Clare doing all in her power to spread the good word
CCRO focus: Clare O'Brien, Mullingar RFC
When you get hooked, it can be hard to pull away. Sport can be addictive and for Clare O'Brien, that is certainly the case.
Rugby wasn't available to her when she was in school but things have gone full circle. Now three years into her role as Mullingar Club Community Rugby Officer (CCRO), she is working on the ground to promote and spread the word that the game of Rugby is for everyone.
Despite not playing in her younger days, she made a start and her love and addiction to the game grew. Mullingar, like many other clubs, have come through the ranks in women's rugby and are one of the most active and prominent women's team in the province.
"When I was younger and in school, rugby wasn't a sport that was available for girls," she said. "There was a previous team set up in my home town but due to lack of interest, it folded.
"I was lucky to be involved in the team being revived nine years ago."
How the revival came about is an example of how things can grow from small shoots.
Like so many other women's teams, the people of Mullingar got a taste for it and the whole movement grew legs.
"There was a mixed-team tag competition held in our local rugby club and when it was finishing up, there was talk of a ladies rugby team setting up.
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"I wasn't long after having a baby so I also wanted to lose baby weight and I guess it was a natural progression from the tag.
"We started off in the development division four, working our way up to Division One where Mullingar won the Leinster league title and Paul Flood cup in 2015.
"After unfortunately getting beaten in the first round of the cup in 2016, we found ourselves in the Paul Flood Plate versus Kilkenny, which we also won."
That was supposed to be the swan song for Clare, but a love and dedication to the club has seen her angle back in on occasion since, as she explains.
"That game was due to be my last competitive match but due to injuries and students studying, I have found myself stepping in and out for the last two years to cover absences."
Her value to the club both on and off the field has been immense and her ability to adapt is a major tool in her arsenal.
Not content to just be on the field in her playing days, the mother of two sought out the action.
"I started out on the wing but in development divisions spent most of my time with my hands in my pockets to keep me warm. Mad to get involved in the action, I took up the position of flanker. I loved the battle for the ball, trying to turn it over and win it back for my team. When the current 'jumper' in the line-out left due to work commitments, I offered up my services.
"I loved the thrill of getting thrown to great heights in the air, and in present-day coaching courses [I] will always be the first to offer to jump."
Like so many other coaches and administrators, Clare O'Brien began her coaching journey when the time came for her eldest son to delve into rugby.
Her involvement has grown since that initial engagement and she is already a very experienced coach at the club.
"I started volunteering with Mullingar Club when my eldest son was six and as they say, the rest is history.
"I am currently helping with the U-15 boys team, who were unfortunately beaten in their Midland final a few weeks back against a strong Tullamore side.
"The team had another chance of silverware in Donnybrook on Monday last. Whilst starting out strongly against Athy and leading for the majority of the match, they ran out of steam in the last quarter of the game. Athy went on to seal the win with a four-point victory.
"Mullingar's U-15 team started in Division Two this season, got promoted to Division One, they [also] went on to beat three Premier teams to win their place in the McAuley Cup final. That's a fantastic progression for a team.
"It's a defining moment when you see a team's hard work and dedication pays off. I am looking forward to seeing what this team of young lads have to offer next season."
The club are opening their doors to everyone and another facet of that policy is their intellectual disabilities team that Clare is also involved with.
"Mullingar Rugby Club are also involved with the Mullingar resource centre. The clients make up our Lions team, which is tag rugby for people with intellectual disabilities.
"I have two fabulous helpers that train the team every Monday over the summer and they also take part in matches throughout Leinster.
"I also had the pleasure of being involved with the U-16 Midlands team this year. The lads did very well in all their matches, narrowly missing out on the Shane Horgan title to a very deserving North Midland team."
On the Schools front, she is very busy with her day job as CCRO. With 21 primary schools and four secondary schools to service during the school calendar year, a wide number of kids are getting insightful and meaningful tuition on the game.
One big source of pride for the hard-working CCRO is the progress that the students in Mullingar Community College have made.
"I am most proud of Mullingar Community College as this year is the first year that they entered a senior team into the development league," adds Clare.
"The lads played their heart out all season and made it to the quarter final of the shield in March, only to be beaten by two points.
"These group of lads are new to rugby, most picking up a rugby ball for the first time two years ago and also some playing this year for the first time.
"To pull together and get your school behind you and your community, along with a local business sponsoring their jerseys, is a massive achievement. To say I'm a proud coach is an understatement."