Rugby Feature Interview: Fintan O’Sullivan (Highfield RFC) – The Evening Echo – June 16 2020

AIL Rugby: Highfield captain on why the club must move on from missing out on promotion

HIGHFIELD club captain Fintan O’Sullivan can vividly remember the moment he discovered the 2019/20 All-Ireland League season had been cancelled.

When domestic rugby was initially suspended on March 12, the Woodleigh Park side found themselves nine points clear at the summit of the Division 1B table with just four games left.

Fast forward seven days and O’Sullivan reconvened with player-coach Timmy Ryan to discuss how best to deal with a potential return to competitive action.

It was at this point that news filtered through that their campaign was brought to an abrupt end.

“We were out walking. Chatting about trying to get back on track. Then his phone starts going mad, flying off the handle. He looks at his phone and he says ‘the season has been cancelled by the IRFU. There has been a statement released’.

“He read it out loud and we didn’t really talk for about 10 or 15 minutes. We were just walking! I think we were both just so gutted. There’s that initial borderline grievance. There’s denial at the start.

“You’re kind of going ‘ah no, we can play it in July. We can play it in August, we can do this. We can figure it out’. I reckon there’s some people up in Highfield still feel that way.”

Now that almost four months have passed since their final game of the term, O’Sullivan and his team-mates have fully come to terms with missing out on their fourth promotion in just six years.

Despite being on the brink on reaching the top-flight before the coronavirus outbreak took hold, he has no qualms about the decision reached by the IRFU.

“It’s a line in the sand for me and the lads anyway. It’s done now. I was asked before going into 1B what are expectations and I said ‘minimum top-four’. I think I got a lot of wry smiles and grins from people when I said it, because they probably didn’t believe me.

“We were in a really good position to outright win that league. Let alone top four. We were all incredibly disappointed for it to end that way, but it’s self- explanatory.

“There’s no problem there really. It was the right decision in the end.”

Having steered the ship for the Cork city outfit’s incredible rise through the ranks, the aforementioned Ryan will be moving on to pastures new in the coming months. Following an eventful professional career that encompassed spells at Munster, Toulon, Newcastle Falcons and Dragons, he returned to his boyhood club in 2014.

Not only did he make a massive contribution off the field, but Ryan continued to push high standards as a playing member of the squad featuring on numerous occasions in the most recent campaign.

While acknowledging a void will need to be filled at tighthead prop within the first-team squad, O’Sullivan has full confidence in the abilities of new head coach Conor Quaid. After serving his apprenticeship in an assistant role, the 38-year-old will be tasked with keeping Highfield on an upward spiral.

“He [Quaid] was the eyes and ears along with Maurice Power on the sideline. Maurice is with us for the last four or five years as well. Quaidy has a great feel for how we play. He has seen it all from the sideline. He’ll be able to continue doing that.

“Timmy, when he’s in the middle of it, there’s only so much he can do. Going forward it’s really good to have someone like Quaidy there as a continuity from the coaching side of things.”

Though the path has seemingly been cleared for a return to club rugby in September, it remains unclear what the 2020/21 season will look like.

Whatever structures are put in place, O’Sullivan is adamant Highfield will be hoping to complete some ‘unfinished business’ as far as the All-Ireland League is concerned.

“You hear people throwing out all of these ideas. I don’t know if there’s validity in any of them. I can’t speak for everyone in Highfield, but I’m relatively sure everyone wants an AIL full season again. We want another crack at the whip.

“We have unfinished business to a certain extent with the AIL.

“We felt we were good enough to be in 1A and we want that opportunity again to get there,” O’Sullivan said.

Posted in Rugby Interview, Senior Club Rugby | Comments Off on Rugby Feature Interview: Fintan O’Sullivan (Highfield RFC) – The Evening Echo – June 16 2020

Hurling Feature Piece: Matt Collins (Former Cork Underage Goalkeeper) – The Evening Echo – June 10 2020

Matt is keeping the Collins clan goalie flame burning with Kilmacud Crokes

FORMER Cork underage hurler Matt Collins is established in the Dublin club scene.

A secondary school teacher in Terenure College, in south Dublin, Collins transferred from his home club, Ballinhassig, to Kilmacud Crokes at the beginning of the last decade. While Cuala have been dominant within the county in recent years, he did collect senior championship titles with the Stillorgan men in both 2012 and 2014.

