Northwood keeper Taine Bird a shot-stopper of note

HIGHLY-REGARDED Northwood first team hockey goalkeeper Taine Bird is enjoying another successful season. talks to the Durban North-based shot-stopper.

Taine, as the last line of defence, a unique burden – or perhaps “responsibility” is a better word – rests on the goalkeeper’s shoulders. It can be a weight that is overly onerous – especially on one of a first team’s most critical players (2 shots can mean 2 goals and a 2-1 loss despite overall match domination) so how does it affect the Northwood number 1?

Featured image: Northwood and KZN Coastal U18A’s Taine Bird will stop at nothing to keep a clean sheet.

“It brings out the best in me as I thrive under pressure, which boosts my performance in a game,” is Birdy’s quick response.

Giles Bonnet, who captained the 1982 Michaelhouse, Natal Schools and Schools hockey teams before adding the SA men’s captaincy, head coach of the SA men’s and women’s side and more to his illustrious career in the game, once said – when I was reporting on the SA women’s side on behalf of then-sponsors Investec Bank – that a consistently successful hockey team is built on 3 things – a striker who can score and create goalshot chances, an excellent penalty corner attack and defence, and a quality goalkeeper.

With that comes the responsibility of those three facets performing at peak level as often as possible – especially the keeper.

“It’s important to have a cool head during pressure situations,” says the Northwood vice-captain. “I enjoy pressure, taking on responsibility, helping to run a smooth show. It adds value to the team and gives my teammates less stress to cope with during a match.”

Taine’s representative recognition to date is virtually faultless: In outdoor hockey – KZN Coastal U13A, 14, 15, U16 (2 years) and U18 (2017/18) as well as SA U16 (2 years) and SA U17. On the indoor hockey front, Taine was selected for the SA All Stars age-group side and plays in the Northwood first side.

At men’s club level, Taine plays for the Crusaders 1sts in the KZN Premier League.

With 59 first team matches under the belt, the last Northwood match in 2018 being an emphatic win at home against St Benedict’s over the weekend, has the knowledge earned during those fixtures helped improve Taine’s game between the posts?

“The number of earlier first team matches helped me settle down in the position and find my feet. I feel I have developed tremendously since my first match, as I now know more about my own game and my role in the team than I did 2 years ago.”

As the Northwood vice-captain, what are Taine’s thoughts on the first team’s skipper?

Marco Valle-Dove has done an outstanding job leading the Northwood 1st XI. Marco is so passionate; he’s open and honest with all the boys in the team and does his best to resolve any issues that may arise. As a defender, Marco is a brick wall at the back; not much gets past him! In the general sense, Marco is an outstanding player.”

The Northwood first side of 2018 have experienced highs and relative lows; some matches haven’t gone their way, but Taine feels that the bare stats don’t tell the whole story: “We have had our ups and downs, we haven’t won all our matches but that doesn’t describe our season.

“As a squad we try to measure ourselves on our match performance rather than just the result. We are determined to play our part in further enhancing what is already a very good hockey culture at Northwood. We have had a relatively good season.”


Northwood first team head coach Shaun Baker warms up his keeper Taine Bird.


Apart from his Northwood first team journey now at an end, it is also Taine’s last year in schoolboy representative hockey.

“One of the major challenges coming up is the Interprovincial Nationals tournament during the July holidays as it is my last schoolboy IPT. I’m looking forward to playing a part in securing the gold medal with my KZN Coastal U18A team-mates.”

So how did the Taine Bird hockey adventure begin and who has guided him on his journey?

I started playing hockey in grade 6 at Northlands Primary. Mr Clive Beetge was my first KZN age-group coach and left a long-lasting impression. Mr Darryn Gallagher (previously Northwood, currently director of hockey at Hilton College) has also had a great influence, as has Mr Michael Wiggett (Northwood hockey coach and chiropractor at Northwood Sports Medical Centre). They have moulded me into the hockey player I am today and have helped in every way possible.

“As much as I appreciate the input of the coaches mentioned, I would have to say that (the current Northwood first team coach and director of hockey) Mr Shaun Baker has had the greatest influence. Mr Baker is constantly helping me improve and wants the best from me. Mr Baker is an excellent coach and while we have the utmost respect, Mr Baker is also able to understand us boys on our level, which leads to a stronger coach/player relationship and is beneficial towards the team.

Playing goalkeeper can all-too-often be a lonely place as, to adapt the well-worn cliché coined by former U.S. president Harry Truman, the buck certainly stops with the, ahem, shot-stopper. Apart from the support of coach and team-mates when the going gets rough, as it always will in a sportsman’s life, who else is there to offer a heads-up to Taine Bird?

At the end of the day, the support of my family has been what keeps me going… just the thought of that makes me want to perform even better; to make them happy as well as myself.

“I would not be where I am today without the help of my mom (Mel ), my dad (Russell), sister (Saxon), grandmother (Margaret) and my girlfriend ( Hannah ) – and also my friends. They are always there to watch my games when they can and are constantly supporting me in everything that I do. Sometimes I think they are even happier than I am when I make a representative team, which is a major positive to me. I am just extremely grateful for these amazing people in my life.”

