“He Just Kicked The Crap Out Of Everyone” – Irish Rugby Stars On Their ‘Maddest’ Teammates
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Every rugby team needs a good nutter. The kind of person that rocks up to training with intensity levels dialled up to the very max every week.
And this is the case no matter what level you’re playing at – from grassroots, all the way up to the professional game.
Irish Rugby has produced a fair few characters over the years although as the game becomes even more professional – those players are few and far between these days. But there’s still some around.
On a recent episode of House of Rugby Ireland, former Ireland internationals Fergus McFadden and Chris Henry were asked to name some of these ‘entertaining’ teammates, with two coming to mind immediately.
“Jeez, there’s plenty of names, for me, to be honest,” Henry said.
“I think every good team needs to have a few mad headers.
“The obvious one for me was Neil Best – a fan favourite for Ulster, and Ireland.
“The reason why I felt he was the obvious choice was when Neil was coming up at Ulster, he didn’t come through a typical rugby school. He had to go the hard way, was playing for Malone Rugby Club, and was playing so well that Ulster decided, ‘Well, we have to bring this guy in for a trial’.
“He came in for about four or five weeks and, literally, in every training session, he just kicked the crap out of everyone. Whenever there was no contact, he didn’t know what no contact was. He was just smashing boys.
“Eventually with Mark McCall, everyone was going, ‘We have to give this guy a contract’ because he’s too good. Obviously, he went on to play, and every time he played for Ulster and Ireland, with no regard for his own body. The fans loved him.”
Another story involving Best that sprung to mind for Henry was an excellent speech before Ireland took on England in the Churchill Cup.
“The other story I’ve always loved and remembered about Neil,” Henry continued.
“Was when we played in The Churchill Cup in Denver, Colorado. It was the Churchill Stag, it was called then!
“He was the captain of that team. The Churchill Stag, as we called it, was always a relaxed tournament, but we had a really good team out.
“Besty, the night before we played the England Saxons, who also had a good team, had us all fired up and pumped up to play this English team. His final words were – before we went out to play – was, ‘Lads, no matter what happens – win or lose, we’re always going to booze!’
“And for such a big game, for him to be able to pull it off was some going. It motivated us all and luckily we won, and we were all able to enjoy our summer break. But Neil Best, what a guy. An absolute header, but a brilliant teammate.”
Fergus McFadden meanwhile, simply couldn’t overlook Mike McCarthy, who we all know is an absolute brilliant character by all accounts
“You didn’t know, whether you were going out for a coffee with him, or anything, if he was going to do something hilarious,” McFadden recalls of his former Leinster and Ireland teammate.
“I remember one time we were both doing a bit of punditry. The Aviva had this fan studio up in one of the corporate boxes. The idea was it was a virtual chat, but there were also fans in there, watching.
“I was being asked a question and was answering it, on the first half. I was half-way through my answer and, next thing, Mike just smashes me to the ground in a tackle. And he starts going, ‘RELEASE, RELEASE!’ to my microphone, standing over me. And I’m on the ground. Everyone was looking, going what’s going on here.
“Then he stands up and starts acting completely normal. They ask him a question and he gives a beautiful, articulate, perfectly spoke answer. I’m like, ‘You can’t just turn into that person, and be this person as well!’”