‘Girls and women absolutely love to play rugby because it’s a game for everyone’

Enya Breen (20), from Skibbereen, is a second year physiotherapy student at UL and regarded as one of the most exciting young prospects in Irish women’s rugby. She lines out for defending champions UL Bohs in today’s AIL final against Railway Union (Donnybrook, 3pm)

‘Girls and women absolutely love to play rugby because it’s a game for everyone’

Enya Breen (20), from Skibbereen, is a second year physiotherapy student at UL and regarded as one of the most exciting young prospects in Irish women’s rugby. She lines out for defending champions UL Bohs in today’s AIL final against Railway Union (Donnybrook, 3pm), preceded by the Provincial Qualifying League final (Malone v Suttonians, 12.30), the winner of which will join the AIL next season.

Q:How does a girl from West Cork play senior rugby for Ireland before her 20th birthday?

A:We’re a very sporty family and I’m the youngest of six children (four girls and two boys) so I was involved in lots of different sports when I was younger, including GAA and basketball.

Q: And your introduction to rugby?

A: When we lived in Cork city my brothers were playing rugby in Carrigaline so I tagged along and played Minis there with the boys. I was just one of two girls there at the time but the boys never treated us any differently which I loved. At home I was also a tackle-bag for my brothers!

Q: But we thought you were from Skibbereen?

A: I am. My family moved to Skibbereen when I was around 10 and, at the time, the local rugby club only had Minis so I sat out rugby for a year and then joined Bantry Bay rugby club. Initially I was also playing club football with O’Donovan Rossa and basketball with the school and at county level. If I hadn’t stuck with rugby I think I probably would have gone with the basketball.

Q: And when did you move to UL Bohemians?

A: I played with Bantry for four or five years but only joined UL Bohs this year. Playing AIL was a huge jump for me. Not only was it much more physical and a lot faster but I was joining a team full of all of these players that I’ve looked up to all my life. That was a bit strange at first but I wasn’t too intimidated because everyone was so welcoming, right from the first night at training.

Q: You’re pretty versatile, able to play out-half and centre and even full-back. Which do you prefer?

A: I’ve played a fair bit at 10 and only a little at full-back, but centre is definitely my favourite. At 10 you get very little time to see things or make decision and there’s an awful lot a lot of pressure on you too. I also like that you get that bit more space to attack at outside centre.

Q: Who were your sporting heroes growing up?

A: Everyone you’d expect. Niamh Briggs obviously and Ciara Griffin, so it’s amazing to be playing with them now in the club. And then there’s players like Claire Molloy and Nora Stapleton, all just amazing.

Q: Did your GAA background help in terms of ball-handling and kicking?

A: I think it did. I’d like to think I’m fairly solid under a high ball which probably comes from GAA and it definitely helped with kicking too. Yes, it’s a different shape ball but it does help to have kicked plenty before.

Q: When did you first get the Irish senior call-up?

A: I was at home last summer and missed a call on my phone. I didn’t know whose number it was so I called it back and it was Adam Griggs (Irish manager), asking me to join the Irish squad for the Autumn Internationals. It came out of nowhere.

Q: You were still a teenager and vying for a centre spot against the likes of Sene Naoupu and Michelle Claffey. Did you think you’d make your international breakthrough so quickly?

A: Obviously it’s very competitive and I missed the Autumn internationals with a shoulder injury. But there’s a lot of games in a short space of time in the Six Nations, so you’d always be conscious that anything can happen and players can get injured, which is what happened to Michelle.

Q: Making your Six Nations debut, aged 19, must have been momentous?

A: It really was a pinch-me moment. My first game was against France. Two girls from the Irish hockey team came in to talk to us about their journey so they presented me with my first Irish jersey. Running out to play in front of that (record 6,000-plus) crowd in Donnybrook was just incredible.

Q: It must also have been a baptism of fire — they beat you 47-17.

A: Well France are one of the top teams in the world and we were coming off some poor performances but we actually played well against them in the first half. It was just another level in terms of the speed and physicality. I remember getting hit at one point by one of their backrowers and just landing flat on my back. I definitely felt that!

Q: You held your place and played well against Wales so what did you learn from your first senior international season?

A: That you can’t back down. I was very nervous in the build-ups but when the games came around you’d be excited and just want to get started.You just have to back yourself and go for everything. Everyone has a job to do, we work really hard for one another and you just have to commit to everything 100%.

Q: Rugby’s physicality is one of its great attractions but we still hear parents say they wouldn’t let their daughters play because they’re worried they’ll get badly hurt. What think you?

A: You can get injured playing any game - that’s sport! Yes, rugby is a physical game but we are trained really well and are taught the right way to tackle and ruck etc..

Q: What do you like most about it?

A: The physicality! It’s a game that has everything – running, passing, kicking and tackling – and I also think it’s a game for everyone. There’s girls and women playing rugby I honestly think wouldn’t like other sports but they absolutely love to play rugby. I honestly wouldn’t change anything about it, rules-wise or anything.

Q: Have any of your international colleagues taken you under their wing?

A: I’m really lucky to play alongside so many brilliant players who help me, especially in the club, but Ciara Griffin especially has been great. There’s a gang of us that travel up together to national training and, on those car journeys, I have learnt a lot from her.

Q: Any prematch superstitions?

A: No, I really just try and relax and I’ll listen to some music beforehand but stuff like Mumford & Sons. You don’t want anything that would get you too hyped up.

Q: We hear UL Bohs have one particularly dedicated supporter? Who is that?

A: I’d say they’re talking about John Keane. I don’t know when he first got involved because I’m only there a year but John doesn’t just come to all of our games — he comes to all of our training sessions as well!

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