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.
Despite being scheduled to play in the final of the AIL against the University of Limerick, DCU’s last match of the season saw them clash with their Dublin rivals, University College Dublin. The clash of colours and might on the pitch ended with DCU finishing their pre-virus season off undefeated.
In their first year of existence as a club, in addition to their university side, DCU put together a number of major wins over some powerful opposition, thanks to a lot of preparation. Here, Aine McGroarty prepares to pounce against Tullow RFC off of the back of a strong DCU scrum.
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.
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 physicality of rugby doesn’t stop players from leaving everything on the field, even if there is a risk of injury. Aine McGroarty is hit high in DCU’s early encounter against Railway Union RFC, being concussed in the process.
Not only was Eimear Corri a prolific try scorer for both club and college for DCU, she was also a powerful line breaker and strong runner.
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.”
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.”
When you are defending the title, you have more to lose than your opponents, meaning your defence needs to be up to scratch. On their way to their third consecutive final in the AIL cup, DCU were always committed on defence, as exemplified by the group effort from Nikki Gibson (left) and Louise McCleery.
It was not always easy for the DCU Club team in their debut season in the league. No match was more difficult than their away match against Wicklow RFC in January 2020, as the weather, muddy pitch and spectators added up to a 27-15 loss. Here, Jane Waters attempts to stop a near certain try from being scored by Wicklow. The ball was eventually knocked on, however the referee missed the knock on and awarded the try anyway.
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.