National Hurling League Division 2B Preview: The Backdoor GAA – June 12 2021

NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION 2B PREVIEW

By Daire Walsh

A spot in the second-tier of next year’s National Hurling League will be up for grabs on Saturday afternoon in MacHale Park, Castlebar (throw-in 2pm), where Mayo and Kildare clash in the final round of Division 2B.

Just two points currently separate the counties in the group standings, with Kildare’s perfect record from their opening three games giving them the edge over the westerners – who lost out to Donegal in their most recent competitive fixture. While the Lilywhites have a vastly superior scoring average, this won’t be factored into the equation as the final placings in both the hurling and football leagues are based on head-to-head, unless more than two teams are on the same number of points.

This is what helps to make this clash so intriguing and although all known form points towards Kildare coming out on top, David Herity’s charges have to go out there and do the business nonetheless.

Christy Ring Cup champions in 2020, the Lilies began their campaign with a thoroughly comprehensive 4-29 to 0-14 success over Donegal. The return of Coill Dubh duo Declan Flaherty and Johnny Byrne to the fold was a major boost for Herity in advance of this year’s competition and they have helped to push Kildare onto an extra level in Division 2B.

Byrne was previously a member of the Kildare footballers, before ultimately drawing a close to that chapter of his inter-county career last winter. He has already contributed 4-8 for his county in 2021, making him the Lilywhites’ top-scorer to date.

This is particularly impressive when you consider he isn’t even a free-taker, but Kildare haven’t been reliant on placed-balls to get them to where they are. Of their final tally of 5-17 against Derry in round two, only five points were from frees.

It was a similar case in their win at the expense of Roscommon in Dr Hyde Park last Sunday, with 3-24 of their 4-25 haul coming from open play. The exceptions were a majestic sideline cut by Jack Sheridan in the opening half and a goal from a free courtesy of the same player on the resumption.

The one issue that Herity has had with his team’s performances thus far had been the way they have dropped off in the closing-quarter of games. Whilst this is a valid criticism when you trace the sequence of scores, Kildare have effectively had the points wrapped up long before the final whistles have blown.

The last day out against the Rossies, the Leinster men were 20 points in front at half-time (3-15 to 0-4) which ensured it was a damage limitation exercise for their opponents on the resumption. Mayo can ill-afford to let Kildare dictate the flow of Saturday’s game or they will suffer a similar fate to that of their provincial rivals.

Derek Walsh’s side had made a bright start to the league with back-to-back triumphs over Derry and Roscommon, leaving them in the frame for promotion in the process. Like Byrne, Keith Higgins has switched back to the small ball game after bringing the curtain down on his elongated journey with the county’s footballers.

He contributed 1-8 across those two wins, while fellow attacker Shane Boland amassed a combined haul of 12 points. However, Higgins was marked absent for the subsequent trip to Donegal and his presence was certainly missed.

Bouncing back from their heavy reversal to Kildare, Donegal recorded a 4-18 to 0-13 victory at O’Donnell Park, Letterkenny. Declan Coulter fired over 2-8 to supplement the excellent pair of Richie Ryan (1-2) and Bernard Lafferty (0-4).

Because of how both teams have fared in their respective bouts with Donegal, Kildare will be firm favourites to claim the spoils in this game. Yet, with close to three weeks having past since they were last in action, you suspect there could be a final kick in Mayo before their Nicky Rackard Cup campaign gets underway.

There are also valuable points up for grabs at the opposite end of the table when bottom-two Derry and Roscommon meet at the same time on Saturday in Celtic Park.

Derry’s triumph last weekend against Donegal has them two ahead of Roscommon but, despite having zero points to show for their efforts in 2021, the latter can retain their Division 2B status with a win of any description.

Derry will be disappointed to find themselves in this position, having competed in the divisional final in the previous two seasons. A 0-21 to 1-16 reversal at the hands of Mayo on the opening weekend of the league left them playing catch-up and despite being nip and tuck with Kildare in the early stages of their third round meeting, they eventually fell to a 15-point defeat (5-17 to 1-14).

