The IRFU is pleased to announce that Gillian McDarby has been appointed as Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways following an extensive recruitment process directed by the IRFU National Professional Game Board.
Gillian will be responsible for the development, delivery, and implementation of the approved strategic and operational direction of the women’s rugby performance programme for both XVs and Sevens. She will be responsible for developing a cohesive player pathway that connects and feeds the needs of both national programmes. She will work with the Domestic Rugby department to grow the playing base of young women and girls, thereby facilitating consistent performance of Irish teams at an elite level into the future.
Gillian McDarby’s extensive career, across business and sport, provides her with strong high performance structural development credentials, which will prove critical in the development of the next phase of growth and elite performance for Irish women’s rugby. Through her career with the IRFU she already has a deep understanding of the issues and opportunities facing the women’s game in Ireland.
A synopsis of her involvement across sport includes:
2002 - 2007 Member of Cycling Ireland’s elite senior squad
2011-2013 Women’s National Development Coach & National Team Manager, Cycling Ireland
2014-2016 Women’s Rugby National Teams Program Manager, IRFU
2017-2021 Member of Board of Directors, Cycling Ireland
2019-2020 Business Intelligence Analyst (Performance Department) & Project Management, IRFU
2020 - High Performance Centre, Facilities & Operations Manager, IRFU
In addition, the IRFU has confirmed that it will be providing a total of 43 centralised, paid contracts to elite women’s players next season, this includes contracts already in operation for members of the women’s 7’s programme. To respect the importance of the upcoming test windows in Japan and the Sevens World Cup, the IRFU will discuss the details of the contracts with players before making further public pronouncements on these exciting developments.
The contracts have been benchmarked internationally and will range up to €30,000 + match fees and bonuses.
Speaking of her appointment Gillian McDarby said, “It is a great privilege to be appointed as the IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways. I have worked across several important areas in the game and believe there is a huge growth opportunity for the women’s game in Ireland and I am looking forward to working with all stakeholders to bring the women’s game to the next level. It is also pleasing that my appointment coincides with the formal announcement of contracts for up to 43 female players. This is a major step forward for women’s rugby in Ireland.
“Success in the women’s game will be based on sustainability: creating sustainable pathways within the competition structures, getting meaningful competition structures in place for both women and girls to access the game of rugby at the right entry points and continuing to develop competitive international teams in fifteens and sevens. That, to me, is success.”
“This is an exciting time for the game and while much work has been done, there is always more to do. There are no overnight successes in sport, but I know that by working collectively with clubs, players, coaches, staff, and volunteers we can build an ever-evolving environment where young women and girls are supported to be the best they can be.”
Kevin Potts, Chief Executive, IRFU in welcoming the appointment said, “I would like to congratulate Gillian on her appointment and thank the interview panel of Nancy Chillingworth, High Performance Manager with the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Gary Keegan CEO of Uppercut, the high-performance advisory consultancy firm that works with organisations and leaders across sport, both of whom are independent members of the IRFU’s National Professional Game Board (NPGB) and David Nucifora, the IRFU High Performance Director. The high-performance expertise and independence brought to this appointment was very important to the NPGB.
“We wish Gillian well in this vitally important role and will ensure that she has the full support of the NPGB and the IRFU to successfully bring women’s rugby in Ireland to the next level.
“Today’s announcement of the creation of up to 43 IRFU contracts for Women’s Players is a further strong signal of our intent to foster and grow the women’s game over the coming years and to ensure that our women’s players are provided with the best opportunities to compete at the highest levels of the game in the future.”