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The History of St. Marys Women’s Rugby Team

The History of St. Marys Women’s Rugby Team

From the beginning…

St. Mary’s College R.F.C. Women’s team has, in the ten years since its establishment, committed itself to becoming one of the foremost Women’s rugby teams in the Leinster region, as well as consistently developing into a strong competitor within regional and national competitions. The team was formed in the 2002/2003 season with strong support from the then club president Dr D. O’Brien. 

At the launch of the Women’s team, the following was statement was released:

As president of St Mary’s College RFC, it is a fortunate honour for me to be in office at the start of this exciting era, for St Mary’s. We are delighted to have a women’s team, which is a fully integrated part of the club. These women have added already, to the great spirit we have at St Mary’s; their enthusiasm and application is a credit to them and their skill levels are advancing daily.
Samantha Howe, the captain epitomises this enthusiasm, she is a natural leader, with an outstandingly happy, gregarious and generous nature. I hope the team is successful, but most of all I hope all involved enjoy the game, meeting other teams and all the facilities our club can offer. 

We all wish, the team, the management under Garry Manning and Eileen Fanning and the coaches with Donal Swift and Sam Brennan, the very best of luck.
Welcome on board girls.

Dr. D O’Brien.
President 2002-2003.

The team was initially coached and managed by Donal Swift and Sam Brennan. 

I had just coached the J3s to a league cup win and D O'Brien asked me to meet him for a cup of coffee. "You're the most successful coach in the club at present" he said. 

I knew he wanted something. “Is it a new Under 23s team or an Academy?” 
“No” he said. 
"After 102-years, St Mary's College RFC is going to have it's first Womens' rugby team and I want you to start it up".  
“Right” said I.
Donal Swift, Coach 2002 – 2004 

Donal put a lot of research into the start-up of a Women’s team. He sought advice from neighbouring clubs Belvedere and Blackrock and drafted a policy book on Women’s Rugby. One of the greatest achievements was the progression from losing 55 – 0 to Guinness’ at the beginning of that first season to the following year, beating them 53 – 0. 

Samantha Howe was allocated the inaugural captaincy, and was succeeded the following season by Gillian Fullerton. Pat Crawford joined the coaching panel for both the 2004/2005 and 2005/2006 seasons, and can claim to have witnessed the true metamorphosis of the team.

The 2006/2007 season proved to be a somewhat more tumultuous season with injuries, changes in coaching staff, and the departure of captain Debbie Clarke taking its toll on the team. Despite these obstacles St. Mary’s finished the season having earned the respect of league rivals by finishing no less than one point away from the division play-offs, as well as reaching the All-Ireland Bowl Championship semi-final. 

The end of the season saw the Marys side amalgamate with Enniskillen R.F.C. Women’s’ team for a trip to Canada

In 2007 we were delighted to have Paul Flood as our coach. Floody was one of the most influential and inspirational people that has helped to build the women’s team over the years to the level it is at now and will be remembered for many years for his coaching role and approachable nature with the team. Floody guided us to the All-Ireland Bowl Final against one of the great powerhouses of Irish club rugby UL Bohemians in 2008. Despite losing after a spirited performance, the sense of pride Floody had in both the team and the club was very evident and he was the life of the party throughout the night of celebration in the club that night. 

In light of Paul’s passing, The Leinster Women’s Cup was then re-named the Paul Flood Memorial Cup, which fittingly St. Mary’s won in its inaugural year in 2010. Poignantly, his daughter Andrea was there to present the trophy on the day.

2008/2009 saw Gareth Crawford continue in the footsteps of his father Pat, coaching our Women’s side. During this year, the Templeogue side honed its skills and presented itself against City of Derry in the Division 2 final in Athlone. St. Marys Women created history and won the match, earning their promotion with ease to Division 1. 

Gareth has many memories of his time coaching the Women’s team :
“It’s strange how 2 hours help turned into 2 weeks then 2 months followed by 2 seasons and 2 cups but sure these things happen! I am so proud of my time with the Women’s team. Taking over a legacy from such great past coaches was especially nice since they had really done all the hard work and I just polished it! If I were to write down my favourite memories, I would be here all day! But I think my favourite moment was walking up the stairs in the club with that AIL Div 2 trophy under my arm. I also remember the sense of pride on getting my team tracksuit with my initials on it. A small gesture but it meant the world to me”
Gareth Crawford, Coach 2008-2010

During the May Bank Holiday, after a year of recuperation away, the Women’s team entered a team again in the Kinsale 7’s competition in Co. Cork. Bolstered by a few friends from Galwegians RFC, the team managed to win the Ladies Plate. It was a weekend of mixed emotions. Pure carnage is one way of remembering it, if one could remember it. But it was also a weekend of turmoil, as our captain Paula Fitz, broke her ankle. This ruled her out of action for many months; a sad finish to a great season for Paula and the team. 

Lee Travers came on board as head coach in 2009/2010 for St. Marys’ first year in Division 1 with the assistance of Gareth. It was a steep learning curve for the Mary’s outfit who certainly noticed the leap in skills and ability. The injury prone side did well to hold their position in the first division and learnt from their maiden journey with the best teams in the country. After a shaky league campaign, we followed it with a better cup campaign. This was the year that we aptly won the inaugural Paul Flood Leinster Cup. It was a tense final played out at home against our local nemesis Old Belvedere. But the emotion and the passion running through the Marys side for their former coach and friend Paul Flood saw the side win easily.

We began 2010/2011 season under the leadership of Des Jackson. Des encouraged the team to focus on the finer skills of the game and was a great encouragement to new members of the team as the team began to rebuild from recent retirements and injuries. This coaching saw the women’s team advance to the plate final of the All Ireland Cup in Wanderers RFC where Mary’s came away with a comprehensive win against City of Derry and took home the silverware for the club.

