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Golf game has Hannah O’Connor teed up for next major assignment with Ireland women's rugby team


Ireland's Hannah O'Connor came up against Leona and Lisa Maguire on the fairways in her youth. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Hannah O'Connor came up against Leona and Lisa Maguire on the fairways in her youth. Photo: Sportsfile

Ireland's Hannah O'Connor came up against Leona and Lisa Maguire on the fairways in her youth. Photo: Sportsfile

It was hardly a revelation to Hannah O’Connor that she could never aspire to be as good as a golfer as Leona Maguire.

Too many shanks and slices for one thing; true, she could boom the ball a mile but direction was often an issue.

And so instead of getting more and more hacked off at her inability to control a tiny ball with a stick, she concentrated on releasing her frustration on others by picking up an oval ball and ploughing into people with it.

Given that she will win her seventh cap against Japan tomorrow, this late starter appears to have made the right call. Nonetheless, she remains a keen competitor off the tee – in either sport. Indeed, during the 2019 Interprovincial Championships, the utility back-rower doubled up as a place-kicker and ended up top points scorer.

She is much happier with a ball in her hand though, playing for a club instead of wielding one.

“Yeah, I remember it well,” the Loughrea GC member recalls of her distinctly one-sided jousts with the future star of Irish professional golf.

“I remember distinctly getting hockeyed every single time! With both twins, Lisa as well, and they were only about 12 at the time too, so they were tiny.

“Tiny to look at on the tee box and then they would absolutely wipe the floor with most people, adults or teenagers or anyone that stepped up to the plate.

"Golf was probably my first sport, I played that for a good few years at underage with Connacht and was lucky enough to get representative at underage level there. Then when I moved back up to work in Dublin I kind of got stuck into tag rugby, then moved up into the rugby and focused my time on that.”

For her, golf is not now, as one might say, fully to the fore. But at one stage she did harbour dreams of a professional life in the sport.

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“It was a serious ambition,” the Blackrock player admits.

“I got down to single figures at one point in terms of handicap. I was always strong enough in terms of distance, distance was never a problem.

“It was always finding the ball at the end of the distance that was a problem. But, as my Mam and Dad would probably agree, I lacked the patience for it.

“I preferred a quick speed game and rugby suited that in terms of physicality and a team game, as well. I was serious enough about golf up until about 16 or 17 and then fell away from it.

“It is still there and I will go back to it at some stage.”

For now, the primary school teacher is making up for lost time after only devoting herself to one sport in her mid-20s.

The retirements of Ciara Griffin and Claire Molloy have left a yawning chasm in the back-row in terms of leadership and experience and the Galwegian will now be pressed to pick up the slack.

“For me, you just focus on the now and what you are doing right now, and how you can improve as a player,” she says.

“We are lucky that we have great competition within the squad, not just back-row, and we drive each other on in training.

“You get the opportunity to put your hand up, you are very much trying to take it as best you can. And build on that. But coming to it late, I am trying to make the most of it, for sure.”

As with other crack golfers who have excelled in team sports – Paul O’Connell springs to mind – there are mental similarities which can translate from one to the other.

“I suppose looking at a game before you go out,” she avers.

“In golf, you have to look at the course and the lay-out and the different shots that you have to take. And in rugby, you look at the opposition and what you might encounter along the way.

“Patience is another thing that I have had to work on, something I got better at. But definitely the planning aspect helped.”

Tomorrow’s plan against Japan is to impress incoming coach Greg McWilliams, once again assuming an eagle-eyed RDS perch ahead of the Six Nations.

Like any good golfer, O’Connor aims to be in prime form ahead of her next major assignment.

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