Collins has spotted similarities between the distinctly urban Crokes and the more rural Ballinhassig.

“The similarities are that you’ve people who love to be involved in your local area and want to make the experience for young people in that area a little bit better. There’s a culture of competitiveness and there’s a strong culture of Irish in Crokes. I’m an Irish teacher and there’s a great link with Colaiste Eoin, and there is an Irish-language community part of the club,” Collins says.

“Irish would be spoken, depending on who is involved. Our current manager, Aodan De Paor, would only speak Irish to a good few members of the team. It’s a dual-language club. That was something that attracted me to it as well.”

Since representing the Leesiders as a goalkeeper at the minor, U21, and intermediate grades, Collins’s younger brothers, Patrick and Ger, have followed in his footsteps.

The former is the understudy of Anthony Nash on the Cork senior panel, whereas the latter was the last line of defence for the county’s All-Ireland minor hurling final reversal to Galway in 2017.

Additionally, their sister, Caitriona, scored 1-6 when the Rebelettes captured the All-Ireland intermediate camogie crown in 2018. Yet for Collins, what was expected of him during his time in the Cork ranks bears no relation to what is being asked of the current crop of inter-county prospects.

“There were no development squads at that point; they were just inter-county teams. I wish I knew then what I know now. I see the difference between what it is now and even what it was then. Even from a minor perspective, I see it with my own family being involved. What’s expected, in terms of time and non-pitch activity to play at that level, is remarkable,” Collins says.

“I’m not sure who demands that. Is it players or is it coaches who are being paid? Really enjoyed my time [with Cork]. Got to play with really good players. Didn’t win an All-Ireland, but enjoyed it. Was really proud to represent my club in that situation as well.”

Indeed, Collins donned the number-one shirt when Cork claimed Munster minor hurling championship honours at Tipperary’s expense in 2006. Played as a curtain-raiser to the senior provincial decider between the same two counties at Semple Stadium, the Rebels triumphed with the help of goals from Robert White and future All-Ireland-winning footballer Colm O’Neill.

A certain Glen Rovers prodigy by the name of Patrick Horgan also contributed seven points, as Cork eased into the All-Ireland series with a 2-20 to 1-15 win. Long before ‘Hoggie’ became his county’s all-time leading championship scorer, Collins recognised that he was a force to be reckoned with.

“We were the same age the whole way up. It was interesting: Himself and Colm O’Neill were two inside forwards for the team I would have played on. Colm O’Neill was a gifted hurler as well, but Hoggie was a little bit different.

“He had that Glen Rovers spirit or that real confidence in his own ability. He was just so talented. I see it in school now. I see students who are gifted musicians or gifted at maths. This guy, his gift was hurling. I’m happy to have seen him up close,” Collins says.

The Ballinhassig native has watched on with interest as inter-county players and managers — both past and present — have pleaded with the association to reopen club grounds across the country.

A ‘Return to Play’ roadmap has now been put in place by the GAA, but they will continue to seek guidance from the Irish government in the coming weeks and months.

“In terms of the pecking order, you realise sport is important, but it’s definitely not more important than family or health. During this time, what interested me is there has been a plethora of inter-county managers, former players, and [current] players coming out saying, ‘GAA pitches must open’. All that kind of stuff,” Collins says.

“To me, if you’re an inter-county manager or if you’re a player, you’re in no way qualified to give your opinion as to whether or not pitches should be opened; or whether or not the inter-county season should go ahead.

“You’re a manager of a sports team and there’s a place for people just to listen and adhere to the people that are being paid well enough to look after us.

“That’s kind of my take on it: To listen and to heed the advice. I’m not qualified to give a position as to whether GAA clubs should open pitches or not. That’s for someone who is earning 10 times what I earn and whose job it is to keep us safe,” Collins says.

Posted in Hurling | Comments Off on Hurling Feature Piece: Matt Collins (Former Cork Underage Goalkeeper) – The Evening Echo – June 10 2020

Ladies Football Feature Interview: Orlagh Nolan (Dublin & Ballinteer St John’s) – The Tallaght Echo – May 28 2020

GAA

“We felt like we were finally getting back on top of our performances”

Dublin’s Orlagh Nolan believes shutdown came as Jackies were starting to motor again

By Daire Walsh

BALLINTEER St John’s footballer Orlagh Nolan feels the shutdown of sport undoubtedly arrived at an inopportune moment for her and her Dublin Senior Football team-mates.

