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Semi-Final Interview: Clontarf’s Andy Wood

Semi-Final Interview: Clontarf’s Andy Wood

Clontarf go into Saturday’s AIB League Division One semi-finals as Leinster’s last team standing. IrishRugby.ie caught up with ‘Tarf’s head coach Andy Wood as he prepares his side for a tough trip to Cork Constitution.

Clontarf finished off the regulation phase of the league in good form, posting three wins in their final four games – against Greystones, Dungannon and Galwegians.

Their Leinster Senior Cup final victory over St. Mary’s College last month was a real war of attrition with Daragh O’Shea kicking them to a 9-6 win.

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The north Dubliners also made it through to the AIB Cup semi-finals for the first time so New Zealander Andy Wood’s first season as head coach had admittedly been ‘an enjoyable one so far.’

“It’s great to be involved in an ambitious and positive club here at Clontarf and I’ve been fortunate to be involved here now for seven seasons, starting out as a player,” Wood said.

“Things keep evolving here and it’s great to be a part of this environment. It’s been really good working here this season with a great bunch of lads, many of whom I’ve known for a long time now.”

Following in the footsteps of his fellow Kiwi Phil Werahiko, who coached ‘Tarf for six seasons and led them to AIB League finals in 2003 and 2006, is no mean feat.

Wood agreed: “Of course it’s been a challenge to be continuing on from such a successful coach as Phil Werahiko, who has definitely left such a positive impression here.

“But the job has now been passed on to me and I’m very focused and determined to ensure that in taking this opportunity, I add to the successful and positive culture here at the club.

“I have been helped enormously by the support from the hard working rugby committee and especially the chairman of rugby Geoff Curran, Peter Walsh, the director of rugby, and club President Greg Howard.”

A starter in both the 2003 and 2006 league deciders, Wood also paid particular tribute to two more men in his coaching staff.

Alan Reddan has been fantastic as backs coach. He is full of ideas and having played here for several seasons as a creative centre, he is well versed in the culture of the place and continues to add to that.

Simon O’Donnell has also been involved as a player for a number of years and is a hugely energetic individual.

“As conditioning coach, J1 coach and A first team squad member he also is adding plenty.”

With a mix of youth and experience in the squad, Clontarf have shown a lot of resilience this season as they actually lost three of their opening four AIB League games, including a 15-10 defeat to a Lansdowne side that were recently relegated.

‘Tarf’s young half-backs, former Ireland Under-20 duo Ian Keatley and Paul O’Donohoe, have really shone as the season has progressed, willed on by their Leinster-capped skipper Simon Crawford.

“Yeah, Keatley and O’Donohoe have been great and have mixed really well with the experience already in place. Simon Crawford is a good example of this as club captain,” said the Clontarf boss.

“He is a smart operator at set piece and defensively astute. He leads by example with a great work ethic and is a real 100 percenter. So everyone feeds off guys like that and everyone is working hard from week to week.

“After a few reversals – early season in particular – the players have had the character to regroup and fight back.

“There’s a lot of pride in the jersey and a determination that understands that without results there’s no next week.

“This is particularly important to understand at this stage of the season as we prepare for the knockout stages,” Wood added.

Pride in the jersey and pride in the club. Clontarf, who celebrated 100 years at Castle Avenue in 1976, is a club which has only thrived due to the unstinting work of men like Harry Brooks, who was the rugby winner in the inaugural National Volunteer In Sport Awards last year.

Brooks, now aged 81, is a real living legend down Castle Avenue way and has given 54 years of outstanding service to Clontarf.

He was Clontarf President during the 1981/82 season and was officially made an Honorary Life member of the club in 1986.

Wood explained: “Everyone here respects hard work. The club here has been built around stalwarts such as Harry Brooks who continues to volunteer so much time to his work as groundsman.

“Club members donate their time in so many areas and it really adds to the culture and ethos that exists here in Clontarf.

“It is impossible not to feel this mutual respect of hard work and I know that the first team squad and, indeed, all of them teams right down to our large mini section feed off this. There’s also the enjoyment factor. It’s a great place to train, play and socialise.

“You know, we’ve got a massive challenge this weekend against the league’s best team down in their own back yard.

“But we’re looking forward to getting down to Cork and putting in the hard work, not only for ourselves but for everyone in the club.”

Turning his attention to Saturday’s mouth-watering clash with Cork Constitution, the Division One table toppers, Wood knows his players will face a tough task.

Con are unbeaten in their last 19 league games at Temple Hill and ran in four tries for a 36-7 win when the sides met at Castle Avenue in February.

But ‘Tarf have turned the tables on Con before. A much-fancied Con side lost 26-6 to ‘Tarf at the semi-final stage two years ago and Wood’s men will travel south with a quiet confidence.

“Our recent form sums up our season in a way. We showed some real grit in winning the Leinster Senior Cup and then had some flashes of quality in our 37-14 win over Galwegians on the final day.

“What we require on Saturday are elements of both in great measure.

“Many of the lads in this squad weren’t around for the 2006 semi-final win over Con and so for many the most recent memory is of our league meeting this season which didn’t go so well for us.

“Con are favourites for this game and rightly so, particularly when you look at their record at home,” Wood conceded.

“Everything builds towards this stage of the season and obviously now to this match, so there’s no shortage of motivation for both sides.

“We’re well aware that we need to be at our best and will need to play accurately to our strengths for the entire match.

“All semis are tough matches you know, so we’ll be bringing down everything we have and look to draw on all the quality and experience we have in this team to get the result.”

Should Clontarf get the right result this weekend, they will face either Shannon or Garryowen in Sunday week’s final.

Asked who he sees winning the other semi-final, Wood said: “I wouldn’t like to call the result of Shannon against Garryowen in the other semi, but you know it’s going to be a real tough game of rugby.

“Invariably whoever reaches the final deserves to be there when you look at the match-ups this weekend.”