promotes bravery before admitting that it was his favourite sport, to play and watch.
“Well, it promotes bravery. Because the stick is just shy of three feet long, a hurley is just shy of three feet long. If you shy away from contact, you get the end of the hurley and you get cut so you have to get very close.
“It’s fantastic. My favourite game, favourite game to watch. A good game of hurling is without parallel.
“I brought a friend of mine, a very eccentric English guy, over to an All-Ireland final about ten years ago and he lost it. He thought this was the best thing of all time. He knew nothing about it. He just said, ‘this is crazy’ and it is officially crazy.
“But it is my favourite game to watch.
“It was my favourite game to play and I was good-ish at it. I was relatively skilful, a good scorer, a good free-taker and just at that age, 16, 17, I could run very fast in a straight line but the agility. I… actually the agility was gone and it was amazing.
“So, whereas I was fine prior to that because I was small and hurling was easier for me. As soon as I got anyway bigger, you have to turn on a sixpence and I couldn’t turn.
“My disciplinary record at that stage started to go downhill so.”
Of course, Wood’s decision to transition back to rugby would ultimately pay off.
He would walk away from the sport an Irish rugby legend having come through Garryowen and Munster before captaining Ireland and representing the British and Irish Lions and to this day, he is still the only front-row forward to be named World Rugby Player of the Year.
It could be said he fulfilled a legacy by returning to rugby given that his father, Gordon, had represented each of those four teams mentioned above throughout a glittering career of his own in the 1950s and 60s.
As for the present day, it is his eldest son, Alexander, who is making people in the rugby community sit up and take notice following some eye-catching performances at out-half for St. Munchin’s College.
Asked about the pressure that may linger following in the footsteps of a father and a grandfather who both represented the Lions, Wood regaled a touching, yet hilarious tale of introducing his three young sons to his father’s front-row partner from the 1959 Lions tour, Sid Miller.
“Yeah, well it’s funny. A lot of those things I find them very interesting because there’s a psychological element to all of this.
“But I introduced them to Sid Miller, former Ballymena man, Ulster man, Irish man, Lion. You know, an absolute legend.
“Sid and my dad were the two props on the Lions in ’59 and they played a couple of Tests together.
Ep 10 with Keith Wood = “Your father was a Lion, your Grandafther was a Lion….”. #WYNI pic.twitter.com/YMUyshPbTv
— WindYerNeckIn (@WindYerNeck_In) May 15, 2020
“I said, ‘Sid, I’d like to introduce you to Alexander, Gordon and Tom.
“And Sid said, ‘Your father played for the Lions, your grandfather played for the Lions. No pressure boys.'”
You can listen to the full Keith Wood interview on ‘Wind Yer Neck In’ with Niall Annett here.
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