IN early October 2019, the call went out on social media: Skibbereen RFC was forming the club’s first-ever adult women’s team and were looking for players.
‘We need you,’ the poster said.
‘No experience required,’ it added, the only stipulation being that you need to be at least 18 years old.
In the days and weeks that followed, 35 women got in touch to say they were interested in joining.
It’s a varied group, from those who have come up through the underage ranks in the club, to those who have backgrounds in football and basketball, to those who had never played any sport in their life.
At the end of February, Skibbereen’s adult women’s team played their first competitive game when they beat Bantry Bay RFC in the Munster Women’s Development League.
This team has come a long way in a short time.
‘It did take us by surprise that there was so much interest, but it’s the next natural step for the club,’ Sana Govender explains.
The Skibbereen man has been involved in the women’s side of Skibbereen RFC since it got off the ground in October 2016 – that’s when the club’s U15 women’s team started. Since then, the women’s game has grown in Skibbereen.
‘Four years ago I started with the only team that was there, the U15s, and here we are now talking about a club that is fielding at every level, U12, U14, U16 and U18, and now we have a women’s team,’ says Govender, who works as a Women’s Participation Officer with Munster Rugby.
‘If you want to talk about natural progression and a sustainable model for clubs, you have it right there. It was built from the base, from the ground up, and we didn’t take too many big steps too quickly.
‘Hopefully, this continues and we can field competitively at a higher level next season.’
That is the goal, to field an adult women’s team next year in the junior league.
‘We have a strong base, rugby is strong in West Cork and the natural progression is to take that next step up because we have the players and we have the underage structures,’ Govender says.
‘Hopefully by playing in this development league, it will attract more women to get involved to compliment the players we have coming up from underage.’
Since late 2015, Skibb women’s rugby has made huge strides. In early October 2018 the U18 ladies’ team created history when they won the club’s first-ever ladies’ trophy after beating Newport in the Munster U18 Plate final thanks to a hat-trick of tries from Vivienne O’Donovan.
In 2019, eight players from Skibbereen were on the Munster team that won the IRFU U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship with the highly-rated Eimear Minihane from Schull named player of the tournament while Emma Connolly kicked 16 points in the final against Ulster. Chloe Ann O’Driscoll (Schull), Alex O’Sullivan (Crookhaven), Abbie Salter-Townshend (Skibbereen), Vivienne O’Donovan (Skibbereen), Katelyn Hurley (Drimoleague) and Niamh Thornton (Skibbereen) were all involved on the Munster panel.
The women’s game is growing in Skibbereen RFC and with players coming up from underage and then becoming overage after playing U18, it’s important that they have an outlet and option to continue playing rugby locally. That’s where the development league comes in.
‘This league was introduced in Munster to allow new clubs to take that step up to adult rugby, to give them an opportunity to field a team, and it’s not dependent on having 15 players every week,’ Govender explains.
‘It gives players the chance to play the game in a learning environment and it’s a slower pace game as well, so it does allow players to get to grips with the game and develop as players.
‘If this development league didn’t exist, Skibb might not have a team because we might not have the numbers on a consistent basis and we wouldn’t have the level required to play in the junior league.’
The first outing against Bantry Bay was encouraging and with more games to come against Galbally and the second teams of Ballincollig and UL Bohs, and the chance to earn a place in the top two play-off in the final, these are exciting times for women’s rugby in Skibbereen.