HE may be over 4,000 miles away and in an entirely different continent, but former Cork Constitution centre Ned Hodson never feels too far from home.
Back in the US for his second spell at Major League Rugby outfit Austin Gilgronis, he lined out alongside fellow Midleton native Ben Mitchell and ex-Highfield prop Paddy Ryan during his first stint with the Texans in 2018. A younger brother of fellow front-rowers Tim and Dave, who have both donned the red of Munster in the past, Ryan was the one who persuaded Hodson to take his initial trip across the Atlantic.
“Paddy Ryan would have been the biggest man, literally as well, in bringing me out that first year. Called me up after I’d been working in the Garryvoe Hotel, doing weddings, after I got released from Munster. I had been there for seven or eight months or so and I was back and forth to London a bit,” Hodson explained on a Zoom call from his adopted city.
“He just called me up out of the blue and was like ‘alright, kid’. I knew who he was, but I’d never met the man. He just said ‘do you want to come out and play in Austin?’. I said ‘Yeah, I suppose so!’ I thought it was a joke and then I was on a flight two days later.
“Slept on his sofa for four months. Things were pretty unorganised that first year. We’re really well looked after now. It’s really nice out here.”
Like Ryan, Hodson returned to Austin ahead of the 2021 MLR campaign - the fourth in the competition’s history. Whereas his former housemate is back in the saddle after spending two seasons on the east coast with Rugby United New York, Hodson had found himself on a completely different journey in recent years.
“I went back to London after that first year. Because I was sort of humming and hawing about coming back and playing, but I think at that time I wanted a break from the game. I think it did quite a lot to revitalise my love of the game, that break.
While forging a professional rugby career is currently top of his agenda, Hodson has a burning desire to try his hand at the film industry - particularly in the areas of acting and screenwriting - at some point in the future.
“When I was younger, I was very wrapped up in rugby. As I should be, because I love it. It’s something [acting and writing] I thought that I’d like to pursue and investigate once I got a bit older. It’s something definitely I’d look to move into in the future and Austin is a brilliant city for that kind of thing.”
Born across the water in Oxford, Hodson moved to Midleton with his parents at the age of two. From there, he attended the local Midleton College and his stand-out performances at schools level earned him an Academy contract with Munster.
He lined out for the majority of the province’s underage sides, as well their A and 7s teams, before ultimately being released without making a first-team appearance. Nevertheless, Hodson has no regrets about his time in Munster and readily acknowledges he didn’t do enough to force his way into the senior set-up.
"It’s something I hold my hand up about and in retrospect looking back, I’m like ‘yeah, I didn’t do enough’.
“I still remember Joe McGinley, our strength and conditioning coach for the Academy boys. I was very, very fond of him. He was a brilliant coach. I had been in the sub-Academy for a year and a half, two years, and I was quite frustrated. Because I hadn’t been pushing on the way I wanted to. I went to Central America, surfing with some buddies.
“When I came back for pre-season, I weighed in and I had dropped like five or six kilos. Joe just looked at me and said ‘Jesus now, what have you done?’ I was like ‘ah, writing might be on the wall for me at Munster!’ Overall, to be able to go to train against [Simon] Zebo and just have Paul O’Connell give you little tips and bits of advice. Who wouldn’t want that when you’re a young kid?”
For now, Hodson is fully settled back in at Austin, who got their MLR campaign underway on March 20 - almost a year to the day that the 2020 season had been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Sam Harris’ side are currently three games into a term that will culminate in a grand decider between the Eastern and Western Conference champions on August 1.
Following the uncertainty of the past 12 months, Hodson has sensed a great relief that USA Rugby’s top-level championship is back up and running.
“It would have been in the back of a lot of people’s minds ‘what if the season gets cancelled again this year’. Nothing like that has happened now and things look like they’re trending in the right direction,” added Hodson, an All-Ireland League winner with Cork Con in 2017.
“Which is really good for US rugby as a whole in growing the game over here. Good for us individually, because we get to go out and play. Not have to get real jobs in my case.”