Al Kellock’s career forged in fires of adversity

WHEN a sportsperson announces their retirement after a long and illustrious career it is normal to begin by reflecting on the golden moments, cherry-picking the highlights and basking in the glow of great glories.
Al Kellock holds the Bicentenary Cup after Scotlands defeat of Argentina in 2010. Picture: GettyAl Kellock holds the Bicentenary Cup after Scotlands defeat of Argentina in 2010. Picture: Getty
Al Kellock holds the Bicentenary Cup after Scotlands defeat of Argentina in 2010. Picture: Getty

But Alastair Kellock is different. “I’ve had some incredibly low points in my career,” is one of the first things he says shortly after it was confirmed that he will be retiring at the end of this season. This is not, however, a reflection of a negative, glass-half-empty character because Kellock is the polar opposite. It would, in fact, be no exaggeration to say that much of Glasgow Warriors’ rise from whipping boys to one of the most respected club sides in the British Isles, is down to the brimming positivity and burning ambition of the man who has captained them since he pitched up back in his home city nine years ago.

Rather, it is because the articulate 33-year-old recognises that the brilliant career he has enjoyed has been forged in the fires of adversity.

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“Disappointing results, injuries, non-selection. These things build character and if you have the ability to move on from them in the right way you become a better person and player,” he explained. “If you spend your life looking out the window for someone to blame you’re going to struggle. But if you look yourself in the mirror and work out how to fix it you’ll get to where you want to be.”

Even that ill-fated few weeks almost four years ago in the Land Of The Long White Cloud, where the clouds could not have appeared blacker over Scotland and Kellock himself, is viewed in more nuanced shades by Kellock.

“That World Cup is a great example of the highs and lows of a rugby career,” he said. “But I’d never change being able to go out to New Zealand as captain. I don’t consider that World Cup as the lowest point of my career, because there were some good experiences and it was still a great honour. Disappointing of course, as it’s not the way I or we wanted it to go. But yes, not being selected for that Argentina game was probably the lowest point of my career. Of the big three negatives you can have in the game – defeats, injuries and non selection – it’s the last one that is the hardest to deal with.

“Just missing out on the 2007 World Cup was tough, but then I could go back to Glasgow and throw myself fully into that. In 2011 I was stuck out there. With injury you’ve got a process to get better, with losing games you’ve got a process of thinking about winning the next one.

“But with non-selection, for that period of time leading up to and during the game there is nothing you can do. It’s tough.”

It is the highs, rather than any lows, however, that will dominate Kellock’s thoughts whenever he looks back.

“The Argentina series win was very special but to skipper Scotland full stop is up there with the highlights,” he said. “I grew up going to watch Scotland as a kid. I used to take a box with me to stand on because I was too small to see on the old terracing. My heroes were John Jeffrey and Fin Calder – proper men. So to get to lead Scotland out was just massive for me.

“It’s the emotions you remember. One thing I’d always tell the younger boys coming into the Scotland squad is, during the anthem, get your heads up and take it all in. It’s so easy to think blocking that sense of occasion out is the way to go but I would say look up, maybe spot some family members in the stands waving back at you, because I’ve had a few of those moments and they are the ones that stick with you.”

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When pinpointing his biggest influences, Kellock picks out his parents, Stuart and Jane, as well as one of his first professional coaches, ex-All Black Todd Blackadder from his time at Edinburgh. “My mum and dad could not have done more for me,” he said. “My dad had never played a game of rugby in his life. He’s now been fixture secretary at Allan Glen’s over 20 years. My mum would be up doing the pies. They’ve driven all over Scotland and flown all over the world to watch me and just facilitated what I wanted to do. I couldn’t be more grateful to them.

“Also Todd for all the work he did with me as a young player. For that first four years you’ve got to be a sponge and he pulled me in and looked after me. The biggest lesson I got from him was that he had the same amount of time for everyone, whether it be me, a journalist, a kid looking for an autograph, or an irate fan who thought we’d been terrible that day. That’s the way I’ve tried to handle myself over my career.”