John Kirwan scored a lot of tries. He scored a lot of good tries and had a huge influence in helping the All Blacks of 1987-1990 become one of the greatest sides in history.
Kirwan was a relatively huge wing back in the day. At 1.93m and 90kg, there were plenty of loose forwards that weren’t his size and yet he had pace, agility and awareness.
He was a great All Black who scored great tries and such were his gifts that he encouraged a greater emphasis on ball in hand rugby throughout his time in the team.
It’s probably true that at some level his ability to score tries due to his power and size sparked the big wing revolution.
After Kirwan came Inga Tuigamala and Jonah Lomu and, to this day, the All Blacks and many other international sides are still looking to select big, big wings.
For all that he did on the field, it is perhaps what he achieved o it that has been the greatest influence. Kirwan has been a selfless and relentless campaigner for raising awareness about mental health issues.
He fought his own battle against depression which was at times intense and debilitating. He has been brave enough to speak about this troubles and make hundreds of thousands aware that poor mental health can a ect anyone and everyone.
There he was, a star All Black having been picked when he was just 19, famous, talented and seemingly with everything that he wanted, yet he was battling away inside.
He was depressed. This big, tough, world class All Black was mentally fragile. He couldn’t just ‘harden up’ the way some people advised him to. Instead he sought professional help and subsequently has campaigned for others to do the same.
He has touched many people’s lives, giving them hope and comfort and ultimately the strength to seek help.
One of his most powerful projects was the inspirational book he wrote called All Blacks Don’t Cry – A Story of Hope. He admitted he felt lonely, vulnerable and afraid at the height of his fame and so depressed he often had to struggle to get out of bed.
“As I began to get better,” he wrote, “I began to be able to say to myself, ‘This will pass, you’ll get through this’.”
Ultimately, the message he conveyed was that asking for help is okay no matter who you are.
GREAT INSPIRATION A brilliant All Black, John Kirwan has also been an inspirational campaigner for mental health.