Following back-to-back defeats at the hands of Cork and Galway, Dublin returned to winning ways in their most recent National League Division One outing against Waterford on March 8.

It was also Nolan’s third successive start in the Dublin defence and she felt the side were beginning to click after a patchy run.

“We probably weren’t playing our best football, but I think we were always working up towards championship with the league really. We were trying to get stuff right and our last match there against Waterford was probably our best performance.

“We felt like we were finally getting back on top of our performances and then to have it all called off at the end. It was disappointing just to not be able to build on our performances.”

Prior to joining Mick Bohan’s set-up, Nolan was perhaps best known for her prowess on the soccer field. Following an earlier stint at Shamrock Rovers, she spent five seasons with UCD Waves in the Women’s National League.

She also previously earned four caps with the Republic of Ireland Under 19s, scoring in an 11-0 demolition of Latvia in October 2012. During this time, she rubbed shoulders with future senior internationals like Denise O’Sullivan, Rianna Jarrett and Kilnamanagh’s Katie McCabe.

“They would have been great players to play with and you can kind of tell at that age that the three of them were really geared towards going into the professional game. Katie McCabe has been a fantastic captain. To become captain when you’re so young, it stands to her and she 100% deserves it.”

Despite having 69 senior club appearances under her belt, Nolan departed UCD in the aftermath of their FAI Cup final defeat to Cork City in 2017. Having lost interest in one sport, she rekindled her love for another upon her subsequent return to Ballinteer.

“I didn’t really find soccer as fun anymore. I kind of just lost interest in the competitiveness of it. Then I just went back with my club and the community spirit and the sense of enjoyment that you could get out of any level of game, I think I just really fell back love with Gaelic at that time.

“I just went from there, had a really good year with the college team [TU Dublin] and then found my way on the Dublin team. It was really great to fall out of love with one game and to be able to rise back up with Dublin. It was just great.”

The Ballinteer footballer admits she is experiencing ‘the best of both worlds’ during the current lockdown.

The Dublin senior panellist – who claimed Leinster and All-Ireland honours with the Metropolitans in 2019 – is training to be an accountant and has seen her initially hectic schedule significantly altered by the Coronavirus outbreak.

“Thankfully I’m still working away from home. I’d be 9 to 5 and then I have exams coming that were supposed to be the end of June. Obviously with everything going on they’ve been pushed back to August,” Nolan said.

“I have blocks of study. I’ve probably the best of both worlds with a bit of time off, a couple of weeks off and then working for a couple of weeks. Really what has changed for me is being at home as opposed to being at the office.”

Posted in Ladies GAA | Comments Off on Ladies Football Feature Interview: Orlagh Nolan (Dublin & Ballinteer St John’s) – The Tallaght Echo – May 28 2020

Rugby Feature Interview: Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution & Ireland U20s) – The Evening Echo – May 27 2020

Cork rugby’s hottest prospect can kick on with Munster when sport returns

ACADEMY prospect Jack Crowley believes that building on Munster’s ‘historic identity’ can act as the template for future success in the province.

Since the summer of 2018 – when he was about to embark on his final year at Bandon Grammar – Crowley has proven to be a regular face around the High Performance Centre at the University of Limerick.

This has helped him to understand what Munster rugby is all about and what he needs to do in order to push on to the next level.

“For me, it has been a boyhood dream to play with Munster. Sometimes you have to take yourself out of the picture to recognise what you’ve done or where you are.

“Since I was U19s, I was in around the HPC in Munster,” Crowley explained.

“While you’re training away, you kind of get lost. You forget where you are and that you’re actually training in a place where Heineken Cups have been won.

“Going from U19s to sub Academy was pretty special. You’re more involved in the HPC and you’re in and around there. You’re seeing what the professionals are doing and how they’re acting.

“It’s just drives you a small bit more to see that’s what you want to be.

“When you see what their life is like. The most important thing is that Munster has its own identity. We’ll keep on building that.”

Before the Coronavirus took its grip on these shores, Crowley was enjoying a whirlwind 2020.

In addition to his splendid form with Cork Constitution in the All-Ireland League – which garnered him a Rising Star award – the Innishannon man starred for the Ireland U20s in their unbeaten start to the Six Nations Championship.

