Inside the mind of Ireland’s number nine

Kathryn Dane clears the ball out from a ruck against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

Having tea with Kathryn Dane

Life could have turned out completely differently for Irish scrum half Kathryn Dane, if the coaches of the U8 Enniskillen opted not to let her join in with the boys team. On a whim, Dane went to join the boys after her football practice, and, with the help of her dad, convinced the coaches to let her join in with the lads that were “twice the size of me”.

Meeting in a coffee shop just down the road from her physiotherapy office, Dane managed to squeeze an hour out of her schedule to tell me the story of how she became Ireland’s first choice number nine.

“I lived right beside a rugby club and I would always drive past in the mornings and see the young lads playing and I noticed that there was never any girls there,” said Dane while waiting for her tea to arrive. “Dad eventually came up and he was like ‘let her tag in anyway and see how it goes’ and sure enough I took to it like a fish in water.”

Fast forward to February 2019, and Dane would be making her first start for Ireland at scrum half against Italy in the 6 Nations. “I always think back to that Italy game… we were playing in Zebre, the weather was super hot, and the girls would even say that it was hardest camp they had done because the conditions were just so hot.”

“Getting that nine jersey gave me an extra hundred percent to work with, I played the full game and it was such a fast, flowing, dewy game of rugby; it was right up my street,” added Dane while stirring the milk into her tea.

Still trying to dry off and warm up from her walk through the rain to the coffee shop, Dane enjoyed the time she could relax, drink some tea and talk about rugby. She joked that this trip to the café was the only social interactions she gets outside of work and rugby.

“I have to really prioritise my time. With my girlfriends and my boyfriend for example I have to know weeks in advance when I’m going to have a day off or a weekend off rugby,” said Dane. “I know how supportive they all are of my rugby so I don’t feel as guilty anymore [for not seeing them that often], they do understand and when I do get a chance I try and be there for them.”

Dane works a full time job in addition to her sport, waiting for the day rugby becomes professional in Ireland. However, she has managed to find a career that not only compliments her rugby, but allows her to train during the day whenever she gets the chance.

Just a year out of university at Trinity College, Dane is a hard working physiotherapist, with aspirations of getting her doctorate later this year. Those plans have been put on hold for now, as she was supposed to be playing rugby in April before a trendy new virus postponed all matches until October.

Despite playing rugby for Ireland, Ulster and Old Belvedere, Dane does not consider herself just a rugby player. The first sport she played was soccer from the age of six, again with the boys team as there was no girls team in her area. A proven athlete, Dane represented Northern Ireland in football from U15 to U19 level.

She suggests that this exposure to national setups from an early age is the reason she wanted to become a physiotherapist, as it allows her to be part of sport even if she cannot play it. Luckily for her, she can do both incredibly well.

With the rain beginning to subside outside, Dane is almost finished her tea. She only has twenty minutes before she has to be back in her office. Too polite to tell me she has to go, she slowly finishes her tea while thinking about the future and how far she wants to take her rugby.

“I’d love to go to New Zealand,” admitted Dane about where she would want to play rugby. “That’s been one of my goals for a long time. I’ve always been a massive fan of Super Rugby and of the All Blacks and the Black Ferns, so getting a chance to play a season in New Zealand is definitely on my bucket list.”

However Dane dreams of selling out the Aviva before she retires. “Ultimately playing here on home soil in front of our family and friends, and thousands of Irish fans… I don’t think there is any better feeling. Hopefully within my playing career as well I’ll get a go at the Aviva.”

At only 23 years old and with the number nine jersey firmly in her grasp, there is still plenty of time for Dane to make that dream a reality.

Irish Rugby on the attack against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green
Irish Rugby on the attack against Scotland. Photo: Stephen Kisbey-Green

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