Sport Connacht Rugby

Tuesday 24 April 2018

'I'd recommend rugby to every girl out there'

Mairead Hopkins: Irish squad involvement is ‘unreal’. Photo credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
Mairead Hopkins: Irish squad involvement is ‘unreal’. Photo credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer Sportsdesk

1 Tell us a bit about your rugby career to date?

My rugby career was an absolute whirlpool! I began playing at the tender age of 13 and haven't looked back. I started out in Ballina. I played with Connacht underage until last season where I scored four tries in a historic win over Munster in Westport RFC in the final round of the interprovincial series. I also played 7s underage with Ireland for three consecutive years.

My sister also played a tournament in Sweden with us where we both received international caps at the European Championships. I then joined the Connacht Senior squad and hope to be lining out in this year's Senior Interpro set-up. Last year I played U-18 with Ballina but also took a step up and played a year of dual status senior rugby with Castlebar in the Connacht League to gain more experience which paid off.

I was called into the women's XV national squad and began training in Kingspan Stadium in Belfast for the squad's open training session. Balancing the work load along with my Leaving Cert was really difficult but it edged me on to invest more time academically. I have now secured a place in nursing in DCU and will be making the transition to living in Dublin. I have also accepted a contract with the Ireland women's 7's squad.

2 What attracted you to rugby for in Ballina? Was the GAA your first love?

I started playing through my school, a few girls went around to different classes and I decided to give it a try so I began playing in Ballina RFC, where there was a fairly strong set-up for underage girls rugby and haven't looked back! GAA was definitely my first love, playing for Kilmoremoy and Mayo was incredible but I never really committed myself as much to GAA as I have to rugby.

3 How has the provincial and Irish set-up been as an experience for you?

Mind-blowing! Six years ago I wasn't even on my school starting team. Sports was a whole new thing to me but a year later I found myself in an U-19 Connacht jersey and it just kept getting better from there. I worked incredibly hard behind the scenes and thankfully the rewards kept coming!

4 You now have a contract with the Irish 7's programme. What does that mean for you as a player?

It means everything. It gives you a chance to thank all those people who believed in you and got you to where you are, even through times you had lost faith in yourself. It boosts your confidence and drives you on to do even better. Being selected as a member of a squad that is representing the whole country is unreal so I'm eager to do my best to represent that well and carry the knowledge and experience I gain with me and pass it on to help other individuals who are coming along and are eager to learn.

5 Rugby seems to run in the family. How many play rugby from the Hopkins family?

I have nine siblings so it's quite an exciting household but strangely enough it's just all the girls who play rugby. There's six girls and four boys but the boys focus more on sports like motorcross and horse riding. I doubt they could handle an impact sport!

6 With the Women's World Cup coming to Ireland in 2017, what do you think this will mean for the growth of the game here in Connacht?

I think it's absolutely fantastic that the World Cup is being held here. In camp there is such a good vibe at the moment and everyone is training really hard. It's great to see more promotion of the game taking place and new sponsors coming on board. Statistics are showing a rapid growth in the game across the country and with seven girls in the XV camps at the moment, the future of Connacht rugby is certainly looking bright.

Finding out that the Ireland games are going to be televised is so exciting for women's rugby in Ireland and the fact that it is one of the world's fastest growing sports is very promising. Connacht has developed tremendously over the past few years and I'm really looking forward to this year's Interpro series.

7 What is a typical day it in Irish camp?

There's always good vibes about the place. Training schedules change daily but in the 7's programme it's typically a speed session, a gym session, a conditioning and skills session and finish off in the pool. The XV camp schedule is pretty hectic also as we cover all areas of rugby over the weekend so it's pretty much all go, it's a very busy schedule but doing it alongside others with the same goals is very enjoyable.

8 If a young girl was thinking about taking up rugby, what would be your words of advice?

I would recommend it to anyone to take up rugby. Women's rugby has taken a huge step forward, not only in the west of Ireland but throughout the country.

The different divisions allow for not only all standards and capabilities but each discipline is as rewarding and enjoyable as the next. I can honestly say I am a much happier and confident person since I began playing rugby.

The social aspect is great I've made hundreds of lifelong friends and gained wisdom and experience I never thought I would get. I'd say to everyone, get out there and give it a try, there's a position for everyone and I can guarantee it definitely won't disappoint!

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport