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All Blacks Legend Zinzan Brooke Explains His Unlikely Passion For Gaelic Football

All Blacks Legend Zinzan Brooke Explains His Unlikely Passion For Gaelic Football
By Gavan Casey
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Rugby legend and iconic All Black Zinzan Brooke has shed some light on his much-famed GAA career while in Dublin for tomorrow's Ireland vs New Zealand Test.

Joining Off The Ball at its RDS Roadshow, the 1995 Rugby World Cup finalist revealed how he first encountered Gaelic football back in his native land, explaining how he took to the sport and kept playing despite having no close Irish connections.

Brooke told OTB:

I played Gaelic football for about eight years.

I lived about 100 metres from a guy called Bernie McCahill. His Dad was from Donegal and he introduced me to [the sport]. I was playing under-21s and I was about 17 and he said 'how would you like to play a bit of Gaelic?' I said 'What?' He said, 'a bit of Gaelic football'.

Gaelic football was just a foreign word to me I said 'yeah, I'll try it'. Quickly, I picked up the skill-sets for it and loved it. I played it for about seven years, so I still remember playing against France in 1994 on a Saturday and played Gaelic on a Sunday - and I won that game as well.

Incidentally, the man who introduced Brooke to the sport, Bernie McCahill, is himself a former All Black; his brother Sean McCahill played in the centre for Munster between 1995 and 1998, and went on to win one cap for Ireland.


Rumours that Brooke won a Tommy Murphy Cup are thus far unconfirmed, but he did play in the Australasian Championship for six years.

In his mid-'90s autobiography, Zinny - The Zinzan Brooke Story, the Kiwi rugby colossus stated: "Were I an Irishman I'd play Gaelic football till the day I dropped dead."

I unashamedly wallowed in the game, great for elevation skills, anticipation, kicking off either foot (a must), running, passing by hand or kick-passing. And the contact! The contact made the blood run whether you were taking it or giving it.

Indeed, in the same book, Brooke recounted facing the great Jim Stynes on the GAA pitch, writing:

In the Australasian championships we played a team which had a giant named Jimmy Stynes they had caught and caged somewhere in the wilds. They unleashed him every Sunday and pointed him toward the opposition and this day they pointed him at me and said, `Kill, Jimmy, kill.' My head came up to his armpit, which was an area I would not have chosen, but there it was all the same, just above my nose.

In 1997, Brooke was clearly of the belief that playing GAA and Aussie Rules had benefited him in a rugby career which saw him represent the All Blacks on 58 occasions:


Playing Gaelic and Aussie Rules added up in a way to the sort of rugby player I am. In Gaelic, especially, the demands were for sharp hand-eye co-ordination, ambidextrous skills, kicking for the natural arc off left foot and right.


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