There’s been a few great twists in Shannon Houston’s life so far but even she can’t believe the one that’s brought her back to Ireland for the 2017 Rugby World Cup.
She won 32 caps as a flying centre in her 10-year Irish career after making her debut at the 2006 World Cup, which, by happy coincidence, took place in her native Canada.
Her last Irish 15s game was on the bench the day that marvellous Grand Slam was clinched in 2013, and she went on to play international Sevens for Ireland for a further three years, including one season as captain.
She came over, in 2004, to study medicine in UCD but having played rugby since high school joined Blackrock and qualified for Ireland thanks to a Dublin-born paternal grandfather and a maternal great-granny from West Cork (Goleen).
She even managed to find a GP practice in Navan who would let her work three days a-week so she could be part of Ireland’s centralised Sevens team during their bid to make the Rio Olympics.
But once her rugby career ended last summer, and with her dad asking herself and her brother to take over his GP practice back in Victoria, Houston finally returned home last December.
Yet fate intervened again and now she’s involved in another rugby World Cup - as team doctor for third seeds Canada.
“I know! How lucky am I?” she enthuses.
“I was back briefly for a wedding in April but I really feel like I’ve come home again now.
“It was so random. I have a friend from Ontario who also came here to Med School, and she’s a personal friend of one of the Canadian team managers.
“She emailed me to say they were looking for a team doctor so, on the off-chance, I contacted them. When they came here last year for the Autumn internationals I went and met them and it just went from there.”
Houston may be working for Canada now but is still very attached to Ireland.
“I was up at three in the morning to stream all of this year’s Six Nations games on my laptop, cheering and waking up my roommates!
“I’d still be in touch with most of the girls and I’m super-excited to see them play. They’ve a challenging pool with France in it but anything can happen. They’ve beaten France before and can beat Australia.The home crowd should help too.”
Canada’s, arguably, is the ‘pool of death’ as it includes Wales, Hong Kong and the dreaded Black Ferns, who beat the Maple Leafs 28-16 in a recent warm-up tournament.
Among Canada’s stand-outs are returned 2014 World Player of the Year Magali Harvey, the Russell sisters (Kelly and Laura) and Karen Paquin who has just returned from Sevens.
“The reason the All Blacks are in our pool is because Ireland beat them in the group stages in 2014,” Houston notes. “We play them in our last pool game which is going to be massive.”
Injury prevents her from playing anymore but she has already successfully transitioned to a new role by coaching unbeaten Westshore RFC (who have seven in the national squad) to the Canadian provincial title this year.
Now comes a third string to her rugby bow and she admits it’s a complete unknown.
“When you’re a player you’re allowed to have a bit of a one-track mind on match-days, just get your body ready and do your job.
“This is different. I’m still figuring it out because I’ve never done it before but, as a team doctor, the ideal would be not to be busy at all.
“I’ve worked it out that Canada and Ireland can’t meet each other until the final which would be amazing — so fingers crossed!”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved