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Women’s rugby in West Cork in a healthy place, says Guest

May 24th, 2023 3:30 PM

By Kieran McCarthy

Women’s rugby in West Cork in a healthy place, says Guest Image
West Cork rugby legend Laura Guest.

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THE most successful rugby player to emerge from West Cork is heartened by the strength of the women’s game in her home patch.

Laura Guest’s attitude, talent and success put West Cork women’s rugby on the map throughout her remarkable career.

She was a trailblazer who played in three Rugby World Cups with Ireland (2006, 2010 and 2014), including the famous 2014 pool-stage win against New Zealand.

The Clonakilty woman was also part of the first – and only – Irish women’s rugby team to win the Six Nations Grand Slam (2013). Guest also won nine interpro titles with Munster, her last in 2014 as captain. She then coached the Munster women’s team for three seasons (2017-19), winning the title in 2017. Enough there to fill several highlight reels.

She has handed the baton over to the current generation, and is pleased to see women’s rugby in West Cork continue to grow.

‘I think it’s in a really healthy place,’ she tells this week’s Star Sport Podcast.

‘Look at Clonakilty Rugby Club and their underage section, it’s booming; they have multiple teams at underage. With Skibbereen it feels like they have come from nowhere but it is years of work, and it’s super to see.

‘There is a lot of talent in West Cork.’

Enya Breen (Skibbereen) and Laura Sheehan (Urhan) have been regulars with the Irish women’s rugby team in recent years, while Bantry’s Saskia Wycherley – younger sister to Munster stars Fineen and Josh – captained Munster U18 girls as well as Ireland in the U18 Women’s Six Nations Festival this year. There were four West Cork players on the Munster squad that won the 2023 interpros: Breen, Sheehan, Gillian Coombes and Abbie Salter-Townsend. And they are just the headliners.

The emergence of Skibbereen Rugby Club’s adult women’s team is an important development locally too, Guest added.

‘The challenge I always see is retaining players into adult rugby, and with Skibbereen having their adult team and doing well, there is a greater chance because players have somewhere to go and play,’ Guest explains.

‘At the West Cork Sports Star Awards earlier this year it looked like the Skibbereen team had a great bond and camaraderie. When you have that, people who are based elsewhere will travel back to play. It looks like they have a lot of fun as well, and they seem to have a very good thing going so hopefully it will continue for them.

‘Clonakilty are booming at underage level but haven’t had an adult team for a while. Potentially, they are thinking about it again.

‘Definitely the talent pool is not dried up yet in West Cork. There is something in the water that goes to more than just rowing.’

When Guest came on the scene in the mid-2000s, adult women’s rugby in Clonakilty was strong.

Maeve Quirke was the club’s first Irish international. Eimear O'Sullivan was capped too. These are the rugby pioneers that paved the way, and joined the dots from West Cork to the highest levels.

Guest developed into the region’s most successful player and was capped 36 times for Ireland, before evolving into a coach.

‘In ways, coaching is significantly harder than playing – the level of organisation, the people management, the challenges,’ she explains. Her coaching journey with her school, Midleton College, and club, Highfield, led to the Clon woman taking the Munster women’s head coach job for three seasons; it’s a role she enjoyed but ultimately juggling it with work proved too much.

‘Ideally I would have enjoyed staying involved in coaching and maybe even staying coaching Munster for longer, but I made my decision in November 2019 to move away from it,’ she says.

‘I have said for a long time that the commitment and demand levels are not suited to people who have a career elsewhere. There is more of a commitment now; it’s a professional environment without being professional.

‘Unfortunately, the commitment required to do it well didn’t match up with the time I had to offer it.’

Asked whether the door is fully closed on a return to coaching with Munster, Guest added: ‘I don’t think it’s possible while working full-time in my current employment. The interpros have had seasons in different windows – if it was run entirely throughout the summer, potentially, because being a teacher I would have the time. To me it doesn’t fit where I am at in my life anymore. It’s unfortunate because I thoroughly enjoyed it.’

A new venture this year saw Guest share her rugby knowledge as a co-commentator on RTÉ radio during the Women’s Six Nations, a challenge she enjoyed.

A player, a coach, now a rugby analyst, Guest’s contribution to the West Cork rugby scene can’t be underestimated. The challenge is there for the current generation: can anyone match Guest’s impact?

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