An important book for the hardcore rugby supporter

Dean Goodison: Book Review

Published 22/12/2015 | 00:00

The book, Twelve Feet Tall
The book, Twelve Feet Tall

To the younger generation of rugby fans, Tony Ward is the guy that writes about the game in the 'Indo', or the fella that does a bit of commentary on the telly. But to another generation he's one of the great egg-chasing enigmas. A man with supreme talent but just 19 Irish caps.

In his new publication, 'Twelve Feet Tall', Ward talks at length about what he feels were the reasons behind the lack of international appearances. He delves into his years on the pitch, his troubles with the Irish Rugby Football Union and, of course, that famous day when the All Blacks were defeated.

However, while 90 per cent of the book is about rugby, there is an underlying theme that starts right away. In 2012 the former fly-half was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer, and his fight against the horrible disease, it seems, inspired this offering.

The book is separated into four subsections. It opens with 'Deliverance', which marries his arrival into the world, and his formative years, with the days surrounding the diagnosis of his affliction. It's an interesting blend, the most horrific nightmare mixed with the creation of a sporting star.

Sporting, of course, is the correct term for Ward. He wasn't just a rugby trailblazer but also a soccer whiz. Indeed, in those early years 'The Beautiful Game' was his first love and the first section of 'Twelve Feet Tall' explains how close he was to a different sporting path.

The bulk of Ward's rugby career is dealt with in 'Endurance'. From the early days playing after his move to Limerick, to his Munster experience and into the Irish years, the highs and the lows (many of which are I.R.F.U. induced) are covered.

In his cancer battle, 'Endurance' deals with the process after the diagnosis. The weakness and the agony, mental and physical. It's harrowing stuff. The section also deals with his spell back with Limerick playing League of Ireland soccer, with a really fairytale moment included.

The third is 'Perseverance', which unwittingly probably aligns with the readers feeling more than the story as it's a section with a mish-mosh of content that doesn't really fit together. It's also the time when Ward moves to the later stage of his treatment and the proverbial light appears at the end of the tunnel.

Finally, a one-chapter, final section called 'Acceptance', is as described. The illness seems to have given Ward perspective on certain issues and he believes it's made him an all-round more accepting person. There's still time for one more dagger at the I.R.F.U. though!

Justin Doyle ghost writes the publication for Ward and all-in-all he has done a good job. It's well balanced, not overly heavy but detailed where it needs to be. There are a few mistakes in editing, including a few rogue capitals and an erroneous word but nobody will be more disappointed than Doyle with those.

Now, the usual question, who's this book going to interest? For the general sports fan it's a tricky one. There is something here, it's a nice read, it's not arduous and doesn't grate on the reader with too much dull commentary, but is it the most enthralling book out there this Christmas? It has its moments but overall, probably not.

On the other hand, for the hardcore rugby fan this is a no-brainer. Ward is from a simpler time on the field but maybe a more complicated era, where the hierarchy was concerned, off it. It's important for the young fans to get a sense of what the game was all about in the '70s and '80s, and there can be few better ways to delve in than with 'Twelve Feet Tall'.

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