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From Superleague basketball to the Six Nations - Dubliner Delany on her fast-track rugby career

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Lauren Delany scoring a try for Ireland against Wales in the Six Nations. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Lauren Delany scoring a try for Ireland against Wales in the Six Nations. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Lauren Delany scoring a try for Ireland against Wales in the Six Nations. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It is never too late to try something new. Just ask Lauren Delany.

"I'm not a newbie. I am an olde creature," smiled the 30-year-old.

"I am a basketball player really. I did it for 15 years, playing with Meteors against Lindsay Peat and Aoife McDermott in the Superleague

"That was throughout my secondary school career in Colaiste Iosagain and my under-graduate years in Trinity and DIT."

When Adam Griggs declared the Ireland Women's squad to prepare for England this week, it contained five players based across the water.

Anna Caplice joined Leah Lyons at Harlequins last summer, Edel McMahon joined Cliodhna Moloney at Wasps around the same time.

And then you have Shankihill's Delany of Firwood Waterloo.

This story is different because she took the game up just over five years ago and has the English to thank for nurturing her talent.

"I moved over to England to do a Masters in Sports Nutrition, kept playing basketball. I got a job with the Institute of Sport and moved more than once, eventually moving to Milton Keynes.

"There was nowhere to play basketball. My parents are diehard Leinster fans, so they encouraged me to give rugby a go."

A chance conversation with a girl at work led to the suggestion to give Bletchley Ladies a go. And that was it.

"I remember my very first training session. Anything to do with ball-skill was second nature, it was absolutely fine. I just had to remember ball-always-backwards when it came to passing.

"The tackling, that was tough. When everyone was doing contact work, one of the assistant coaches brought me the side to explain the basics of how you tackle and how you get tackled.

"Essentially, I took to it like a duck to water. I loved the contact. The coach Karl Cross was great to me. He always said, because of the footwork and ball-handling, that I had natural talent.

"He always resisted the urge to over-coach me, just wanted to see how I would get on, how I would develop naturally."

Legendary England internationals Kat Merchant and Rochelle Clark were also there at Bletchley to provide examples and encouragement.

"In the first session with Kat, we did loads of back-three work, counter-attacking, reading what the defence is doing and reacting to that. That was another level, in terms of thinking about what is happening.

"Before, it was just 'get the ball and run'. There wasn't a lot of strategy. Definitely, that was a massive step up.

"It got me thinking, not just about the game, but about where I want to go in it, how far I can go.

"With Rocky, the odd time she would just show us drills. She was so loud, chatting all the time which wasn't the level of communication we were used to. It was all so helpful in learning what I had to do to get better."

It was the start of a journey that eventually led Delany home to wear the green shirt in the Six Nations.

Through it all, there was an IQ (Irish qualified) screening test in St Mary' University in London, an invitation to join the Irish Sevens, a change of job within the Institute of Sport, working as a nutritionist for British Cycling, and a change of club to Waterloo.

"Interestingly, when I moved to Manchester, I wanted to make friends in a new area, so I joined a local basketball team, Lynx, a Gaelic football club, Oisins and rugby club, Waterloo Ladies."

That is where Delany met coach Steph Veal: "She was amazing, taught me the majority of what I know now about rugby.

"Steph always put the person first. When you couldn't make a session, Steph would check on you, make sure everything is alright, see if you needed anything.

"In a training session, she would pull you aside to go through everything with you, always looking out for everyone."

The jump from club to international rugby has been eased by Delany's workplace.

"Because I work with world champions and paralympic world champions day-to-day, I understand that environment really well," she said.

"I don't think it has been a massive transition. The keys are been that we've had a really structured gym programme and that there is someone there to advise on your load and your detail.

"You have to take care more in terms of recovery, going out, social life. That has been the biggest change and the biggest struggle, to be honest, managing, training, playing and rest with work which is very demanding.

"There are a lot of plates to keep spinning."

Delany arrived into her first Ireland squad in 2018 knowing nobody, with an English slant to her accent.

"No, no, I'm Irish," she had to say more than once, "I'm a Dubliner, from Shankhill."

This season, the coaches have placed greater emphasis on the bond of 'sisterhood' and it has brought them closer together.

Delany has even brushed up on her Irish, something which had slipped away after leaving Colaiste Iosagain.

“We've got our What's App group where we put our selfies after every training session to prove you've done it and to see everyone else do it.

“There is loads more interaction which makes me feel so much more part of it."

As an Irishwoman abroad.

Online Editors