In 2011/2012 we were fortunate to benefit from the services of Colin Moran. Colin’s gentle encouragement and utmost professionalism saw the Marys women’s team cement their place in Division 1. The season also saw an intense improvement in individual player development. Colin has a unique way of breaking down the game and conveying his incredible knowledge and experience to players. His teachings will long benefit both the individual players who were fortunate to be coached by him and also the women's team as a whole. Colin introduced a new way of approaching rugby and his style of conscious, skillful, heads up but also physical, unrelenting, punishing rugby was embraced eagerly by the squad and with the knowledge that this would continue to pay off for many seasons to come. This coaching legacy in combination with his sense of fun, encouragement and ability to get the best out of players all amounts to a blend that any team would be lucky to experience. 

Colin is a well-established figure in the IRFU and currently holds the position of Training Manager. On his contribution to Women’s rugby he says:

"There is no doubt in my mind, that coaching women's rugby over the past 15 years or so has made me a better coach overall. Women players challenge their coach to be clear but not simplistic, supportive but not condescending, and knowledgeable but not a know-it-all. I am grateful for the questions they asked, (which made me think about what I was doing) and the answers they gave, (which made me think I just might be doing something right!)."
Colin Moran, IRFU Training Manager and 2011/2012 coach

Our present season (2012/2013), saw the exciting introduction of a J1 team in addition to our First XV team. The introduction of the second team meant that new players with no previous experience of rugby or contact sports could build their confidence and hone their skills at a pace they were comfortable with, playing games at a good competitive level without the pressure of Division 1 fixtures looming. Learning from past experiences we felt a second team was a very necessary addition despite it being a large endeavour. With the support of the club, actions were undertaken in the off season to ensure the successful continuance and development of women's rugby in St. Mary's through the addition of this team.

We were sad to lose Colin the following season, but step forward rugby legend and Mary’s stalwart Mr. Rodney O’Donnell and Mr. Dave Neville. 
Head coach of the J1s Dave Neville has been remarkable with not only his J1s but also with the First XV. His sessions are meticulously planned. He is good natured and has encouraged new players, building their confidence hugely. 

Speaking of his time coaching the J1s so far, Dave Neville says:
“Starting our preseason, we had a squad of newbies whose enthusiasm and raw skill was there but it needed to be nurtured and encouraged out. We’re now in the cup with a team that has developed into a very competitive side, with a couple of the squad getting the chance over the past month to play for the senior team; a compliment to their progress. It's a fun team with lots of characters and it's not all hard work! We hope to add new players for next season to mix with the experience that's there now and to challenge for silverware!”
Dave Neville, Head Coach of J1 Women’s Team 2012 – Present 

J1 captain Lorna Byrne who is new to rugby this year has thoroughly enjoyed learning her new rugby skills and has embraced St. Marys as a club. Her organisational qualities and pleasant demeanour have seen the smooth running and organisation of the J1s, a huge feat for a new club member.

Lorna sums up her involvement with the club:
 “Before joining the team, I knew absolutely nothing about rugby. It always looked like utter chaos on the pitch to me! However, I've really enjoyed learning how to play a game that encourages you to become stronger both mentally and physically.

It's been a real privilege leading out the first women's J1 squad, a team of fellow rugby beginners”
Lorna Byrne, J1 Captain 2012 – Present 

Rodney O’Donnell, head coach of the Women’s first XV was a coup for the women’s team when appointed at the beginning of the season. He has a number of accolades in rugby himself (5 Irish caps and a Lions Test under his belt) He has coached teams both in the club (head coach of the J1s) and in the club’s feeder school, St. Mary’s College C.S.Sp. His constant belief in us and our ability has seen us finish in the top half of the league table and be competitive in the All-Ireland and Paul Flood Cups. 

Current captain Anne Marie Donovan has been a dominating force in the pack for many years and this year was rewarded by being nominated Captain of the first XV by her teammates. This season, saw a huge step up in terms of organisation with two squads to coordinate which Anne Marie (aka Patsy) has done with ease. 

Speaking about her squad and captaincy so far, Anne Marie says:
“On the whole, this has been a great year for women's rugby in St Marys given we are fielding two competitive teams. There has been a wonderful effort from all squad members and past players to recruit and develop both the potential and contribution of women’s rugby within the club. We greatly appreciate the club support received this year especially from coaches Rodney and Dave. On a personal level, captaincy has offered me a great opportunity to give back to a club and a team that has given me so much over the last five years”
Anne Marie Donovan, Senior XV Captain 2012 - Present

The Templeogue Women’s sides are already looking towards next season, finishing in the top four and preparing for more silverware which both sides deserve. Whilst we were fortunate to be under the auspices of Investec for some years in conjunction with other teams in the club, 2012 saw the addition of Total Produce as sole sponsor to the Women’s teams. This had a significant impact on gaining momentum with recruitment, allowing us to plan for new jerseys and gear for both teams during the 2012/2013 season.

The future of women’s rugby in St. Mary’s is bright with the renewed development of a girls’ youth section in the club. A relationship forged with MacDara’s Secondary school has seen the school participate in girls’ schools’ rugby over the past two seasons and it is hoped that with continued involvement these girls will make St. Mary’s their club of choice for the future. 
The combination of our link to Girl’s School’s rugby with our Senior and J1 teams, and the passion and drive of all involved in addition to the continued support of what we believe to be the best club in the country, ensures that St. Mary's Women's rugby will go from strength to strength for the next 10 years and beyond!

Maeve Clarke

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