BY KIERAN McCARTHY
EIMEAR Minihane is as impressive off the rugby pitch as she is on it. She’s bright, articulate and engaging. The Schull teenager (18) has a lot going for her.
On the pitch she’s one of Skibbereen RFC’s top talents and that was highlighted when Munster won the IRFU U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship in September. Eimear, at number eight, was a key player on that team and that was noted when she was named the interprovincial series’ Player of the Tournament, as well as picking up the Spirit of Munster Award. She’s one to watch.
On Tuesday night at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, the UCC first-year student added to her growing collection of accolades when she was presented with a West Cork Sports Start Monthly Award for September in recognition of her heroics in Munster red.
‘It’s a great honour to receive this award and it’s recognition for Skibbereen Rugby Club too and the hard work we all did throughout the season,’ Eimear said.
The ‘we’ she refers to is the band of sisters from the club that were involved on the Munster U18 Women’s panel. Eight players from Skibbereen RFC went for trials and all eight made the cut. Emma Connolly, Alex O’Sullivan, Chloe Anne O’Driscoll, Abbie Salter-Townshend, Vivienne O’Donovan, Katelyn Hurley and Niamh Thornton were all on this journey with Eimear, and all played their roles in Munster’s success.
And what an adventure it was. From losing all three round-robin games to Ulster, Connacht and Leinster, Munster surprised everyone when they beat the fancied Leinster team in the semi-final. And then they were too strong for Ulster in the final, winning 36-7 with Emma Connolly kicking 16 points and Eimear outstanding. This Munster team grew throughout the competition.
‘Our first match was against Ulster, and it was actually our first match together whereas Ulster already had played two games together, so we were new. You could see the improvement as we went on, individually as players and then collectively as a team,’ Eimear explained.
‘From the moment we stepped onto the pitch for the semi-final against Leinster in their home ground in Leinster, after being beaten by them at home in Munster, we had the determination and tenacity to get through and win. After we won that game we knew we would win the final.’
Against Leinster, Eimear led the charge. It was a power-packed display. She dominated. Defensively, she was a rock. She snuffed out Leinster attacks. She set up a try in the second half. In the final against Ulster, again, Eimear was to the fore.
‘I was sin-binned before half-time but I had saved a try so that was grand!’ she laughed, before explaining how she matured as a player throughout the interpro series.
‘The very first game, if I knocked on a ball I’d be beating myself up over it in the dressing-room after the game or in training the next day, but as the games progressed we learned more about each other as a team and we were there to help our team-mate, pick them up, encourage them,’ she said.
‘By the end of the Ulster match, the final, if I knocked on a ball, I’d get up again and go give it my all. That’s how I developed as a player and it’s the same for all of us. We grew up during this competition.’
Life is moving fast for Eimear off the pitch too. She started college in UCC studying Nutritional Sciences, leaving behind her Schull Community College days, though she was recognised with their Sportsperson of the Year award; another one for the collection.
The role of Skibbereen RFC in this story is important too. The ladies’ section of the club got up and running in late 2016 and it has grown in strength and numbers since then. It’s important that local girls have the chance to play rugby locally, and the club’s success since then is remarkable, highlighted by the eight players involved with the Munster U18 Women’s team this season.
‘The women’s side of the club has only been around for a few years but it has developed so fast and so much in that time. A few weeks ago we started a new development women’s team and hopefully numbers will grow and that will get stronger too,’ Eimear said.
All indicators are that Eimear will get stronger on the rugby pitch as well. She has trials for the Munster Women’s Development team coming up, she’s playing with UCC this season and is involved with Skibbereen RFC too. Not bad for a young woman who only started playing rugby two years ago after watching a women’s rugby game on TV.
‘When I saw that game, I said I’d love to give that a go. The next week I went in to Skibbereen Rugby Club and from the minute I made my first tackle I knew this was the sport for me. I made it my mission to get better and better so I worked and I worked,’ she said.
‘For me, the goal is to play the best quality rugby that I can while still enjoying it, and to play for the Munster Rugby team would be a dream but I will take every step as it comes.’
Like we said at the start, as impressive off the field as on it.