Virus forces early sunset on rugby season

Journalistic Photo Essay – Stephen Kisbey-Green

Setting sun
In what would turn out to be their last match of the season, the Dublin City University Ladies Rugby Team took on University College Dublin, in a cross-city derby. As the sun set on the season early, DCU celebrated ending the All Ireland League cup season undefeated.

As women’s sport is becoming more and more of a priority for media and sporting unions alike, creating visibility for successful women’s teams should be equally as important. This project looks into the importance of rugby to the lives of young women that play the sport, defying gender stereotypes and battling tough opposition on the way to make their mark on the sport.

In their first year as a club over and above their college team, the Dublin City University Women’s Rugby Teams have battled hard in both the club season and the university season. Their Leinster Club League First Division debut season saw them buck the trend of new teams starting in the lowest division, as DCU proved that they deserved to tackle the likes of the first division, finishing fourth on the log.

They also managed to remain undefeated in the University season, earning a place in the All Ireland League final for the third year in a row. However, both of their seasons were brought to an abrupt and unexpected end thanks to the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Hunting the target
When you are new to the league, it always pays to keep you eye on the prize. Jane Waters (light blue) tracks down her Railway Union RFC counter part in the first of their two matches against the eventual league winners. DCU would ultimately crush Railway’s dream of an unbeaten season as they beat Railway 27-59 in the second match against them away.

Judy Bobbett, the forwards coach of the DCU College team was proud of what her team produced throughout their undefeated AIL season, and was disappointed that they were not able to play the match that would have defended their title. “It is difficult for both of us and the girls,” said Bobbett.

“We actually put in a really long, tough session the week before we were scheduled to play and we kind of we were going in with our best foot forward, going in really confident knowing our play and knowing our game plan. It was probably one of the best sessions we’d done all year in terms of the girls’ attitudes and the kind of content that we got through.”

The coaches were confident that they could have won the final if the virus had not struck, according to backline coach Larissa Muldoon. “I think we are rightful owners of the cup to be honest, we had already beaten UL,” said Muldoon. “I know we had to go and play them in the final at UL but I would have hoped that we would have retained that cup considering the previous games that we had played and we were only getting better.”

For many players, this season was especially heartbreaking, as it would be their last playing for the DCU College team. One such player, who had played in both of the College’s AIL finals previous, was their captain, Sophie Kilburn.

“We’ve been sharing our memories from last year when we were out celebrating and stuff,” said Kilburn. “I think we kind of knew it was coming, but we didn’t know that the final would be taken away from us.”

“A lot of us will be finishing up and won’t get a chance to play again for the college, I don’t think that has really hit us yet,” added Kilburn, who joked, “I feel like I’ll just show up next year at training and be like come on girls.”

Last match blues
In what would turn out to be her last match playing for the DCU College team , Louise McCleery managed to score two tries out wide, playing one of her best matches all season. “I think some of us played some of the best games of our lives and that was all down to just changing our mindset to really enjoy it,” said McCleery. “It turns out you start beating everyone and you start outplaying everyone opposite you, so I think definitely towards the end, especially when the game was cancelled, we had that feeling that we achieved what we wanted and I think we’re all just as happy with that.”

The entire team is still struggling to cope with the idea that they will not be able to defend their title this year, or finish their debut club season, however the biggest challenge, according to some of the players, is not being able to see their teammates every day.

“That’s the big thing with rugby, you know, you fight for each other on the pitch and you fight for each other off it,” said Louise McCleery, DCU Club and College wing, in her final year for the College. “You become such a close bunch like those girls honestly in college they’re like my best friends.”

For these girls, rugby is more than just a game, it is a way of life. That is why they have put everything on the line for their club, their college and each other in matches twice a week, and practices every other night of the week.

The virus may have put an abrupt end to their 2020 season, however it will not stop them from continuing to promote women’s rugby and women’s sport in general. All they can do now is count the days until the next season begins in September.

Power up front
In order to compete at the top level in their first year of club rugby, DCU worked hard on their powerful forwards. Against one of the strongest teams in the first division league, DCU put up a good challenge for the Tullow RFC scrum.
Reaching for glory
It did not always go their way during the Leinster First Division club season, but DCU were highly competitive in their first season playing more than just college rugby. In their away match against Tullow RFC, DCU battled from behind to win by one point in the final minute of the game.
Prolific try scorer
Eimear Corri has been one of the top try scorers for DCU throughout both the College and Club seasons. She has represented Leinster on several occasions, and looks to further her career after her final season with the college this year.
Kicking for glory
Leah Reilly put over a number of crucial conversions and penalties for both DCU’s Club and College teams throughout their seasons, while juggling sevens rugby for Ireland as well as the odd injury here and there.
Keeping ahead of the pack
The captain of the DCU Club team, Hannah Heskin (blue and white) makes a clean break away to score her team’s only try against Tullamore RFC in their away match in the first half of the season.
Making a comeback
Even when the chips were down throughout the season, DCU fought hard to come back into the match. Eimear Corri shrugs off the attention of three Wicklow RFC defenders as she bashes her way over the tryline in the corner.

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