Ireland lock Ryan Baird. Ben Brady/INPHO
Role Models

'I wouldn’t have really looked up to anybody in rugby. Nadal was my idol' - Baird

Ryan Baird on working with Paul O’Connell and a summer trip to Wimbledon.

SITTING IN FRONT of a small group of media in Abbotstown, Ryan Baird stops himself mid-answer, and apologises. The Leinster and Ireland forward is fresh from a 10-minute dip in the ice baths and is still feeling the effects, shivering through the early parts of a conversation which veers off course on a couple of occasions.

One such example comes after Baird has been praising the work of Ireland forwards coach, Paul O’Connell. Was the Munster and Ireland great someone Baird looked up to growing up?

“Honestly, no,” Baird admits. “I wouldn’t have really looked up to anybody in rugby. It was more tennis, Nadal was my idol when I was growing up. I enjoyed watching and playing rugby but it would have been Nadal who I idolised.”

Tennis was a popular sport in the Baird house. He used to pick up a racket but wasn’t quite at the same level of his two brothers. At 12 he went to Wimbledon for the first time. Earlier this summer, he finally made it back to SW19.

“It was funny, we arrived in at 5pm or something, just queued up, got a ticket for £18,  it was incredible,” he explains.

ryan-baird Ryan Baird speaking to the media in Abbotstown. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Everyone had already kind of queued up and gone in so we got in for £18 and stumbled upon Court 17 and saw this player, Jan Choinski. He was a set down, 1-0 down, and me and my two mates were like ‘Right, we’re gonna get behind Jan.’

“We looked him up, he was 147th in the world at the time, he’d never won an ATP match, he’d never won a Grand Slam match or a Davis Cup match, so he was not expected to win this match – he was playing against the 48th-ranked player in the world.

“So we got behind him, we were bringing huge energy, shouting and screaming at him, giving him ‘Come on Jan!’ and all that throughout the game. It was incredible fun.

“So he wins in five sets and the atmosphere was just incredible. Afterwards he was saying ‘the crowd were incredible, it was electric’ and we got a photo with him. It was a real memory for us. We were texting him on Instagram after saying ‘Awesome work, so delighted for you!’ and he was like ‘Thanks, roll on the next round!’ It was a really cool day.”

Baird is happy to speak at length about his interests away from rugby but also greets questions about life in the Ireland camp with the same enthusiasm. He old might not have idolised O’Connell growing up but the former Ireland captain has made a big impression on Baird as part of Andy Farrell’s coaching staff.

“Paulie to me when I came in, I was just blown away. You see him on TV but I never really focused in on watching him, it was Paul O’Connell, great captain, Lions tours, so successful, but then you come in here and you see why he was so successful. That was the most impressive part.

The first day he came in I was just blowing out, it was incredible. His attention to detail, his passion for it, it’s just incredible. I love it (working with him) so much.

“I pick his brain about anything and he’ll have a video of it somewhere on his laptop. It’s impressive looking at all the folders he has. I love working with him.”

Self-improvement is a big focus for Baird, who has been capped 11 times for Ireland. He’s been keeping an eye on South Africa and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, looking for trends around the lineout, as well doing some analysis a little closer to home.

paul-oconnell Ireland forwards coach Paul O’Connell. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“We were actually just talking about it (in camp) yesterday and then we sat down and were chatting about what we’re all looking at individually,” he explains.

“You can learn so much by just watching them (other players) on the laptops, seeing how they do something. If I’m struggling to get square in a defensive line, for example, I’ll watch someone who’s really good at it (in the Ireland squad) and pick their brain and they’ll say ‘Oh, what I do is set-up this way and then I look this way’…

There’s probably someone in the building here who is better than you at pretty much everything, you’ll have your one or two super strengths – you don’t want too many of those – and then you see someone else’s and you pick on them and pick on someone else.

“That’s when you get the best results, when everyone is sharing and it’s collaborative, because everyone has their point of difference and you’re trying to learn from each and every person.”

This week is a rest week for the squad, who will come back into camp after the weekend ahead of the opening August warm-up clash with Italy (5 August). 

The players will be expected to keep on top of their fitness work, but there’s also a window for some downtime. For Baird – who is celebrating his 24th birthday today – that might include a trip out on the open water.

“I love fishing. I haven’t actually done it in a while, just with holidays and all that stuff, but I do love fishing. We were playing yesterday in Carton and the river that flows through there, you can see fish in underneath and I was thinking I’d love to get a rod out and try catch some.

“But it’s very therapeutic, fishing, because you’re out there and you don’t know when you’re going to get a hit, and you might not get a hit, so it teaches you a great level of discipline and patience. Then if it’s a good day it’s calm, still, you can hear the birds around you and just chill out.

“It’s very nice. A lot of the time I’d just go by myself. It’s very relaxing. I feel very present when I’m there.”

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