Victories over Scotland, Wales and England ensured a Triple Crown was already in the bag prior to the competition being halted indefinitely.

This robbed Crowley of precious game time and the U20 World Cup in Italy has also been cancelled for the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

While it isn’t an ideal scenario for any player, he is hopeful his extended absence from competitive action won’t affect his development with Munster.

“Games give opportunity and playing minutes in a game is everything for experience. Especially in my position as a 10. It’s a challenge, it’s almost survival of the fittest.

“It’s a marathon this Coronavirus by the sounds of how long it can go on for. I’d like to see myself in the same position I would be after the World Cup as I will be once this Coronavirus is done.

“Myself and everyone else I’m sure is doing the same work to prepare themselves as best as possible when this Coronavirus is hopefully controlled or contained and we can go back to playing.

“Just trying to get yourself to that position and give yourself the opportunity to train as best as you can when you come back.”

Though not previously noted as an oval ball stronghold, the past few years has seen an explosion of players emerging from West Cork.

Crowley is the latest off this particular production line, following in the footsteps of Bandon GS alums Darren Sweetnam and Gavin Coombes.

John Hodnett and Josh Wycherley (younger brother of Fineen) were others from the area to feature for last year’s Grand Slam-winning Ireland U20s and Crowley takes great inspiration from the progress they have made.

“You see fellas like that and you’re looking at the top of Munster like Mount Everest or something.

“You think it’s never really achievable. Slowly but surely you take a few steps forward and you’re seeing fellas like Fineen and Josh Wycherley and Darren Sweetnam.

“Fellas like that who have done it and have reached near the top. It helps you to keep going.

“Day in, day out. Knowing that it is possible to get there. Eventually just by working each day, it is achievable.”

Though uncertainty remains over when Crowley will be back on the field, he is excited for the return of Super Rugby in New Zealand.

With the situation not as grave in the northern hemisphere nation, the green light was recently given for behind-closed-doors games on June 13.

“I can’t wait for it to come back. Quite excited to see a bit of live rugby again. As I’m sure everyone is to see a bit of live sport, before we start cracking up!

“I’m kind of running out of things to watch, so I’ll only be delighted to see some live rugby,” Crowley added.

Posted in Rugby Interview, Senior Club Rugby, U20 Six Nations Rugby | Comments Off on Rugby Feature Interview: Jack Crowley (Cork Constitution & Ireland U20s) – The Evening Echo – May 27 2020

Soccer Feature Interview: Christopher ‘Kaka’ McCarthy (Mayfield United) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Kaka McCarthy delighted to get back playing with his childhood club

DESPITE the uncertainty surrounding the future of their Munster Senior League Division 1 campaign, Mayfield United captain Christopher McCarthy is maintaining a healthy outlook in the face of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Under the guidance of Craig Robinson, the 23-year-old has proven to be a talismanic presence for the Lotamore Park outfit.

While acknowledging an element of frustration with the current impasse, McCarthy — or ‘Kaka’ as he is affectionately known — is doing his best to keep in fighting shape for the eventual resumption of competitive fare.

“Lockdown has been and still is tough as it has affected everyone’s day-to-day life in terms of work, socialising and all other day-to-day activities.

“This whole situation is new to everyone, but you have to try stay as positive as you can, because it is tough on a lot of people for all different reasons,” McCarthy said.

“Our manager [Robinson] gave the squad and each player an individual training plan to follow while all this is going on so we are still tipping away.”

With just five games remaining in the second-tier of the MSL, Mayfield found themselves in a battle for promotion alongside Blarney United and Castleview.

Away defeats to Leeside and Everton had left them four points adrift of the former, but they were set to welcome the table-toppers to their home patch in the closing weeks of the season.

Given Mayfield possess the best defensive record in the division (just nine goals conceded in 13 games), there was every chance they could have claimed one of the two promotion slots up for grabs.

“It’s been a very enjoyable season. Craig Robinson and Niall Murphy got us all together even before pre-season and told us the ideas and plans they had and the standards they expect.

“The whole squad bought into it and the results have shown that. All the lads train to a high standard and put in the work but all our defenders are the fittest in our team. That might explain the best defensive record.”

A born and bred Mayfield man, McCarthy returned to his local side in 2018 following a five-year stint at Cobh Ramblers.

He was originally set to captain the club for a second consecutive term in the League of Ireland First Division, only for a chain of events to ultimately herald his return to junior soccer.