There were signs of quality in these displays, with Cormac O’Doherty registering 11 points in the Mayo game and Brian Cassidy grabbing a superb 1-7 (including two points from sidelines) in their subsequent clash with Kildare.

The Oak Leaf had found it difficult to readjust following the resumption of inter-county hurling last October, but their 3-22 to 3-21 win over Donegal last Sunday will be a big boost for them heading into the Christy Ring Cup. O’Doherty finished with 0-13 to his name in that nail-biting affair, which brought their counterparts’ own promotion hopes to an end.

Cassidy, Sé McGuigan and John Mullan all raised green flags at Ballinascreen to lift the spirits within their ranks.

If Roscommon are to finally open their account for the year, they will need to first overcome the morale-sapping nature of their loss to Kildare. With the notable exceptions of Cathal Dolan and Ben McGahon, Johnny Keane’s outfit were comfortably second best in virtually ever position on the field.

Still, the Rossies can take some solace from the fact that their best performance of the campaign so far has been on the road. At the end of their first round tie against Donegal in Letterkenny, they were just two points in arrears.

The O’Donnell County have shown themselves – outside of their tussle with Kildare – to be no pushovers, so the Connacht side can’t be disregarded. At the same time, the 1-11 Roscommon clocked in the Donegal game is the lowest total from their three fixtures in the division and their average scoring tally of 12 points will need to be substantially increased given the potential firepower of the Derry attack.

Having only earned promotion to this tier in 2019, the Rossies will be desperate to avoid dropping down to Division 3A for next year. Saturday’s trip to Derry does offer them a shot at redemption, however, and they will be doing their utmost to grasp this opportunity with both hands.

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SSE Airtricity League First Division: UCD V Cobh Ramblers – The Evening Echo – June 12 2021

Jake Hegarty brace secures a magnificent win for Cobh Ramblers

Stuart Ashton’s side stunned UCD in Dublin to follow up their victory over Cork City recently

UCD 1 Cobh Ramblers 2

JAKE Hegarty hit a superb double at Belfield this evening to give Cobh Ramblers a shock win over UCD in the SSE Airtricity League First Division.

In their first game to be played in front of spectators in close to a year, the Leesiders stunned the hosts with a quickfire Hegarty brace at the start of the second half. UCD responded with a Colm Whelan spot-kick, but it wasn’t enough to deny Cobh the spoils.

Hoping to build on their excellent victory at the expense of rivals Cork City a fortnight ago, Ramblers were agonisingly close to taking the lead in the seventh minute. A cross-field ball was chested perfectly into the path of Killian Cooper and the winger’s powerful drive crept marginally past the right-hand post.

Cobh skipper Ian Turner did have the ball in the net on 35 minutes only for his effort to be immediately ruled out for offside.

The opening period was ultimately a scoreless one, but Ramblers proceeded to completely turn the game on its head after the restart. On the stroke of 50 minutes, Lee Devitt played a precise through-ball to Hegarty that beat the offside trap.

The former Midleton attacker displayed greater composure to fire beyond the reach of UCD’s Lorcan Healy and he repeated the trick just two minutes as he once again got the better of the Students’ custodian from a one-on-one situation.

Having struggled to pick up points in the opening block of fixtures, Ramblers suddenly found themselves on the cusp of a major scalp for the second game running. There was always likely to be a sting in the tail, however, and it duly arrived in the 66th-minute.

After Cobh midfielder Darren Murphy was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area, Colm Whelan drilled the subsequent penalty to the bottom left-hand corner. This kept Stuart Ashton’s side on their toes, but it took a superb stop from Healy to prevent Devitt from restoring their two-goal cushion.

Ramblers were surprisingly comfortable as the final whistle approached and while UCD did launch a few direct balls into attack, Hegarty’s earlier contribution made all the difference.

UCD: Lorcan Healy; Harvey O’Brien (Michael Gallagher 62), Sam Todd, Evan Osam; Eoin Farrell, Adam Verdon (Sean Brennan 45), Donal Higgins (Danu Kinsella Bishop 62), Dara Keane (Adam Lennon 62), Evan Weir (Mark Dignam 53); Liam Kerrigan, Colm Whelan.

COBH RAMBLERS: Sean Barron; James McCarthy (Pierce Phillips 93), Charlie Lyons, Ben O’Riordan, Darryl Walsh; Dave O’Leary, Lee Devitt, Darren Murphy; Killian Cooper (Conor Drinan 46), Jake Hegarty (Ciaran Griffin 80), Ian Turner.

Referee: Marc Lynch.

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World Rugby Sevens Repechage Preview: Anthony Eddy – The42.ie – June 12 2021

Eddy plays down disruptions as Ireland Sevens prepare for crucial Olympic qualifier event

The Ireland men’s Sevens team have their final shot at Olympic qualification in next weekend.

FOLLOWING A WAIT of almost two years, the Ireland men’s sevens team will have their final shot at Olympic qualification in next weekend’s World Rugby Sevens Repechage in Monaco (19-20 June).

Originally set to take place 12 months ago, this tournament was ultimately postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, Ireland had earned a place at the Repechage by virtue of finishing third at a Rugby Europe Olympic qualifier at Colomiers in July 2019.

For a variety of reasons, the squad have only returned to competitive fare in recent weeks – the International Rugby 7s at St George’s Park, England in May and the inaugural HPC International 7s on home soil last weekend ending their year-long hiatus from the game. Nonetheless the IRFU’s Director of Sevens Rugby, Anthony Eddy, isn’t overly concerned about their lack of action heading into a crunch two-day event.

“The playing squad committed some time ago to coming back and preparing for all the tournaments that we thought we were going to have,” Eddy said.

“The last couple of tournaments – the UK one with Great Britain and the USA, and then the tournament that we just recently hosted ourselves [also against Great Britain] – have been extremely valuable for us.

“Two teams that have already qualified for the Olympics. That has been great for us and has just been really good preparation. It would probably have been nice if we had a couple of other tournaments earlier in the season, but they weren’t to be. We played some internal games against each other as well. Considering everything, we’re as prepared as we can be.”

Having finally qualified for the World Series as a core nation in 2019, the next natural step on the ladder for the Ireland men’s sevens would be to reach the Olympic Games. In order to do so, they will have to progress as the outright winners of next weekend’s tournament.

With Zimbabwe, Mexico, Tonga and Samoa forming the opposition in Pool A, advancing to the semi-final of the Repechage will be a difficult task in itself and Eddy acknowledged there are quality sides to be found on the other side of the draw as well.

“Obviously France are going to be tough competition. We know how successful they’ve been in the World Series in recent years. We played Hong Kong in Hong Kong to qualify for the World Series and that’s not an easy game either. Those sorts of teams are always going to provide a different challenge.”

Of the 14 players Eddy has selected for this Repechage, Harry McNulty is one name that sticks out above all others. Whereas the rest of the squad are connected to All-Ireland League clubs, McNulty has been plying his trade in America’s Major League Rugby with LA Giltinis.

Thanks to an arrangement between the IRFU and the California-based club, the former Munster Academy star will be available to Eddy next weekend and for the Olympics in Tokyo if Ireland get that far.

“We approached him and we also approached the club in LA and they were happy to release Harry, which is fantastic and very nice of them to do. Not everybody gets an opportunity to represent their country and become an Olympian.

“It’s just something that the club looked on as being favourable for Harry. He has been released to us and hopefully he gets what he deserves, and that’s representing his country at the Olympics.”

Although next weekend’s squad contains a nucleus of players who have been in the Sevens programme for several years, a number have also moved away from the set-up in recent times and are currently thriving in the 15s game.

The likes of Hugo Keenan, Will Connors and Shane Daly were handed their senior international debuts by Andy Farrell in the past year, having previously featured under Eddy in the Sevens code.

“Every country has used Sevens to develop players for their 15s game for years and years and years. It’s great that on the back of our Sevens programme that we’re seeing some of the benefits of that,” Eddy added.

“To see the likes of Shane and Hugo, Will and Robert Baloucoune. Plenty of others as well that have come through the Sevens programme and are now represented in the 15s. There’ll be plenty more to come in the future too, I dare say.”

Daire Walsh
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U20 Six Nations Build-Up To Scotland: Alex Kendellen – Irishrugby.ie – June 11 2021

Ireland Captaincy A ‘Huge Honour’ For U20s Skipper Kendellen

It has been a whirlwind few months in the career of Cork man Alex Kendellen.

On March 12 of this year – just nine days after he turned 20 – the back row made his senior competitive debut for Munster in a Guinness PRO14 victory over the Scarlets at Thomond Park in Limerick. Replacing injured blindside flanker Fineen Wycherley with 28 minutes gone on the clock, Kendellen more than held his own – making 10 metres off eight carries as the hosts ultimately claimed a 28-10 triumph.

This was subsequently followed by a call-up to the Ireland Sevens squad for the at St George’s Park in England last month. He was firmly in the frame for a spot in the Ireland U20s squad at this stage and in addition to being named in Richie Murphy’s 34-strong selection on Thursday, he was also named as captain for the forthcoming U20 Six Nations Championship to be held at Cardiff Arms Park.

Understandably, this is a dream come through for Kendellen, who has previous experience as a team leader from his time at Presentation Brothers College in Cork.

“It’s a huge honour, not just for myself but for my family and support network. My family, my friends. My coaches at home in Munster, my coaches in school. It’s a huge honour for them as well. I’m dying to get over there and just start playing now,” said Kendellen, speaking at a remote press conference yesterday.

“Not much changes in my own role. I’m here to lead on the pitch. I don’t think I’d say that much, but I think I just want to lead on the pitch. My actions speak a lot more than my words, I think, and I’m just really looking forward to getting into it now.”

Ireland have been preparing rigorously in advance of their competition opener against Scotland on Saturday week (Kick-off 2pm) at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Blanchardstown. Given the lack of competitive action for much of the squad over the past year – and the six-day turnarounds they will encounter for their remaining games in the Championship – it is important for Kendellen and his international compatriots to reach a sufficient level of sharpness ahead of the delayed return of underage fare.

“We just had an amazing hit-out there, training’s been at a very high quality. Everybody is putting their hand up for selection, we know there were only 34 places, which led into that selection. It’s been very intense. I think the best 34 are going over and we’re looking to win this competition,” Kendellen remarked.

“The six-day turnaround is something we’re not really used to so we are going to have to get into it straight away. For myself, I’ve played a similar enough format at 18s, same with a couple of the guys in camp at the moment. Recovery will be extremely key for everybody. It’s what we have to deal with in these situations with COVID and we are all looking forward to it.”

When you consider he was still playing schools rugby up until last year, it is quite impressive that Kendellen already has a professional appearance under his belt. Despite making his debut behind closed doors at Munster HQ, his first-team bow for the southern Province was an occasion to cherish.

“It was a massive moment in my career, personally, it was a massive honour. It was a pity the crowd wasn’t there, but it was a nice night in Thomond Park all the same.”

When it comes to getting a grasp of what is expected of him in the higher grade, Kendellen has been able to lean on the wisdom of a plethora of stars within the Munster set-up. The soon-to-be retired Billy Holland is one player in particular who has been a guiding force since he first came into the provincial system.

“They’ve been very good to me. I’ve got tips off a few of them, telling me to be myself. As I said, lead by my actions and not so much my words. They’ve seen me growing up in Munster and they know what I can do on the pitch. I chatted to Billy Holland during the week.

“We all know he’s packing it in soon enough. He’s been very good to me and not just the last six weeks but back in Munster for the past year as well. He’s had an arm around me and brought me along,” Kendellen added.

Posted in International Rugby, U20 Six Nations Rugby | Comments Off on U20 Six Nations Build-Up To Scotland: Alex Kendellen – Irishrugby.ie – June 11 2021

U20 Six Nations Championship Build-Up To Scotland: Richie Murphy – Irishrugby.ie – June 10 2021

Murphy: ‘We Feel We Are Ready To Compete’

Ireland U20s Head Coach Richie Murphy acknowledged it was a ‘difficult process’ to assemble a squad of 34 for the upcoming U20 Six Nations Championship in Wales. Starting from Saturday week – a competition opener against Scotland – the 2019 champions will face a hectic schedule of five games in just 24 days, all of them taking place at Cardiff Arms Park.