It’s been a busy season, so which has been the match that sticks out most>

“The most memorable game for me has to the one with Maritzburg College. We, as the Northwood squad, put on the performance of a lifetime – we played as one. For me, it was our best performance.”

It was a 1-1 draw against one of the top handful of teams nationally, in which Taine reportedly made in the region of 15 goalsaves – a healthy number of which were apparently quite remarkable.

The Clifton College first team are another squad that stand out for Taine.  “Clifton are one of the best and most challenging sides to play against in KZN. Clifton have also proved themselves outside the province. They have come such a long way – the calibre of hockey that they are putting out against the traditionally big schoolboy sides.”


Northwood hockey guru Shaun Baker last year; the Genesis of his chosen career inspired by SA schoolboy hockey coaching legend Mike Bechet – whose achievements are without peer – Bakes was captain of Maritzburg College during Bech’s unprecedented 700-plus matches as the Red Army’s guiding light.


Northwood director of hockey and first team head coach Shaun Baker on Taine Bird: “I am Taine’s biggest fan, I believe that he possesses the right stuff to become a world class goalkeeper. He moves in his kit like a field player and this makes him exceptionally hard to predict.

“His eye is excellent too, which brings his stick saves into play more so than the average goalkeeper. However at times he relies on this a little too much and can let a ball through that he could have gloved – when he gets this right, he will be a real big force to beat in the sticks.

Taine’s ability to understand a game plan and basic hockey principles makes him an excellent communicator and drill sergeant. He understands the game so well that I even had him coaching the U14C team – a team which lost their coach just after the Easter break. Taine took over and had an excellent season with them, only losing two matches out of nine.

Taine goes the extra mile, he is in matric, offered to coach a team that trains three times a week, the 1st XI trains minimum three times a week with a video session on top of that. He played outfield for the 3rd XI – scoring 6 goals for them, as well as making every single goalkeeper session at 05h45 on Fridays with SA goalkeeper Richard Curtis. He did not miss a single session, all without detriment to his marks (which I kept a close eye on).

This shows the character of this young man. He is bigger than just being a goalkeeper. He will be sorely missed next season as the value he adds beyond his saves is irreplaceable.

Wow! Praise indeed.


A quiet confidence… hard-earned by way of diligent attention to detail and consistent, daily effort. wishes Taine Bird, who has had an outstanding record this season in the crucial penalty-corner-save aspect of goalkeeping, as well as an excellent percentage of shot-saves from field play, everything of the best for next month’s Interprovincial Nationals.

Taine Bird in 20 seconds

Nickname – Birdy

Birdy in 1 word – Perseverance

Favourite breakfast – Pancakes

Favourite food – Pizza

Actor – Ryan Reynolds

Actress Megan Fox

TV show – Narcos

Holiday destination Bali or Hawaii

Board game – Jungle Speed

Car Camaro SS

3 Desert island must-haves – Hockey Astro, personal chef, good WiFi signal

4 Things I can’t live without – Family & loved ones, hockey, friends, food

Favourite quote – Do something today that your future self will thank you for

If I could attend any sports event – Olympic Games

Down time – gym, chilling with friends

On your screensaver“Prove them wrong”


Taine Bird did-you-knows

* Age 8 he could read music & play piano
* Paige Challis Chandler, a then teacher at Northlands Primary (now at DPHS) gave up her school holiday to introduce Taine to goalkeeping
* His main focus going into high school was cricket – wicketkeeper/batsman
* Made SA U16 age 14, turning 15 on 17 July
* Keeper (age 15) in 2016 KZN Premier League promotion- winning Crusaders 1st team
* First Premier League Game age 16 – possibly the youngest keeper to do so
* 2018 Founders Week (Dale College) played keeper 1st half vs Potch Gym, scored a goal as striker 2nd half, making Northwood Sport 1st team history
* Scored T20 100 for Northwood 5ths vs Westville (Friday social team)
* Still age 17, one of Birdy’s current focus points is SA selection for Africa Youth Games (Algeria-July 2018) then Youth Olympic Games (Argentina-Oct 2018)
* Currently 20-odd hockey training sessions a week
* Trains @ Movement X Cross-fit when possible
* Term 1 2018 – 3 A’s, 3 B’s & a C.

Jono Cook footnote: Passion and energy like this, wish I could buy a piece.



  1. Kim Kenning on 14 Jun 2018 at 6:37 pm

    Wow! Congratulations on all your wonderful achievements thus far, with many more still to come, Taine!!
    As one of your teachers in primary school, I could see right from the start that you had talent and the will power to succeed in anything you put your mind to!
    Cheers, to the rest of your very successful future. Carpe Diem!!

  2. Russell Bird on 14 Jun 2018 at 10:53 am

    Wow Jono, you’ve just made us super proud parents…!

    Thanks to all those involved in Taine’s sporting development, all we did as parents was get him to where his Coaches, Northwood School and Crusaders Club needed him to be….

    Jono, your dedication and journalistic writings on School Sport are incredible – Thank you….!

  3. Shaun Baker on 14 Jun 2018 at 6:27 am

    Amazing Jono! Thank you so much for taking time to put all this together! Your passion and dedication is valued by us here at Northwood tremendously!

    Birdy my man… Onwards and upwards, one performance at a time!

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