Every day I take the same route.
Traffic as busy as usual, driving on past Phibsboro, the Mater Hospital on the right staring directly across at Mountjoy Prison.
Cruising through Drumcondra past familiar matchday watering holes. Then without fail, everyday, at Gills Corner House, I look left up Jones’ Road at Croke Park. Just to make sure it is still there, a subtle nod of acknowledgement.
Then onwards a few miles more, across town where I do take the next significant left, at Lansdowne Road. I was never going to forget the choice I made, but the irony of my journey to work everyday could have made it into Alanis Morrissette’s infamous song.
‘Work’ is a strange term, for what it is. This is a debate I often have with my team-mates. Some context: I am a part-time professional athlete, contracted with the Irish Womens’ Sevens rugby squad.
Generally, we train Monday-Friday at our centralised base in Lansdowne Road, under the shadow of the Aviva Stadium. The bulk of our week consists of four or five weight-lifting sessions and four pitch sessions. These are interspersed with speed and skills sessions; video analysis; massage; educational sessions and the various other minutiae involved with being a high performing athlete.
I have been lucky enough to be doing this since May 2015 at the highest level of professionalism in a female team sport in Ireland. Hence the debate. Some of my teammates decree that ‘work’ makes what we do sound like a chore, but I disagree with this. For me, ‘work’ doesn’t have to have negative connotations. It just means it is my number one priority. The bread winner. Sorry if I sound sickening, but I love my work.
Growing up, basketball was my primary sport and I was capped internationally at various grades, as well as playing Superleague for nine seasons with UL Huskies. Reared in Kerry, Gaelic football was my other love.
Once offered a centralised rugby contract, two immediate barriers sprung to mind. One was my job as a physiotherapist in University Hospital Limerick, the other was football. I was fortunate to get a career break from the HSE, so that knocked barrier one. Barrier number two was more of a struggle.
Emotional barriers are more obstructive than financial ones. Having spent six seasons travelling from Limerick to Kerry trying to win an All-Ireland with the county, was I going to leave with unfinished business? Park my childhood dream and chase a dream that wasn’t conceived until very recently?
In the end, the opportunity to maximise my potential as an athlete, access to daily S&C coaches, physios, nutritionists, and experienced management and trainers, and the facilities to support these personnel, lured me in. That, and a big golden juicy carrot in the chance to become an Olympian.
What is Sevens Rugby? As a predominantly 15-person rugby nation, many people ask me what the Sevens game is all about.
It’s seven minutes a half on a full-size pitch. Matches are tournament-based so each team has six games, with the final being 10 minutes a half. If I had to sum up the game of Sevens rugby in one word, it’s ‘relentless’. There is no rest time, no breaks. Also six games means six warm-ups and six cool-downs. Although essential, I’ve yet to meet a sportsperson who enjoys warm-ups.
Communication is of paramount importance in Sevens rugby, and even though it is very much a team sport, the onus is massively on each individual to do their job. The plus? It is fast, exhilarating, and quite unpredictable. The tournaments have a carnival atmosphere with plenty of noise and colour, making it one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
The typical Sevens athlete has to be fast, fit, and athletic, yet powerful and explosive too, a combination of an aerobic and anaerobic specimen. It is full contact and has set-pieces, just like the 15s game, but these tend to be much quicker and the emphasis is to play away quickly and keep the ball alive.
Why the big deal now? Well, Sevens rugby has an annual World Series Circuit, Continental Championships, a World Cup, and most significantly of all, is making its debut at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this August. It is quite popular in non-traditional rugby countries, as well as the usual powerhouses.
The HSBC Womens World Series, which we qualified for in August 2015 in a World Repechage tournament in UCD, has five legs held all over the world, with the men’s having 10. The World Series is run off on a league system, with points accrued at each event. The first leg was held in Dubai in December, and currently we are in training for the next leg in Sao Paulo next month.
Rio is undoubtedly the big target for 2016. However, qualification still isn’t guaranteed for our squad. There is one final place up for grabs, and we are hosting that 16-team tournament in UCD in June. From now until then, we are looking to consolidate our place on the World Series next season, while building momentum to UCD in June.
Although women’s rugby is growing rapidly in Ireland, thanks in no small part to the success of the 15s squad and strategies implemented by the IRFU, there isn’t a large enough player base for two separate squads of 15s and Sevens players, with many players straddling the two.
2016 being an Olympic year, these players are predominantly focusing on the Sevens but that will be reviewed with Ireland hosting the Women’s World Cup in 2017. The strategic plan for the IRFU is to achieve success in both codes and support growth of the game nationwide.
Tomorrow we fly out to Sydney to train for two weeks at the Sydney Academy of Sport, the base used by the Australian male and female teams, the latter currently the best team in the world following their victory in Dubai.
This is a fantastic opportunity to learn from the best exponents of the game first hand, and will stand as good preparation for the second leg of the World Series in Sao Paulo on February 20- 21. The Sydney Sevens — a leg of the men’s World Series — takes place during our trip, with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams, Quade Cooper and Nick ‘The Honey Badger’ Cummins vieing for places on their respective Olympic squads. We play the Australian team three times over the two days of the tournament in front of a sell-out 55,000 crowd.
Back at home, the GAA NFL commences tonight for both men and women with Kerry playing Dublin in the capital in both. Instead of trying to penetrate Dublin’s defence in Parnell Park, I will be in Dublin Airport. At first glance, it may seem like a no-brainer, that I made the right choice.
Train in sunny Sydney or torrential rain in Tralee? But I miss football. However, it’s the choices we make. Sometimes the more you risk, the more there is to gain. Because I sacrificed so much, it has made me even more determined to succeed in rugby.
That drive to work every day reminds me of that.
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