A new era has begun in Skibbereen RFC history with the start up of the club’s first ladies’ rugby team. KIERAN McCARTHY spoke to Mags Coombes, Eimear Hogan and Emily Byrne about this exiting new sporting development
EIMEAR Hogan remembers being blown away by the turnout at the first night of training for the first-ever Skibbereen RFC ladies’ team.
It was just before 6pm on Friday, October 14th at Skibbereen rugby’s club grounds and Eimear admits that they were venturing into the unknown.
A text was sent out the day before to a list of numbers that young go-getter Emily Byrne had collected in Skibbereeen Community School: ‘Hi all, girls’ U15 rugby starting tomorrow Friday 6-7 in rugby club. Spread the word as I don’t have all contact details yet. Wear suitable gear, boots and gumshields are essential. Also remember all weather is rugby weather!’
Eimear knew there was interest locally in setting up a girls’ rugby team – thanks to the promptings of Emily Byrne (more of her very soon) – but she wasn’t sure what the response was going to be.
‘I remember the first night’s training, we expected around 10 girls, but 30 turned up,’ explained Eimear, whose husband Mark coached Skibb’s U18 team previously and is now involved in the junior management team, while their daughter Liadhan is involved in the U12 mini-rugby team (boys and girls combined).
‘We couldn’t get over the numbers that turned up to that first training and since then we have averaged 25 at training every night. The response locally has been fantastic. It’s the girls that are driving this, we are only facilitating this but they have been unbelievable.’
If you could bottle Emily Byrne’s enthusiasm and sell it, you’d retire early as a millionaire.
While there had been talks in the past about Skibbereen RFC setting up a girls’ rugby team, Emily’s inventiveness turned that from a dream into a reality.
Last September Emily and her family were out for dinner in Skibbereen with the Coppingers when Declan – involved in coaching the club’s junior team – posed the question: would you have any interest in girls’ rugby?
‘I immediately grabbed my phone and texted my best friend, Emma Connolly, because I knew she would love it so much,’ Emily (14) explained.
The wheels were put in motion.
Emily (pictured right) then got hold of Eimear Hogan’s number, knowing that she’d be interested in helping. Eimear asked Emily, a Junior Cert year student, how many girls would be interested in this team?
‘The next day Emma and myself went around our year (in Skibbereen Community School) asking if anyone was interested,’ she explained.
‘We recruited our close friends first, Vivienne O’Donovan, Chloe Shanahan, Katelyn Hurley, Abbie Salter Townshend and Ellen Hurley.
‘Soon word spread fast and I got a list of over 30 names and sent the names and numbers on to Eimear. After that I made a Facebook messenger group, which we contact on most days checking in on trainings.’
Skibbereen RFC President Mags Coombes – the first lady president in the history of Skibbereen rugby club – takes up the story from here.
‘Eimear got on to me after Emily initially contacted her and got the list of names. I was very open to the idea because I felt there were no excuses now and that we could facilitate this team,’ she said.
‘You only need to go to one of their training sessions to see how important this is. I couldn’t get over the enthusiasm of the girls and the numbers that turn up for training. Clearly this is something that the girls wanted to do but we weren’t aware of in the club.
‘Emily chased it and when she asked, we said “why not?”. We were lucky to get two good young coaches, Jack Hogan and Senna, to help out.
‘We also have a lease on a new piece of ground so in terms of space, the team can be accommodated; that was always a problem in the past. We are going to have the extra training base from next September and there was a willingness in the club to take it on so there was no excuse in the club not to take it on.’
After discovering the huge level of interest locally for a girls’
U15 rugby team, next the club had to find a trainer.
Step forward Jack Tobin. He took on the challenge.
While a number of the girls are involved in other sports, very few, if any, had a background in mini-rugby and there were also a number of girls who played no sport previously – but this U15 team, importantly, gives a chance to everyone.
