Jim Woods

During his relatively short but eventful playing career, Jim Woods packed in a

lot of action. The former Clare and Newmarket-on- Fergus star gathered his

hurley and kit and headed into the sunset just after he had turned 30 – a time

when many hurlers are still at their prime. But he still had much to reflect on –

four years on the Clare Senior team when he played against some of the best in

the country, a massive ten Senior County Championship medals (and two

Munster club medals) won with Newmarket-on- Fergus during the 1960s and

early 70s, and a lorry-load of memories, most of them good.

In a sense, when Jim stopped playing, he was only at the half-time stage – he

was to go on to enjoy considerable success as a club and inter-county selector

and coach, as well as 19 years as a referee, taking charge of games at every

level. He was also Chairman of his club and was a selector of the Munster

Hurling team for two years in the 70s.

These days Jim is no longer involved directly in the G.A.A. but he maintains a

keen interest in what is happening at club, intercounty and national level. Like

all Clare supporters, he was overjoyed at the Banner County's success in

winning the McCarthy Cup last September and hopes it was merely the first

episode in a new golden era for hurling in the South West. Jim knew plenty

about the disappointments and the near misses, so when Clare finally did hit

gold-dust, he could hardly believe it. "One thing I will never forget is the mass

of Clare people on the Croke Park pitch after the win over Offaly. They took up

nearly the whole area, you could hardly see a blade of grass. It was a very

impressive sight with everybody waving flags and banners, half of Clare

seemed to be there".

Jim runs a construction company – Jim Woods Building Contractors – from

Newmarket-on- Fergus and carries out work throughout the Clare area and

beyond. His work has brought him as far afield as Russia and he has made a

number of trips to the country over the last ten years. "I went out to work with

Aer Rianta constructing their duty free shops. We were also involved in the

building of offices and stores out there. We have carried out work in St.

Petersburg and supervised the building of a duty free shop on the Russian,

Finnish border at a place called Vyborg. Most of our work abroad has been

completed in Russia but we have also done some projects in Germany". These

days his busy schedule prevents him from taking a great role in GAA affairs.

Born in Foynes in Limerick, Jim Woods moved with his family to Newmarket-

on-Fergus at an early age, and growing up, his prowess with the sliothar and

camán soon became apparent. At just 16 years old, he was already on the local

Senior team, well capable of holding his own in a man's world. Soon the county

selectors were having a look at the promising youngster. In the early 1960s, Jim

was selected for the county Minors and moved quickly on to the Under 21's

team as his intercounty apprenticeship continued apace. Invariably, for club and

county, he was posted in at one of the half back positions, providing a solid

bulwark against opposition attacks.

Meanwhile he was embarking on a club career which brought a wealth of riches

as Newmarket-on- Fergus began to dominate Clare hurling. "We were able to

put together a brilliant team at the time and from 1963 to '74, we won ten Senior

County Championships. Altogether between 1963 and '91, we won a total of

thirteen titles and lost out twice at the semi-final stage. When I was playing, I

was lucky enough to be part of two three-in- a-row teams and a four-in- a-row

team as well. We won in 1963, '64, '65 and again in '67, '68, '69 and again in

'71, '72, '73, and '74", he fondly recalls.

Picking up a county medal never became repetitive or mundane. There was

always something special about ending up on top of the heap, but winning the

Muster Club Championship – as they did on two occasions – was something

special. "I enjoyed all the county finals we won but the Munster title itself in

1968 was the high point of my career: there weren't too many Munster medals

of any kind going around Clare in those days. We often regretted there wasn't an

All-Ireland Championship at the time as we felt we could have gone on to

greater things".

Hard work and sheer ability saw the team sweep aside most opposition, both

inside and outside Clare. "We had a brilliant collection of talented, skilful

hurlers and at one stage, about a third of the team had played for Munster

including Pat Cronin, Liam Danagher, Jim Cullinan, Michael Considine and

others. We also trained very hard".

Jim's senior debut for Clare was made in the Munster Championship clash

against Limerick and it was a match he was almost forced to miss. "It was a

very big occasion for me, of course and a sort of baptism of fire as it was my

first competitive match for Clare. Just before the game I had a cold and

wondered if I would be able to play but once the action started I forget all about

the cold and just got on with things. We won the match and I was happy enough

with my performance. I got on OK." 

In the next round, Clare were defeated by Tipperary – it was to become a

familiar story. Packed with top class hurlers, Tipperary were to repeatedly

smother their neighbours’ Championship ambitions: it was no different in the

Munster final of 1967 when Jim was among the subs as Clare lost to the

Premier County by 4-12 to 2-6. Once he retired from hurling, Jim Woods was

far from finished with the game. He took up refereeing for 19 years and took

charge of games at all grades, including the National League semi-final in the

early 80s between Cork and Galway. He has no doubts that taking charge of a

hurling match is much more difficult than a football game. "The play moves

much quicker, with some clearances reaching seventy or eighty yards – you

need to be very fit. I enjoyed refereeing to an extent; somebody had to do it", he


He also turned his hand to coaching and selecting and helped Newmarket to a

county title in the 70s. Jim then became a Clare selector for two years and held

that position when Clare won the National League title in 1976, defeating

Kilkenny by 2-8 to 0-9. The captain of the Clare side that day was Jimmy

McNamara, a Newmarket-on- Fergus man. Also on that team was Ger

Loughnane and Fr. Harry Bohan was manager. "He introduced a new style of

inter-county management which placed a big emphasis on the relationship

between players and management. It was a new, but effective approach," adds

Jim. Winning the National Leagues in '77 and '78 provided a huge boost to

Clare but it proved impossible to translate League success into Championship

glory. "By that stage, Cork had replaced Tipperary as the kingpins in Munster",

he mournfully recalls.

His experience as coach brought home to Jim the special demand the job makes

on somebody. "It is a very exacting job, time consuming. You need to be able to

impart knowledge, to access and understand players. You also have to stamp

your authority, let people know who is in charge. If you don't do that you won't

have the respect of the players and get the response you want".

Hurling these days, Jim feels, is more exact and measured than the past. Much

of the spontaneity has gone out of the modern game. Players are now coached to

feed the ball to their colleagues in what he calls "blackboard hurling". He sees

another sign of growing sophistication in the stylised equipment used, most top

class players now having a couple of their own specially made sticks on the

sideline ready to be thrown in if needed. It wasn't always like that. 

Over the years Jim has noticed the disappearance of overhead play, the clash of

the ash as the ball flew through the air. Rarely does he see a player connecting

in full flight. "It is a skill that seems to have died. Players now concentrate more

on getting the ball and controlling it before sending it to a colleague. It is more

scientific. Overhead hurling was not as accurate a delivery but it kept the game

speeded up and kept the backs at a disadvantage. They didn't know where it

might end up".

Clare's achievement in winning the McCarthy Cup last September means the

county can now hold its head up high. The river has been crossed, and inspired

by the confidence gained in the win over Offaly, they can go on to achieve even

further glory. Jim Woods certainly hopes so.

Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine.

16th Feb 1996

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