Aoife McDermott began playing basketball at the age of 12 when she started secondary school, she was six foot tall and highly athletic having competed in community games and playing for her local soccer and GAA clubs. Before long McDermott began playing with a club and by the age of 14, she was playing both under 14s and 16s for the Sligo All-Stars in the Mayo league finals where she won the MVP with the under 14s “I’d say it’s one of my dad’s proudest moments, he still talks about it till this day”.
The same year McDermott decided to take her basketball career to the next step, Irish Trials. McDermott soon realized that it wasn’t as easy as it looked following an “awful,” first trial after which she received a letter that read “You’re just not what we’re looking for”. This was only a minor setback, the following year McDermott proved that hard work and dedication pay off, “after two years of my parents basically driving me around the country” McDermott was finally named on the Irish u16s basketball team.
Along with that under 14s MVP, her trophy cabinet in Sligo is filled with 16 All-Ireland winners medals, several MVP awards, an Irish young player of the year award, an Irish Under 23 player of the year, and a European Championships silver medal.
McDermott felt that she had achieved all there was to achieve in basketball. After finishing college McDermott moved to Dublin where she felt “the enjoyment just wasn’t the same as it was in Limerick and I was just ready for a change”. Having seen former teammate Louise Galvin make it at rugby 7s and Lindsey Peat make it in the 15s game McDermott found herself gravitating toward the sport, “I guess I was just attracted to the idea, rugby seemed very professional in terms of its setup and exposure for women in sport, they were really trailblazing it and I decided to give it a go”.
Following the European championships in 2016, McDermott joined Railway Union where she regularly made the first team in the second row. The first few years became a whirlwind of an experience. In McDermott’s first season with Railway, they reached a league semi-final where she knocked the Leinster captain Susan Fogarty onto the bench to start in the second row alongside Irish international Ciara Cooney. In her second year of playing McDermott made her debut for Leinster against Ulster where she was a major threat to the Ulster lineout. Within two months of her Leinster debut, McDermott had received a call up to join Ireland in the Six Nations.
McDermott had been picked on the bench for the third game of the championship against Wales. “I had been hoping for just 10 minutes, one of the girls had got only 30 seconds the previous week and if it came to it I would take that but 10 minutes would just be class”. McDermott ended up playing the full 80 minutes due to Nichola Fryday being admitted to the hospital with appendicitis a chance moment that created a special one for McDermott. Her first cap joined all her other achievements on the mantelpiece in Sligo.
Outside of sport McDermott works as a clinical research nurse with the Heartbeat Trust. McDermott juggles her work-life with rugby, her day consists of 6am starts in the gym followed by her nine-hour workday, which is closely followed by a pitch session until 8pm. Due to women’s rugby in Ireland not being a professional sport McDermott and many others have to work extremely hard to compete with the likes of England and France who are professional. As a result of the lack of wages, many players have travelled to play in England which has a knock-on effect resulting in a massive gap between the top four sides and the bottom six teams in the Women’s AIL. McDermott believes that the only way to fix this is to increase funding so that the young talent coming through stays within the leagues and improves the national team. In the future, McDermott aims to reach a world cup with the Irish National team but before any of that to “get women’s rugby in Ireland back being competitive, and keep driving the standards and demanding more from the IRFU for the women’s and after that, hopefully, success will follow suit”. The tide has already begun to turn with the IRFU recently announcing 40 pro contracts for women’s rugby player in both rugby union and rugby 7s.