“I don’t know what’s happened in girls’ minds, they all want to play rugby. But I won’t complain, I’m delighted”
The boom in membership is what has elicited such a response from the University of Galway Women’s Rugby Team captain Aisling Hahessy. Regularly seeing numbers upwards of 40 at their weekly training sessions, the club is experiencing a resurgence following the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the team participates in both the Student Sport Ireland Women’s Rugby League and the Connacht Women’s League, there is ample opportunity for both new and experienced players alike to get game time.
“In the college league, our focus this year is to give all the girls game time so that those new girls get the experience […] and to really work on our skills in those games”.
With the way club and college matches are divided (weekends and weekdays respectively) most of the team solely play college rugby. For those that are playing with their local clubs, there is a push to encourage them to transfer to the college club, to have their experience on the pitch come the weekend.
The club’s resilience in the face of the challenges the pandemic threw at it is certainly admirable. Ellie Dillane, club captain during the 2018/19 season, was witness to the downturn during, and is ecstatic with the turnaround.
“They had a core of players that they’d kept for the four, five-year cycle. By the time I was captain, a lot of them had left”. The loss of this veteran player base was compounded by the retirement of their long-time coach. Couple these losses with a poor retention rate of new players who had never experienced the game before, and the club’s decline is hardly surprising.
However, in the current team, the atmosphere is quite different. The team gives preference to developing the skills of their new players, to bring them up to the level of those women who have prior experience with the game. The retention rate has also seriously improved, with the bulk of the team now made up of players who have joined in the last two years.
In age-old rugby tradition, the social aspect is as important as the sport itself. This year, there is a push to bridge the gap between the men’s and women’s teams.
“We’re trying to get a bit more craic between them. On Sundays our team, the under-20s and the seniors have a match, so we’re all going to go to Massimo’s after, to try and get the teams talking and just to make a club atmosphere.
The season ahead is one that Aisling is looking forward to immensely, and she’s especially proud of the team that they have built and continue to build.
“This year we have such a great bunch of girls, everyone gets along with each other. Every training session everyone comes and does their best but there is that bit of craic as well”
If any of our readers are interested in joining the club, they can contact the club’s Instagram page @ug_womensrugby. Training sessions are held at the Dangan Sports Complex every Monday and Wednesday at 7 pm.