Sport

‘Gap between Skibbereen and the top teams is slowly closing’

April 2nd, 2022 5:00 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

The Skibbereen RFC women's team who, by defeating Dolphin at home in Skibbereen, won the Munster Junior 2 League title in their first full season of adult rugby. (Photo: Anne Minihane)

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KIERAN McCARTHY caught up with three Skibbereen RFC women’s players – Averyl Condell, Alex O’Sullivan and Michelle O’Driscoll – to chat about their upcoming finals and future plans

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KIERAN McCARTHY: Talk to me about what division and competitions Skibbereen RFC senior women’s team are competing in this season.

MICHELLE O’DRISCOLL: We are in Division 2 of the Munster Women’s League. (UPDATE: Skibb won this league title last weekend). We started in a development league in 2019 and 2020, but obviously Covid came along so we couldn’t finish any of those leagues, so we are still in a lower division. Hopefully we will progress up to Division 1 this year and then on to the AIL (All-Ireland League) in the coming years. We compete in a Munster Divisional Cup and that is for both Division 1 and Division 2 teams, and then we have our own Division 2 Cup as well.

 

KIERAN: The good news is that Skibb have two cup finals to look forward to in the weeks ahead. Skibb will play Tipperary Women in the Women’s Munster Divisional Cup final this Sunday and also play Waterpark RFC in the Women’s Division 2 Cup final, so it’s going to be an exciting end to the campaign.

AVERYL CONDELL: At the start of the season we aimed for the two cups and the league. We also entered into the Munster Senior Cup, which is the first time the Skibbereen club has ever been involved in a match at that level. We were knocked out of that cup by Shannon after a real close match (Skibbereen lost 17-12). In the divisional cup we then played Shannon in the semi-final – and we weren't going to give them the opportunity to make it as close (Skibbereen won 15-0). We were always a team that could score but defensively we were caught time and time again with silly little bits, but as the season has progressed we have improved there. To set a goal at the start of the year and see it come to fruition is so satisfying, and to do it with this group of girls because we have such a great culture and great team.

 

KIERAN: Even though Skibbereen’s first-ever adult women’s team played their first game in 2020, this is a very ambitious group that is looking upwards – is the aim to get as high as you can as fast as you can?

MICHELLE: With the calibre of players we have, we can be AIL. To people on the outside that might be a shot in the dark, but we know what we have and we know that we can. And with the coaches that we have too, we know we can reach that level.

ALEX O’SULLIVAN: When I thought of AIL teams like Ballincollig and UL Bohs, I considered them miles away from where we are, but then as the season has gone on we are not too different. We all play the same game. We have similar talents in our own team; the number of players that we have who have Munster experience is the same as most other teams. The gap between us and the top teams is slowly closing and that’s great to see.

AVERYL: Everyone, from top to bottom, has bought into the culture that we are trying to set. We have a three-year plan that we are finalising and our biggest barrier at the moment is our sponsorship. If we are going to get to the AIL we are going to need support to get there. We are all willing to put in the work and it’s about finding the community to come in behind us.

ALEX: But as well as sponsorship, what helps is when we have physical supporters at matches. I know there wasn’t a lot of Skibbereen support at the (recent) Shannon (semi-final) but they had a load of support; just to have a whole sideline of people watching us, whatever team they were cheering on. There are a fraction of the number of supporters at our games compared to the men’s, and it’s the same level and the same game. We don't expect a busload of people to follow us up the country but if we could have supporters in Skibbereen come and watch for an hour, it’s that physical support that makes the difference as well.

 

KIERAN: Women’s rugby in Skibbereen has come a long way in a short time, from the first U15 team in 2017 to now fielding at most underage levels and also the adult women’s team, which gives underage players a target to aim for. So, how important is it for Skibbereen to have its own adult women’s rugby team?

AVERYL: We have massive underage numbers at the moment. The U16s were in the Munster Bowl final (UPDATE: Skibb won). We have numbers in excess of 20 at U14 level and it’s the same at U12. It comes down to that (20x20) slogan, “if you can't see it, you can't be it”. To see us come out in our first full season, and have such a successful season – we knew we could do it, but I’m not sure the wider community knew we could – is important. We don’t have an U18 team this year and that’s the age grade that falls off in all women’s sports. That move from U16s to college, there’s a rapid fall off, and we’re trying to stop that.

ALEX: I was really lucky when I was U18, we had a fantastic team with loads of numbers, and that was something that was completely new to me. As we get more serious, we need more numbers so to have no U18 team is unfortunate but it’s something we will fix.

Check out the full interview on southernstar.ie/sport

 

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