“Once people watch us play, or talk to me about the game in more depth, they seem to respect us more, but you do have to try harder to convince people than you would for the men’s game.”
Rugby as a sport is ubiquitous at Trinity – partly due to the fact that matches are played on campus, but also because the men’s senior team have coped admirably with their promotion to the top division. However, often overlooked amongst the achievements of the 1st XV is the trials and tribulations of the Women’s rugby team. To find out more about the DUFC women, and ladies rugby in general, Joel Coussins sat down to talk to experienced forward Kerry Ryan.
How did you get into playing Rugby?
When I was 17, I was mad into the GAA and played football for school but when I broke my collarbone playing in a Leinster final, I stopped playing sports. Then when I got to college I really wanted to join a team, but the GAA team trained off-campus which I thought would be a lot of extra hassle. So, when I saw the Rugby team training on the pitch towards the end of my Junior Freshman year, I thought it’d be a really good sport to try out. I thought about it all summer and joined up on the first day of Freshers’ week.
Why Rugby instead of another sport?
Rugby’s a big thing in my house, my dad always follows the 6 nations, but I’d never played anything more than tag. So, when it came to trying something new, I thought best to start with something familiar.
Describe an average training session
We start at 6.30pm every Monday and Wednesday evening, we get onto the pitch and either the captain or vice-captain will lead the warm-up. We begin with active stretching, followed by a lap of the pitch and then stationary stretching in the centre circle. Then it’s straight into skills, which take up most of the session – waikato and passing drills. If it’s a session right before a game, then we’ll do contact drills, such as rucking technique, so that everyone is tackling correctly. Following that, we split into backs and forwards to learn separate skills; the forwards will do things like scrumming technique and lineout plays and the backs will discuss their plays, such as the breakdown at the ruck. Then fitness and a warm-down to finish up!
There appears to be a fairly high turnover of players year on year. Is that the greatest challenge you face as a team, trying to maintain consistency?
There’s definitely a huge turnover of players, one thing I’ve noted now that I’m in my second year of playing for DUFC is that there’s a high volume of visiting students from across America and Europe who only stay for a year at most, sometimes only a term. They want to play Rugby because that’s what they play at home, rather than GAA sports, which definitely contributes to the high turnover of players. It’s something of a double-edged sword – you get experienced players that further the team’s progression, but they’re only here very briefly; having said that, this year our core team is comprised mostly of first years. The season always starts slow, as there are some girls who are very new to the sport and have to learn the skills from scratch which necessitates a slightly slower pace of training session. However, its starts to click fairly quickly, and around Christmas we’re usually up to scratch.
Then again, people start to graduate, school work gets more full-on and we lose players again. Also, it becomes harder to form a tactical identity – we have to be adaptable, not just because of the player turnover but because we have a new coach every year, so teaching techniques and the coach’s vision change. On the other hand, it’s plain to see that the girls, like me, who have been around for a few years maintain a level of technique. So, the consistency is definitely a significant challenge but I’d say the main challenge is achieving a high fitness level as a team. You’ll notice that some teams will play fantastic rugby, but they can only maintain that for 50-60 minutes; you want to be able to go out there and play your game for 80 minutes. So, fitness and skills are our main areas of focus.
Do you think, then, that the installation of a permanent coach for the women’s team would improve the standard of rugby?
Personally, yes, I do. It would be nice to have a consistent coach, who doesn’t have to waste time learning the girls’ names and skill sets. The men’s team have had the same coaches for years, and even before players join the team they know the way they’ll be expected to play when they do.
How was playing regular rugby affected your day-to-day life?
I was afraid that playing rugby wouldn’t leave me with enough time to study, but actually it doesn’t affect my studies whatsoever. I feel a lot healthier now – not even physically, I find it really mentally beneficial to have a regular exercise regime that gets you out of the library, as well as the inevitable camaraderie of team sports which is only heightened by it being a full-contact sport! Health-wise, I definitely don’t drink as much, you’d never smoke, nobody on the team does, and you think more about what you eat – more home-cooking, fewer takeaways.
You play at Hooker, making you responsible for throwing lineouts. With line-outs being a key part of any Rugby match, as Hooker do you find there’s greater scrutiny on you than on other members of the team?
To some extent, but then you realise that a lot of that scrutiny is in your head – everyone has their part to play and you’re not more important than them. If the lifters don’t lift properly, if the jumper doesn’t jump, then it falls apart. When I started playing rugby, I went straight into playing hooker and I couldn’t throw a line out, I couldn’t master the technique. But there was a girl from Wales who was the first choice no.2 last year who helped me out, and they also got a guy down from the men’s 1st XV to help teach us which definitely improved my technique, and thus my confidence. After that I stopped feeling as much scrutiny.
Do you regret choosing to play at no. 2?
No. When I came into the team for the first time, I had no preference of position – I only knew that I probably wasn’t quick enough to play as a back. So, they asked me if I wanted to try playing at no. 2 and I felt quite quickly that it suited me – I have the strength to play as a forward and I enjoy having a set role, knowing exactly what’s required of me during a game, which is key to playing as hooker.
“I feel like people will only take a greater interest in the game if they know someone who plays women’s rugby, and that person brings them along to a game. A lot of that is due to the lack of media coverage of the women’s game – you don’t get as many women’s matches on RTE or TV3 as you do men’s matches.”
Do you consider there to be any major differences between the men’s and women’s game?
I always find that people are quite surprised to discover that I play rugby, and I do feel that that’s because I’m female. The most common question I get when I say I play rugby is, “Oh, do you play tag?”. In terms of the technical side of the game, there’s really no difference – we play the exact same plays as the men’s team, we have the same technique as a club – we’re all one club, we’re all DUFC and we play the same technical game. The only difference is perceptual – once people watch us play, or talk to me about the game in more depth, they seem to respect us more, but you do have to try harder to convince people than you would for the men’s game. I’d say there are greater similarities than differences between the men’s and women’s game.
What would you say is the best way to rectify that perceptual imbalance?
Getting people to watch more women’s rugby. However, I feel like people will only take a greater interest in the game if they know someone who plays women’s rugby, and that person brings them along to a game. I think it’d be very difficult to get someone who’s only access to rugby is following the men’s game to come to a women’s match. A lot of that is due to the lack of media coverage of the women’s game – you don’t get as many women’s matches on RTE or TV3 as you do men’s matches. Greater media exposure would be the first step, obviously on a global level as opposed to a grass-roots level – showing friendly matches like they do with the men’s game. I really do think, with the number of punters out there with an interest in the game, that if you started showing women’s rugby matches, the popularity would go up.
“I find it really mentally beneficial to have a regular exercise regime that gets you out of the library, as well as the inevitable camaraderie of team sports which is only heightened by it being a full-contact sport!”
Why would you encourage others to participate in Rugby?
It’s a great all-round sport: you gain a new skill set, your fitness improves and what’s more you’re doing something that society perceives to be out of the norm for a woman. It’s a cliche but college is all about trying new things, and it’s good for young women to step outside of their comfort zone. you might get hurt on occasion (not if you get your technique right, of course!) but you get to experience a great sense of camaraderie, with teammates who are constantly watching your back in a game, and that plays over into your social life as well; I’ve made so many friends from Rugby. The camaraderie of war!
What does the future hold for you, rugby-wise?
Honestly, I don’t think it’ll be anything more than a hobby. When I finish college, I’d like to keep it up at club level, but never anything professional. Having said that, there are girls on the team now playing professionally – our captain is playing for Leinster, currently. So there is a path there from DUFC to the professional game if that’s your goal, but it’s not for me.