‘We trained for a few months to get the hang of everything,’ Emily Byrne explained.
‘I definitely think everyone has grown as players and are more confident to speak up now after these few short months. We have come from a group of girls without a notion of rugby to strong rugby heads, or as our former coach Jack likes to call us “The Beasty Babes”.’
Jack coached the team up until early January before he went back to college in Galway, and he was helped by Hemmi Taukiri, and they now have Senna Govender and Mark Hogan in charge.
At Jack’s last training session he made an important decision: he chose Emily as team captain. Considering her drive, passion and enthusiasm, it was an inspired choice. Emma Connolly was named as vice captain.
The girls trained once a week from October but from this week that’s increasing to two nights a week – in the Astroturf in Skibb on Monday nights, and in the club grounds on Thursdays, from 6.30pm to 8pm. Anyone interested in joining is more than welcome to come along.
Last Saturday in Clonakilty, Skibbereen RFC’s U15 girls’ rugby team played their first competitive game, an U15 Munster Women Youth Cup clash against Clonakilty.
Skibb had played a challenge match against the boys’ U13 recently but this was the real thing, a competitive clash.
The first of three competitive games, Skibb won 32-14, with the following players involved: Emily Byrne, Emma Connolly, Chloe Shanahan, Vivienne O’Donovan, Abbie Salter Townshend, Helen O’Brien, Marina Connolly, Genevieve Egan, Ellen Hurley, Amy Kearney, Nicole O’Brien, Chloe Conway, Katelyn Hurley, Ciarnad O’Donovan, Aoife Barrett, Claire Cullinane, Michelle O’Donoghue, Kate O’Sullivan, Siobhan Maguire.
Locally, Skibbereen rallied behind its girls’ U15 rugby team.
In the past, girls could play up to U12 along with the boys but after that grade there was no outlet for them to continue with Skibb, and that saw some talented players having to travel to other clubs to continue playing rugby.
Enya Breen joined Bantry Bay Ladies RFC and has since played for Munster and Ireland while Claire Coombes also linked up with Bantry and has also lined out for Munster.
‘You had that situation where a few girls from the area have had to leave and join other clubs to play rugby. Enya and Claire, two very talented players, had to travel to Bantry because there was nothing in Skibbereen for them,’ Eimear Hogan admitted. But thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of Emily Byrne and her friends, the local rugby landscape has changed, for the better.
‘You have to provide sport for girls and it would be remiss of us not to have rugby for girls in Skibbereen, especially when they can play rugby with the boys up to U12 so it’s important to be able to continue it afterwards,’ president Mags Coombes explained.
Having taken the first step of setting up a girls’ rugby team, Skibbereen are intent on introducing further girls’ grades in the future, U18 and maybe U13.
‘I want to see this get bigger and bigger,’ said Coombes.
‘It seemed to fall into place this season so I don’t see why we can’t have more girls’ teams in the future. It’s a case of getting volunteers on board and there seems be huge willingness out there to help.
‘There are three grades in girls’ rugby – U13, U15 and U18 – and next year a lot of the older girls will be U18 so we will have U15 and U18 teams, and depending on numbers there is the possibility of an U13 team.
‘It would be great for them if they go off to college in a couple of years’ time because women’s rugby is very strong in the city. It’s another sport they can play.’
A nice little story to finish.
Captain of Skibb’s U15 girls’ team and a driving force in getting it off the ground, Emily Byrne’s energy and love for rugby shows no bounds. Her dad, Jarlath, is a ‘mad rugby head’, as she describes it, and Emily is doing her bit to carry the torch.
‘My first introduction to rugby was on my second birthday when I received my first Irish rugby jersey, since then I have always been interested in the sport,’ she explained.
‘Just recently I passed on my first jersey to Declan Coppinger’s two- year-old son Rua. I knew Rua would love it because he refuses to wear anything other than the IRFU kits!’
And so the next generation begins its rugby adventure.