Women’s Rugby is on a crest of a wave in Connacht.
With new schools taking up the sport at a rapid rate and clubs that are following suit, the sport has grown exponentially in popularity with female participants, coaches and volunteers in the Western province over the course of the past few years.
Corrib R.F.C are the latest example of either the establishment of or revival -- which is the case in the context of Corrib -- of female Rugby in a Connacht branch club. The Galway club fielded female teams between 1993 and 1997, but youth female rugby didn’t begin at Corrib until 2019.
With the IRFU Give it a Try programme a catalyst, participation rates among underage girls skyrocketed in Corrib -- the club boasts close to 100 girl players from under 11’s through to under 18’s -- and this eventually lead to the establishment of the adult team.
With three members of the U18’s team overage and ineligible to play at that grade, club members took to social media to gauge the interest of locals in adult women’s rugby, to potentially facilitate the three girls playing, and the results were hugely encouraging.
The Corrib social media accounts were inundated with expressions of interest from people, most of whom had never played before, and plans to form a senior team were accelerated with a training session already taking place and a challenge match fixed for December.
Oonagh Naughton, welfare officer at the Headford based club, says that there is a huge interest among adult females in the area in playing Rugby and last week’s first training session -- which attracted 21 players, with several more unable to attend due to work commitments -- is evidence of this.
With some 43 members in the team's Whatsapp group, excitement is building towards a challenge match against Claremorris next month, which will be Corrib’s first adult female fixture in over 20 years.
“There are 43 women in the Whatsapp group, who are keen and interested and want to play rugby,” Oonagh revealed.
“The vast majority have never played rugby before but a lot of them come from a GAA background, so their fitness levels would be there. They would have a lot of pitch awareness, a lot of ball awareness and all that kind of thing.
“So, the first training session commenced last Thursday night in Corrib and there was 21 women who came for that one and there was a lot working who couldn’t make that, so we’re hoping there will be even more next week.
“It was put out there in the beginning that it would be tag Rugby, but based on training last Thursday, they want to tackle, they want to know how to tackle, they want to learn about tackling. So, the tackle bags came out last Thursday and there was a great enthusiasm and buzz and a real keenness to learn all there is to know about rugby. We’re going to wait before Christmas and have a get-together and a game against Claremorris.
“We’re really excited about it.”
After the challenge match against Claremorris, Corrib hope to compete competitively next season, but for the moment Naughton is happy with the social aspect that rugby provides to women in the area.
“It’s great, it’s just another social aspect,” she said.
“It’s getting more people into the club, it’s getting more members, it’s getting more people involved and it’s great for fitness and meeting new friends.
“The beauty about rugby is that it accommodates every shape or size. Whether you’re fast, whether you’re slow, whether you’re tall or short, whether you’re slim or a bigger build, there’s a place for everybody on a Rugby field.
“With the football finished for the winter, it’s a great sport for the winter to get out and not be stuck in on a winter’s night when the nights are long as it is. Just the social side, the fitness and all the benefits that go with it are brilliant.”
It’s not just on the playing field where women and girls are making a positive impact on Corrib R.F.C, as Naughton confirms that over a third of the club's members and committee are women.
“You’d have a lot of mothers of the underage girls who are members of the club,” she said.
“I’d say a third of our members are women. At the last committee meeting, our membership was about 360. It’s great, considering that in 2018 there might have only been five or six girls in Mini’s Rugby.
“The Give It a Try programme in 2019 really kicked things off. That’s where everything stemmed from; it was a really successful programme and credit to Jacinta Sweeney for that.”