Trip down memory lane with Keith Wood an Irish rugby legend

Former international player was the star of the show at the Ireland Funds’ annual rugby lunch

Keith Wood pictured with his wife Nicola at the annual Ireland Funds’ rugby lunch at the Shelbourne Hotel. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Keith Wood pictured with his wife Nicola at the annual Ireland Funds’ rugby lunch at the Shelbourne Hotel. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

They were pushing their luck with a Friday the 13th lunch for a guest of honour nicknamed after a horror character, albeit a comic one.

But somehow the Ireland Funds’ tribute to Keith Wood, the former Munster and Ireland rugby star also known as “Fester”, passed off without major incident . . . other than raising thousands of euro for charity.

Twelve years on from international retirement, Wood is still instantly recognisable from the bald head that used to terrorise defences in the years either side of the millennium. He has since become better known to a younger generation, including his three sons, as a BBC pundit.

And all that accumulated charisma was enough that the lunch (€200-€500 a plate, depending on how philanthropic you were feeling) sold out months ago, with a lengthy waiting list for tables.

The 350 guests included Michael Flatley and Mark Pollock, along with US ambassador Kevin O’Malley, his British counterpart Dominick Chilcott and a who’s who of former rugby internationals from the Wood era and before.

A late arrival, mid-meal, was Kieran McLoughlin, the Ireland Funds world president, who had just flown in from Palm Beach and a similar fundraiser.

Speech

They all enjoyed a main course of “aged Charleville beef”and then listened to an entertaining speech from the guest of honour: aged Killaloe beef now, although still well trimmed.

In fact, Wood’s words were preceded by a short but dramatic career highlights reel. And although most people in the room shouldn’t have needed reminding, it was astonishing to witness again some of the things that he did as a player.

In the space of two minutes, we watched with renewed incredulity as he outsprinted an All Blacks winger to score a try, left a Welsh centre for dead with a sidestep while scoring another, and found touch in the opposition corner with a raking kick of which Ronan O’Gara would have been proud.

In fact, for a while, as commentator Jim Sherwin reminded us, the only thing Wood couldn’t do was the thing he was supposed to: throw a ball straight at his own lineout. But he mastered that too, more or less, eventually.

The biggest cheer was, of course, reserved for the training ground move, started and finished by Wood, that sealed Ireland’s win over England in the foot-and-mouth delayed game of 2001, depriving the old enemy of a Grand Slam.

Old-timers

There was no overt mention of today’s opposition, France. And in fact, leaving the event to the old-timers, the current Irish team was nowhere to be seen.

Still, it’s to be hoped that Michael Flatley has had the chance to pass on a few tips overnight.

As he prepares for the expected onslaught from Mathieu Bastareaud, the post-concussion Johnny Sexton may need all the fancy footwork he can muster.

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