Monday 23 October 2017

Where are they now?

Sarah Jane Belton
Sarah Jane Belton

Sarah Jane Belton (Former Irish rugby international)

Former Ireland fullback Sarah Jane Belton made 60 consecutive appearances for the Ireland women's rugby team and was captain 26 times but the Wicklow native didn't take up the game until her late teens.

Before that she was a soccer goalkeeper and was also a talented basketball and badminton player. Her love of sport started when she was a child. Belton tried her hand at any sport that came her way but when a college rugby team was formed in the University of Limerick, she flourished and excelled like never before.

"I was playing in goals for the college soccer team, then the rugby team was formed by a good friend of mine, Ian Costello; he started it and convinced me to give it a go," explains Belton.

"I quit soccer and took rugby seriously. A lot of the skills from goalkeeping apply to the fullback position in rugby, it's very similar."

She played with Shannon to start with and when UL Bohemians formed, Belton moved to the college-based club. She got onto the Munster team almost immediately after taking up the sport and within three years was a permanent fixture on the Ireland team.

"I was just in the right place at the right time, a lot of women retired at the time I was coming into the team. I got a trial and they slotted me at fullback and then I play 60 games in a row."

Back then, just over ten years ago, women's rugby was a very much a disadvantaged sport. There were no mileage allowances and very little support services.

Belton made her debut in 2000 and in 2003 she played in Ireland's first ever win in the Six Nations when they beat Spain. Four years later, disaster struck when she suffered a back injury.

Belton played through the pain for that Six Nations but then took a break from club duty for a season to concentrate on rehab.

She got relatively fit again for the 2008 Six Nations; however, the injury persisted and she was forced to retire soon after.

Looking back on her career, beating Wales in 2005 to qualify for the 2006 World Cup was her greatest memory.

That victory laid the foundations for the success of the current Ireland team. Some of her former team-mates are still playing and Belton regularly goes to along to support them.

She is a physical education lecturer in DCU and has a daughter Mona.

Irish Independent

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