Traditionally, a summer window would see this age-grade outfit competing at the World Rugby Under 20 Championships. However, Covid-19 has adversely affected the rugby calendar for underage international rugby with the Ireland U20s not having seen action since February 2020.

With players from all four Provinces coming together from their own separate bubbles (not to mention the IQ Rugby duo of Liam Bishop and Chay Mullins), Murphy and his coaches have encountered a number of different challenges up to this point.

“It probably goes back to Christmas when the guys came in first. You have got guys coming in with a massive difference in relation to what kind of training they have done. So the levels of fitness the lads have come in with has been very different. We’ve guys in academies obviously coming together in the latter part of it,” Murphy remarked at today’s squad announcement.

“Some guys were working remotely so that was difficult, but the group came together quite well and quite quickly. The lads applied themselves really well and what we had to do was make sure that our training was not going to put guys in jeopardy. We let them build up into it and took the relevant precautions along the way.”

Due to the absence of Energia All-Ireland League and the limited game-time afforded to Academy teams, the majority of players within the Ireland U20s camp have seen very little competitive action in the past year or so.

The likes of captain Alex Kendellen, as well as Leinster pair Alex Soroka and Tim Corkery, recently made their senior debuts at Provincial level but, for the most part, this squad of players has been out of the spotlight for the past 16 months.

In order to get them up to the level that will be required to tackle their Six Nations rivals, Murphy has had to be innovative in how he tailors their training programme at the IRFU High Performance Centre.

“Definitely quite a few of them might have played in early September [in the Energia Community Series] when rugby was back on, but from that point until Christmas time they had not played at all. Within the camps that we’ve had, what we tried to do was put a game element into that.

“Whether it be 40 minutes or 80 minutes of rugby. We have tried to build them up slowly with their game minutes, but also then the intensity of their training minutes. We feel we are ready to compete at the level they are going into.”

Technically speaking, Ireland will be seeking to defend their crown in the Welsh capital having secured a Grand Slam two years ago. This was the last Six Nations Championship to be played in full, with the 2020 edition of the competition brought to a premature halt owing to the rising threat of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ireland had already completed the Triple Crown by the end of the third round last year and needed just one win from their two remaining games against Italy and France to claim another Six Nations crown. Given the success earned at this grade in recent years, Murphy will be eager for his charges to keep Ireland top of the pile while not losing sight of the developmental aspect of U20s international rugby.

“It is always a balance of performance and results because you are going into a competition and you are obviously trying to win something. Along the way, U20s rugby is probably the pinnacle of the age grade system in Ireland.

“Coming through the schools and into Provincial academies, and development pathways, and this is the pinnacle of it. From here guys go into the big bad world of adult rugby. We want to be competitive. We are very much aware it is a developmental tool as well so it is a balance between the two.”

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Women’s Soccer International Preview: Republic Of Ireland V Iceland Double-Header – The Tallaght Echo – June 10 2021

WOMEN’S INTERNATIONAL SOCCER

By Daire Walsh

The Republic of Ireland women’s soccer team will step up their preparations for the start of their World Cup qualification campaign in September with a brace of friendlies against Iceland in the coming days.

Laugardalsvollur, Reykjavik will be the venue both tomorrow and next Tuesday for this international double-header and – like their encounters with Denmark and Belgium in April – it gives manager Vera Pauw an opportunity to test her troops against high-calibre opposition. The Scandinavian nation are currently 17th in the FIFA world rankings, a full 17 places above the Republic.

Interestingly, Denmark and Belgium are positioned either side of Iceland in the rankings. By facing these countries, Pauw will be able to get a good sense of where the Irish squad is ahead of their Group A opener away to Georgia on September 17.

As ever, Ireland will be captained in the upcoming games by Kilnamanagh’s Katie McCabe. She picked up her 50th senior cap in the recent defeat to Belgium and was also named in the Women’s Super League Team of the Year on the back of a superb campaign with Arsenal.

She is joined in the current squad by her former Gunners team-mate Louise Quinn, who was also previously a stalwart of Newcastle-based club Peamount United. The reigning Women’s National League champions are also set to be represented in the Iceland games by Claire Walsh and Áine O’Gorman.

