Why are Irish models and rugby players so drawn to each other? Alison O'Riordan hooks up with the latest bunch of couples to explain the magnetism
Rugby analyst Brent Pope doesn't confine his keen observations to the pitch. Irish rugby players, he notes, have the nicest-looking girlfriends in the world of rugby.
"If you went to a Rugby World Cup," he says, "and lined up the Irish rugby players alongside their girlfriends, the majority are going out with incredibly good-looking models and former Miss Irelands -- which is a strange phenomenon and certainly not the case in other parts of the world."
But why are elite Irish rugby players and long-limbed Irish models so romantically drawn to each other?
This 'rugger-hugger' phenomenon goes a long way back, well at least to the days before the Celtic Tiger and the four-year romance between model Glenda Gilson and BOD (Brian O'Driscoll).
'Irish Independent' rugby correspondent Hugh Farrelly feels Irish rugby players are very marketable as partners.
"There has always been a status, trophy-girlfriend aspect to it, while rugby players would always have been seen as being a 'catch'," says Hugh.
"Rugby's origins in Ireland are as an upper-middle-class, privileged sport, so, as well as having the physical size needed to play the game, rugby players tended to have third-level education and good jobs, which obviously made them desirable husbands."
Brent Pope adds: "There is a element of a successful young sports star making good money with a good way of life, so it ticks a lot of boxes for an attractive young woman."
"In Ireland, we have six or seven players dating or married to top models, which is quite a ratio."
'Tallafornia' star Kelly Donegan thinks rugby players and models make up a very tight-knit group.
"It's one of those things. For a model, it's hard to be in a relationship with someone who isn't in the public eye," says the reality TV star.
"Models and rugby players all tend to go to the same places -- Krystle, Bucks, Lillie's, The Grafton Lounge; everyone has been introduced through each other.
"In Assets, it's common enough for models to be dating rugby players," adds Kelly, an Assets model herself.
Assets boss Derek Daniels agrees: many of the models on his books going out with rugby players.
"They all move in the same circles in high-end clubs. They're all young, fit, attractive people, so of course they are going to be attracted to each other; a couple are bound to hook up," says Derek.
For Dublin-based model Ally Garvey, from Compton Model Agency, physique is the deciding factor.
"The main attraction is the height and the build of the sport stars," says the brunette.
"It sounds hilarious, but it's true. I'm 5ft 11ins, nearly 6ft, and likewise rugby players are big; that's the attraction, especially when models have heels on."
Most rugby stars and bikini-clad models first become acquainted through the world of promotions.
Rugby giants such as Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip are now regularly seen on the arm of a Miss Ireland or model to promote products or sponsorship deals.
Stylist Lisa Fitzpatrick says rugby players are doing a lot more magazine shoots and that they endorse a lot more products these days.
"Rugby has become very commercial," she says.
"Most of the models I use on 'Ireland AM', 'Xpose' or in fashion shows are hanging out with, going out with, socialising with or engaged to rugby players."
Ally Garvey adds: "There is a certain magnetism, as sports and rugby are big in this country; you would be rubbing shoulders with rugby stars on a constant basis with photo calls."
Prop forward Cian Healy and Irish model Holly Carpenter are the latest high-profile couple to go public about their budding romance. They made their debut at the VIP Style Awards last month.
"I don't think either party particularly seeks the other profession out. It's easy for models and rugby players to meet through doing press calls," says 20-year-old Holly, whose star has been rising since winning the coveted Miss Ireland crown last summer.
But Holly is eager to point out that the pair met accidentally last December at a protest march against Dublin City Council's flood defence plans.
"I met Cian randomly. I live in Raheny and Cian is from Clontarf, and the organisers got a lot of well- known people in the area to come to this protest.
"We became friends first and then I met up with him in Krystle," she explains.
Rugby squads are regulars of the Harcourt Street haunt, so it's not surprising that Krystle nightclub is where many of these relationships first blossom.
But Holly, who is studying textiles at the National College of Art and Design, is quick to refute this stereotype and believes their interest in art first brought the couple together.
"There are a lot of other cliques in these clubs, like DJs, so it's not just models and rugby players frequenting them," she says.
"I'm in art college and Cian is really into painting also. We have this in common, which is really unexpected for the two of us.
"If you say Miss Ireland and a rugby player, it sounds very stereotypical, but I don't think either of us are the stereotypes of the titles we each hold," Holly adds.
As a couple, one of their favourite pastimes is to go into their nearest Art & Hobby shop and stock up on art materials and craft supplies for their painting.
"If I was just a pretty face and had nothing between my ears, I don't think Cian and I would be together," Holly says.
"It's the fact we have so much in common like art. It quickly became irrelevant that he was a rugby player and me a model. If you're going to focus your relationship on that, it's not going to last.
"I'm not the kind of girl who puts on a pair of heels and gets excited to be tottering up to the Aviva Stadium just to be seen there," Holly continues.
"I'm always wary of mentioning him because it can look like I'm only using it for attention and I would hate him, more than anyone else, to think that."
Catwalk queen Nadia Forde met her Leinster beau Luke Fitzgerald more than a year ago doing photocalls, and they now live together in the rugby ace's newly purchased home in Clonskeagh.
Very reluctant to talk about their relationship, Nadia will only say: "Jobs have absolutely nothing to do with it."
Another new partnership that has appeared in the gossip pages of late is Assets model Hazel O'Sullivan and Leinster's Fergus McFadden. Hazel has become a star on Sky Sports with her walk-on routines at darts matches.
She met the Kilkenny man "very randomly", but refuses to divulge more.
"It's a given for models to go out with rugby players; sometimes, I wonder are people doing it because it is expected," says Hazel.
"Some people force it a bit and go out of their way to get the exposure. I want my career to be about modelling and not who I'm with, and there is very much a mentality in Ireland to shout about who you are with."
The Wexford-born model says she has higher ambitions than simply giving it all up to marry a rugby player.
"I see my career as being a long-term thing, and not just about getting another year or two more out of the press-call scene and then settling down with a rugby player," Hazel explains.
Kildare rugby star Jamie Heaslip's former flame was Irish model and snake charmer Emma Quinlan.
Not straying outside the model ranks, he continues to be off the market with First Options model Sheena O'Buachalla.
Model Karena Graham, meanwhile, has been dating former Leinster player Gary Brown for two years and believes it is more coincidence than the norm, with "one rugby player introducing model friends of their girlfriend to another rugby player and so on".
Another model is Jodie Wood, who is dating rugby-player boyfriend Will Matthews from Oxford.
"I met him in Krystle after he played a game against Leinster. He was playing for the London Wasps," she has said.
Then there's Dublin model Hayley Ryan, who has hooked up with Dave Kearney, the younger brother of Ireland rugby star Rob Kearney.
And finally, Gordon D'Arcy will walk down the aisle with former Miss Ireland Aoife Cogan this July in Castle Leslie in what is tipped to be the wedding of the year.
The 32-year-old Irish international popped the question while on holidays in Menorca last year.