Wednesday 12 December 2018

Deacon has found true calling since putting faith in Leinster

Former hockey star fully focused on Munster decider that offers greatest test to new coaching regime, writes Marcus Ó Buchalla

Jeamie Deacon runs through to score her side’s sixth try against Connacht. Picture: Sportsfile
Jeamie Deacon runs through to score her side’s sixth try against Connacht. Picture: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buchalla

On the 27th March 2012 UCD held a ceremony to mark their first year scholarship recipients. Sportsfile were there to capture the moment. There were Gaelic footballers, hurlers, camogie players, basketball players, athletes, hockey players and a smattering of rugby players.

As you look at the photo today you see three current Leinster Rugby senior players. Adam Byrne and Barry Daly in the back row and in the second row, one Jeamie Deacon. The curiosity being she won her scholarship for her hockey exploits. It's a long way from there to getting ready to pull on the blue jersey in an Interpro Series decider against Munster in Energia Park at 7.30pm tomorrow.

"Not in my wildest dreams did I think back then that I'd be pulling on a Leinster jersey and heading into a game like this but I suppose you never know how things will work out and here I am!"

Here she is indeed. And it's not that the hockey dream fell by the wayside either. Far from it. Deacon is a former Irish hockey underage and senior international and only took up rugby in 2013 with Blackrock. Yet only two years later she was named in the 2015 Six Nations squad and made her debut against England in the November internationals.

"It's not that I had never played the game. I had played it when I was younger at under 10s and under 12s in Enniscorthy but that was with the boys. There just wasn't the outlet then that there is now."

That has all changed over the last few years and if the option was there now who knows where it would have taken her, but those thoughts don't concern her as she divides her time between Leinster and a teaching career at the High School in Rathgar.

"I suppose the grá was always there for rugby but as I said there was no outlet but now I look around and all the work that is going on with the girls and the 'Give It A Try' programme and the women's game being promoted. It's great to see. Next week in the High School we'll be kicking off our own team and again it's a great buzz associated with the game at the moment and it's great to be a part of that be that with the school or on Saturday with Leinster."

With her attention on matters oval ball now the immediate focus is how to finish off this Interpro Series with a win against their rivals from the southwest. To date they have played well against Ulster and Connacht but it will matter for little on Saturday she believes. A new and different challenge awaits.

"Munster have some really good players in their team, household names really, and then have some up and coming players that have brought something new to the table for them. We will have to be at our best to beat them but it's a challenge that we are really looking forward to."

A first year under a new coaching set-up can bring new challenges and a bedding in period but two wins without a single point conceded would point to a seamless transition period under new Head Coach Ben Armstrong.

"Ben has been amazing. But not just Ben, Tom (McKeown), Phil (de Barra) and Mazzie (Reilly) too. They have worked really well together and to be fair they have put a huge emphasis on us gelling as a team first and foremost and then working hard for one another. Then the team behind that team are brilliant!

"The support we've received from manager Lorna Quinn has been superb. Fitness wise we're in a great place thanks to S&C Orla Curran and our physio Niamh Connolly keeping us ticking. Sene (Naoupu) got in touch with a friend of hers Olivia Hurley who is a sports psychologist. Olivia has been great in implementing some simple and effective techniques to help us concentrate on the pitch. So all in all they have us in a good place."

And how does that play out on a pitch? Simple; work rate.

"Are we set right? What do I need to do next? If a player misses a tackle, what can I do to make that next one? All very process driven but ultimately all of that isn't worth much if the work rate and the energy isn't there."

The other thing a new coaching set-up brings is fresh perspective and this perspective has brought with it another change for Deacon. From the centre to the pack and the back row in particular.

"It's funny because in some ways it's nothing new in that we had been looking at it for the last year or two but then it is presented to you as a very real thing and I wasn't so sure at first. But with a new coaching set-up and a new squad of players I looked at it as a fresh start and I had good chats with Ben and with Griggsy (Adam Griggs, Ireland Head Coach) about what they wanted and I suppose they saw something in my skillset that could add something different.

"Ultimately we want to play a certain brand of rugby whereby first receiver can be anyone really so that puts an onus on us all to have good skills and that means being able to pass as a forward as well as hit rucks. Opportunities can't fail because a forward is the first player there or whatever. We should all be comfortable on the ball so I am enjoying it, it's new, it's different but it's going well so far."

And that brings us back to Saturday. They had a good crowd supporting them in Round 1 in Stradbrook against Ulster but in Energia Park tomorrow there is the chance to raise the bar again. On and off the field.

"We are under no illusions how tough it will be against Munster but the hope is that we have kept our best performance to last so it would be great if we had people come down to Energia Park after the game in the RDS and cheered us on just like they will the men. It's free in if you've already been to the RDS and for under 18s, so yeah, for us, we'd like nothing more than to see that sea of blue when we run out."

Like the young girls in the High School next week under her tutelage, all Deacon is asking is that you come down and give it a try.

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