Following a couple of substitute appearances in 2019, Walsh was handed her first start against Belgium in Brussels two months ago and produced a solid performance at the heart of the Irish rearguard.

O’Gorman brings a greater level of experience to the table, having already surpassed a century of senior international caps. A short while after making her 100th appearance in green – a World Cup qualifier against Norway in June 2018 – she announced her retirement from the international game.

However, O’Gorman was coaxed back to the set-up by Pauw in the spring of 2020 and has once again become a vital cog for this Irish team. Despite operating in a wide attacking role for Peamount, she is ordinarily utilised as a full-back/wing-back for the international side.

Also of local interest in the Ireland squad will be Lucan native Niamh Farrelly. She was playing for Peamount as recently as last December, but is now contracted to Scottish Women’s Premier League giants Glasgow City.

Posted in International Soccer, Women's Soccer | Comments Off on Women’s Soccer International Preview: Republic Of Ireland V Iceland Double-Header – The Tallaght Echo – June 10 2021

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division Preview: Shamrock Rovers V Finn Harps – The Tallaght Echo – June 10 2021

SSE AIRTRICITY LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION PREVIEW: SHAMROCK ROVERS V FINN HARPS

By Daire Walsh

Tomorrow evening is set to be the dawn of a new age for Shamrock Rovers as the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division champions play in front of spectators at the Tallaght Stadium for the first time in over a year.

One of three games to be used as part of a test pilot programme for the safe return of supporters to outdoor sporting events, the Hoops welcome Finn Harps to Whitestown Way for Series 15 of what is proving to be an intriguing top-flight campaign. The fact that the game is being held at 8pm rather than 7.45 – the former was the standard kick-off time for Friday night encounters in Tallaght prior to the pandemic – will offer those in attendance an even greater sense of familiarity.

While limited crowds were permitted to attend games when league action resumed at the end of July 2020 (before subsequently moving to a behind closed doors format), Rovers opted against allowing fans back through the turnstiles at that point. Given how difficult it was going to be to choose a couple of hundred lucky recipients from their hoards of supporters, it was instead left to the likes of ball retrievers and match officials to make up their COVID capacity.

Now that a crowd of 1,000 is allowed into Tallaght tomorrow, the Hoops faithful can once again make their voices heard from the stands.

Although all of the above will add substantial significance to tomorrow’s game, Rovers boss Stephen Bradley will be hoping his side don’t get too wrapped up in the occasion. Rory Gaffney bagged a stoppage-time winner to squeeze the Hoops past Longford Town last Friday week, but that result was preceded by back-to-back defeats at the hands of Dundalk and Sligo Rovers.

The latter defeat on home soil saw their opponents (managed by Perrystown native Liam Buckley) moving to the summit of the Premier Division table and, as it stands, the holders are now one point adrift of Sligo heading into the latest round of fixtures. There is no reason for the Hoops to panic just yet, however, as it was always going to be difficult for them to maintain the consistency that saw them going unbeaten for the whole of the 2020 league season.

Bradley’s charges remain an extraordinarily resilient bunch, with injury-time goals earning them an additional eight points thus far in 2021. Aaron Greene also struck in the 89th minute to earn them a draw against St Patrick’s Athletic on the opening day of the season and a John Mahon own goal on 88 minutes saw them sharing the spoils with Sligo Rovers on April 10.

His dramatic strike in Longford moved Gaffney onto five goals for this season, while Graham Burke and Danny Mandriou have four each to their names. This dynamic attacking triumvirate will hope to turn on the style in front of the club’s loyal followers tomorrow and, in the process, keep their quest for a second consecutive league title very much alive.

Posted in League Of Ireland | Comments Off on SSE Airtricity League Premier Division Preview: Shamrock Rovers V Finn Harps – The Tallaght Echo – June 10 2021

Women In Rugby Series: Emer O’Dowd (Connacht Rugby) – Irishrugby.ie – June 9 2021

Women In Rugby: Emer O’Dowd

By Daire Walsh

She may still be a few months shy of her 20th birthday, but Ireland Women’s star Beibhinn Parsons has already left a considerable impression on the international rugby scene.