“I did most of pre-season with Ramblers that year. We played Cork City the last pre-season game and I did my knee in the MCL.

“I was going to be out for a couple of months. I decided to just take a break from things and recharge mentally and physically. So when I got fit again I decided to go back and play with all my friends in Mayfield.”

Although he doesn’t rule out another spell at the highest level, he is content with life in the southern leagues for the time being.

“I’m still only 23 so who knows. I have at least another 10 years to go so anything could happen.

“I am happy playing with Mayfield and the squad we have is full of ex-League of Ireland players. We have a good manager and team behind him which run everything professional, so I can’t complain.

“Mayfield is a great club, they’ve always looked after me. I played with Mayfield all the way up to schoolboys so it was great to get back playing with all my friends again.”

Nevertheless, McCarthy has nothing but happy memories when he reflects on his time with Ramblers.

After earning Enda McGuill Cup honours with their U19s in 2013/14, he transitioned smoothly into the first-team squad.

Under Stephen Henderson, Cobh twice challenged for an ascension to the top-flight in 2016 and 2017 — the latter campaign seeing McCarthy named on the First Division Team of the Year.

“It started with Martin Cambridge, Fingerz Fogarty and Henry Cullen with the U19 side if I’m being honest.

“They were very good to me. I didn’t want to leave Mayfield at the time because we had a very good team, but Martin convinced me and it was the right decision.

“Stephen Henderson is definitely one of the best managers out there in my opinion.

“I probably played my best football under him, the turnaround he did down in Cobh is not talked about enough.

“He always looked after me down there so I’ve nothing but good things to say about him,” McCarthy concluded.

Posted in League Of Ireland, Soccer Interview | Comments Off on Soccer Feature Interview: Christopher ‘Kaka’ McCarthy (Mayfield United) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (Ireland Sevens) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Ballincollig rugby ace can’t wait to return to her home club

UNDER normal circumstances, Cork rugby star Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird would currently be preparing for the final leg of the Sevens World Series in Paris at the end of this month.

Ordinarily a combined event alongside their male counterparts, this tournament — hosted at Stade Jean-Bouin — is the nearest one to home for the Irish women’s squad.

For this reason, Nic a Bhaird was understandably disappointed to see it cancelled in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak.

“All of our tournaments are abroad obviously, but that one is a lot closer than any of the other events that we go to. Over the last couple of years that’s been one that people are able to get family to,” Nic a Bhaird said.

“It’s in such a cool stadium and obviously with it being a double, it’s just a bigger spectacle in general. It’s kind of a sad one to miss out on alright, but there’s a bigger picture I suppose.”

In addition to this sojourn to the French capital, proposed earlier trips to Hong Kong (April 3-5) and Langford, Canada (May 2-3) were also placed on the back burner.

Given their mixed form throughout the season — Stan McDowell’s charges finished 11th in each of their last three tournaments — Nic a Bhaird admits they had been hoping to end their latest Series journey on a high.

“We were in what would probably be considered a rough patch. We hadn’t been getting the performances that we would set for ourselves.

“Obviously matches weren’t going the way we had planned. We were trying to get back to grips with things and trying to see where things were going wrong. We were putting a lot of emphasis on analysis and trying to improve our general game plans and structures. Probably not the way we would have liked to leave the season.

“There was definitely a lot of things in place that we were looking to put forward in the tournaments that have been cancelled since.”

Though now in her third season on the sevens international circuit, Nic a Bhaird is also a strong exponent of the 15s game.

Having initially featured in the training squad for the 2017 Women’s World Cup on home soil, she eventually made her competitive Ireland debut in a Six Nations victory against Scotland in February of last year.

She accumulated four caps in total over the course of the competition — including starts at hooker in defeats to France and Wales. While it was a frustrating campaign overall for Ireland, it fulfilled a lifetime ambition for Nic a Bhaird.

“It was another one of those milestones. It was probably my first dream really in rugby, to represent my country in that way.

“It was Sydney I came back from and got the call into the Six Nations squad. It wasn’t quite the way I thought it would happen, but a really, really great experience.

“A lot of girls I would have played with through club and provincial level, I finally got to stand next to them during anthems.

“It was a pretty special season actually.”

Following the conclusion of the 2019 Six Nations, the University of Limerick alumni returned to the Sevens programme and has remained there since.

