Ballincollig thriving with women at forefront
Club Focus: Ballincollig RFC
Women's rugby is on the up in Ireland at present, and despite a disappointing World Cup, it is hoped that the staging of the event on the island will lead to increased levels of participation in the months and years to come.
Ballincollig RFC already has a buoyant women's game with the 2006 Division 2 and 2014 Plate wins to their name, but like every club they are keen to grow the game.
Current team manager Maudie Murphy has been steeped in the sport ever since she arrived back from England in 2007 and her story explains why playing the game has never been so rewarding.
"I became involved with Ballincollig after I spent about 15 years in the UK and came back and needed a social life and to build up a network of friends," says Murphy. "My brother-in-law, Cathal Coughlan, was coaching the ladies rugby team there. He asked me come down so I did and started training and playing.
"It was one of the best decisions I made to get involved with them. It opened up the camaraderie, friendship, sport, being involved in a local club. It was a great experience and I'm still involved today helping to manage the team with Helen Ormond."
Murphy and Ormond take care of the management side of things in the ladies section of the club which is situated around 9km west of Cork City, and was set up in 1977-'78.
Donal O'Driscoll is the head coach of the women's rugby team at Ballincollig and he has been joined by Tamsin Richards too.
It's a massive undertaking to keep the club ticking over but it's something that Murphy thrives on, and it helps that she loves the game.
"I had played touch rugby in the UK. I could pass the ball and I knew I had to stand behind the player to stay involved and that was about it," she says. "When I came back to Ireland I played tag rugby and managed one of those teams for the last ten years. And in 2015 the club asked me would I help manage the ladies rugby team.
"I hung up my rugby boots in 2012 or 2013 but when I was playing I liked the physicality. It was a challenge and when you are first shown how to tackle and fall on the ground in a certain way, you are bracing yourself when you see the hit coming in.
"But when you are inside in a match situation or a very intense training scenario you hardly feel the hits. The adrenaline gets going and all you can think of is getting there and making the hit.
"You get caught up in the play and the excitement. It is a great thrill to play rugby. I only played with them for a limited time but the friends I made I am still friends with today."
Murphy travelled with those friends up to Kingspan Stadium last weekend where they watched New Zealand beat England in the World Cup final. Munster referee Joy Neville took charge of the decider and Murphy says that was a huge step forward for women's rugby here.
Thrilled "I was thrilled for Joy Neville to be refereeing in the World Cup. This is what we like to see. We played against her at cup level when she was with UL Bohemians. It was great to see her up there and now she is a referee. When you hang up your playing boots that does not mean your rugby days are over. There are so many ways to get involved.
"I went into management and other players go into coaching. And then there is the refereeing side of it. The girls go off and get some coaching training and refereeing some matches.
"It was great to see the final with the girls on the pitch and Joy refereeing. It was great to see women's rugby being progressed and developed.
"One of our players Marie Barrett played with Ballincollig. She became an Irish international. She played a legends match last Friday in Belfast. She coached Ballincollig Ladies a few years ago, and me when I was playing. We have a lot of past players who worked for Munster Rugby, some of them are development coaches for Munster, match commissioners. Some of them become physiotherapists and they come back to lend a hand with the girls.
"It all helps the women's game at club level to see the likes of Joy Neville up there. The girls know that they can still do something in the game to further it."
Decked out in their usual black kit, Ballincollig have earned a reputation as one of Munster's toughest opponents, but every May they show a softer side when the 'Pink Ladies' tog out for the Kinsale Sevens.
And in whatever form of the game, Murphy wants to see more girls and women take up the sport, and especially wearing the Ballincollig colours.
"It's great when you see the likes of Chris Fanning, Marie Barrett and Amanda Greensmith coming in to meet the new recruits," says Murphy.
"The ladies like to see anyone, any age, with zero experience, just come down and give it a whirl. We are delighted to see anyone come down regardless of age.
"Before this we just had a senior ladies team but now are starting up an U-13 girls team from September. That will be so good to bring girls in at that stage and bring them on through the club so they would be moving on to the senior ladies team.
"It will be very good timing with the World Cup and everything. The ladies team in Ballincollig has been there for over two decades.
"Highfield is another club in Cork City, they have been around for a good while too. But there are a limited amount of ladies teams in Cork who have been around for a long time.
"Sometimes you would find that the team would exist for a number of years and then they would cease for a few years and start up again.
"There seems to be that cycle but thankfully Ballincollig has existed all the way through. Obviously there have been times when they have gone through bad cycles where it has been hard to get new recruits in.
"And the boys and men are always looking for new players, it's all about the game and making Ballincollig a better club too."