Back in November 2018, the Galway native made her Ireland 15s debut at just 16 against the USA – becoming the country’s youngest ever senior international in the process. In just 11 appearances to date in green, Parsons has scored five Test tries, including a brace away to Wales in this year’s Six Nations.

A product of Ballinasloe RFC in east Galway, it was evident from a very young age that Parsons possessed the attributes required to evolve into a top level performer.

Speaking in her capacity as the Women’s Development Officer for North Connacht, Emer O’Dowd is hopeful more players of the teenager’s calibre can spring up right across the province.“Wendy Hickey, who covers that side of the country, would have spotted her from nearly the beginning and she would have said to me, ‘this girl is going to go all the way’,” explained O’Dowd.

“She’s very athletic, her skills are excellent. She has sort of skipped over a pathway because she’s that good. Seeing Beibhinn run out on the TV – ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’, I completely agree with that tagline.

“You have to live it and we live it through Beibhinn, and all the other girls that would have come through Connacht and around the country. They’re accessible to us. We know them. People know where Beibhinn comes from.

“It’s a proud moment for the club, but it’s also a proud moment for the province and all the coaches that have been involved in the pathway to get her through to the Irish set-up.

“We’ve a lot more Beibhinns to come. There’s talent out there. Especially with players that would have joined the pathway quite early. Irish Rugby can only get better  as we get more girls playing at a younger age. That’s where a programme like Give It A Try is so important”

Emer’s Rugby Journey

By comparison to the likes of Parsons, O’Dowd’s own introduction to the sport came at a much later age. Originally from Balla in Co. Mayo – a small town located halfway between Castlebar and Claremorris – she spent the majority of her youth playing soccer and Gaelic football.

After moving to Galway in her early 20s, around the turn of the century, O’Dowd began a journey in the oval ball game that continues to this day.

“My uncle was a big advocate for me. He played with Corinthians, but he would have been involved in refereeing and then he became a referee assessor. He was always onto me to try and give it a crack.

“I missed Corinthians, so I ended up going to Galwegians. Walked in the front gate at ‘Wegians and haven’t looked back! I loved it, it’s a very addictive sport.

“You just want to try and get better all the time. You want to try and improve as a player. I had aspirations to push and play as high as I could. It’s a great environment to be in, Galwegians. It’s a great club.

“Again, back then it was nearly like a second club. It was nearly a separate entity, we ran it ourselves. We got our own sponsors. We ran our own fundraising activities. Whereas now it’s all under the one umbrella.

“That’s a real Connacht thing as well. We want everything to be part of the club. Be it the male or female game. Rugby is rugby, regardless of gender.”

O’Dowd enjoyed a glorious end to her playing career in April 2012, captaining Galwegians to their first All-Ireland Cup title with a 13-7 final victory over Highfield. This swansong arrived four years after she first started working in Connacht as a Youth Development Officer.

She went on to excel in a number of roles – including Project Officer – before taking up her current post in September 2019. As part of her remit, O’Dowd covers all five counties out west and has seen considerable growth in the Women’s game over the past 18 months.

“Some of the clubs are really thriving, the likes of Creggs, technically County Galway, but part of it is in Roscommon. They’ve a full pathway from minis all the way to youth,” she noted.

Changing Times As Clubs Make Gains

“The clubs have made massive gains in the game. The likes of Ballina and Westport. Westport has everything, all the way up to senior level. From my day, when I started playing, we just about had an adult team.

“Now clubs have full pathways. I’ve a daughter who is five now. I brought her into Galwegians there last week and she had an unbelievable time running around the pitch. I can’t wait until she will be able to see that she can go Under-7, Under-9, Under-10, Under-12 and all the way up into senior in that one club.”

When O’Dowd first took on the role of North Connacht WDO, she could not have possibly envisaged what was about to come down the line.

The Covid-19 pandemic ruined many of her best laid plans but, thanks to a colossal effort from the province’s club and community team, there have been positives to come out of this extremely difficult period.

“I sat down with my manager and I was going through what we could or couldn’t do during Covid, etc. I really didn’t think that we’d see an influx of players coming into clubs during this time, but we actually have,” she added.

“We’ve seen an upward trend of new bodies coming into the clubs and trying the game for the first time. That also drove the volunteer base up as well, because the parents or whoever was bringing the player to the club was hanging around in their car while this training session was going on.

“Definitely, there’s been some positives out of it. Any new members we can get into the clubs, be it male or female, is a positive.”

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National Hurling League Division 2B: Kildare V Roscommon – Game At A Glance – The Kildare Nationalist – June 8 2021

GAME AT A GLANCE

By Daire Walsh

MAN OF THE MATCH

PAUL DIVILLY

He has already given many years of service to the Kildare cause, but the class of Confey’s Divilly continues to endure. While Jack Sheridan and his club-mate David Slattery had strong claims, the midfielder’s five-point haul – including a brace of early scores while the game was still in the melting pot – gives him the edge.

TURNING POINT

As was the case in earlier games against Donegal and Derry, it is difficult to pick out a turning point considering how one-sided the contest turned out to be. That said, the sides were on level terms when David Slattery bagged a 14th-minute goal, which subsequently made it easier for Kildare to discover their attacking rhythm.

TALKING POINT

For the third game in succession, Kildare were head and shoulders above their opponents in terms of pace, power and intensity. There is a sense that the Lilies are by a distance the best team in Division 2B and this is what helps to make Saturday’s away trip to Mayo so vital in the overall development of this side.

SCORE OF THE MATCH

There are any number of scores that could have made the cut, but it is hard to look past Jack Sheridan’s point from a sideline cut on 17 minutes. Many wouldn’t even dare to have a go, but the Naas man had no hesitation when an opportunity presented itself on the right-hand touchline.

REFEREE WATCH

It was a relatively quiet afternoon for Kevin Brady as the Louth whistler had no major incidents of note to deal with. It was notable that Kildare got so few scores from placed-balls, but while he could have easily awarded them frees on a few occasions, it had no bearing on the final outcome.

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Post-Match Reaction: National Hurling League Division 2B – Kildare V Roscommon – The Kildare Nationalist – June 8 2021

GAA: NATIONAL HURLING LEAGUE DIVISION 2B – ROUND 4 – POST-MATCH REACTION

Certain elements I wouldn’t be happy with – David Herity

By Daire Walsh

DESPITE having all of 27 points to spare over Roscommon in a National Hurling League Division 2B clash at Dr Hyde Park last Sunday, Kildare manager David Herity felt his side’s final margin of victory could have been even more comprehensive.

Having comfortably defeated Donegal and Derry in the opening two rounds of the competition, the Lilywhites consolidated their position at the summit of the table with a 4-25 to 0-10 triumph. Yet – akin to their previous two encounters – Herity acknowledged there were periods where Kildare weren’t quite at their best.

There’d be certain elements, as I said to the lads there, that I wouldn’t be happy with. I thought we completely tuned off in that second half and let Roscommon get back into it, and they probably outscored us for large chunks of that second half,” Herity remarked after last weekend’s game.

“We have to get to that level of ruthlessness there that we’re trying to kill off teams and keep going. Keep going all the way to the end. Derry came back for the last 10 minutes and so did Donegal. Without being negative, I just would love to get to that stage where we keep going for 70 odd minutes.”

Nonetheless, Herity has plenty of reason to be cheerful when he reflects on the performance against the Connacht men. In attack, Jack Sheridan (2-5) and David Slattery (2-1) were in fine form while midfielder Paul Divilly finished with an outstanding tally of five points.

This dynamic triumvirate will need be on top of their game at MacHale Park in Castlebar this Saturday when Kildare battle it out with Mayo for the right to play in Division 2A of next year’s league.

“We are blessed with the amount of forwards. There’s a lot of competition there for places and lads know that. Anyone that’s coming in, they don’t get a token run of it. You have to earn your place and I thought the lads on the inside, especially when Roscommon had dropped back two extra players, they still were able to find those goal-scoring opportunities and took them.

“It’s a final basically [against Mayo]. It’s extremely competitive. They’ll be back home. They know themselves, one win and they’ve won the league. We just have to get ourselves right. It’s a six-day turnaround to get ourselves right for next Saturday,” Herity added.

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