She doesn’t rule out switching back to Adam Griggs’ 15s set-up in the near future, provided the respective management teams in both codes are happy for her to do so.

“There’s been a couple of the girls who have been very successful at being dual across both codes. If I could get to that level as well, it’d be phenomenal. With the 15s, there’s a lot more competition in there now.

“The focus is generally on Sevens and getting the opportunity to play 15s, if there’s a time in our calendar that it’s appropriate. That’s managed mainly by our coaching staff.

“If I’m given the opportunity, I’ll absolutely go for it hell for leather. It’s definitely a dream for the future again.

“At the moment, I’m just focusing on Sevens and seeing when we get back playing really.”

Hailing from just outside Ballincollig, Nic a Bhaird’s first exposure to competitive rugby was with the Highfield U12 and U14 boys’ sides.

For insurance reasons, she wasn’t able to play with them beyond this grade but later re-emerged in the city outfit’s adult ranks as a prodigious 18-year-old.

She went on to play extensively for both them and UL Bohemian in the All-Ireland League before settling at her current club of Old Belvedere on Dublin’s southside.

Since Highfield withdrew from it in 2018, Cork have been without a club at the highest level of women’s rugby in Ireland. However, that is all set to change when Ballincollig join Wicklow in an expanded 10-team AIL for the 2020/21 season.

As a native of the area, Nic a Bhaird has kept a watchful eye on their progress in recent years.

“I wasn’t playing for Highfield in the last couple of seasons, but seeing them losing that spot was quite sad news to hear.

“Given I have such wonderful memories of playing there. Ballincollig has been working hard coming up through the ranks over the last couple of years,” Nic a Bhaird explained.

“Cork is such a huge catchment area, so it surprises me that they haven’t been able to keep an AIL team going. It will be great for Ballincollig to give people that opportunity.”

Posted in Women's Rugby | Comments Off on Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird (Ireland Sevens) – The Evening Echo – May 25 2020

Ladies Football Feature Interview: Ciara McGuigan (Dublin & Thomas Davis) – The Tallaght Echo – May 21 2020

Hopefully we have a c’ship near the end of this year

By Daire Walsh

Despite a return to inter-county action being ruled out until October at the earliest, Dublin ladies footballer Ciara McGuigan remains hopeful that a championship can be played in 2020.

Before the coronavirus outbreak brought a halt to sport across the globe, Mick Bohan’s Sky Blues were set to mount the latest defence of their All-Ireland title under a revamped format.

This year’s senior series was to consist of two groups of six teams each, ensuring a minimum of five games in advance of the knockout rounds.

It has since been confirmed by the LGFA that, if the championship is given the go-ahead in the winter months, it will not be under the structure originally intended.

“Before this pandemic, it was going to be the start of July all the way through the summer and there was going to be a lot of games for us to play. It’s something that we were really preparing for and really excited for,” McGuigan remarked.

“It’s disappointing that won’t go ahead, but we’re just hoping now that we have some sort of championship in the near future. I think we’re all just dying to play football. Hopefully if everything goes back to normal soon we’ll have a championship near the end of the year.”

Since breaking into the side at the tender age of 16, McGuigan (a business development representative with tech company Qualtrics) has become a regular fixture at senior club level with Thomas Davis. She played a starring role in their All-Ireland junior success of 2012 and also featured in their 2013 intermediate final reversal to Galway’s Claregalway 12 months later.

She includes inter-county stalwarts Siobhan McGrath and Olwen Carey amongst her team-mates on the Kiltipper Road and McGuigan joined them on the Dublin panel last year as the Metropolitans secured their third consecutive Brendan Martin Cup triumph.

“Last year I was delighted. It’s something that you dream of and I’d seen Olwen and Siobhan achieve so much that it was great to be able to lift the cup with them,” McGuigan recalls.

“I look up to them so much. They’ve achieved so much as players on the pitch and off the pitch. It was disappointing for me this year to see Olwen take a break.

It was kind of different for me going out to Dublin this year and not having her there and then Siobhan with her break at the start of the year as well. They’re amazing players and hopefully Olwen will be back next year, please God.”

Thus far, McGuigan’s on-pitch involvement with the Dublin seniors has been confined to the LIDL National League – making a total of eight substitute appearances over the past two seasons.

Though breaking into a forward line laden with individual and collective honours is proving exceedingly difficult, the Maynooth University and TU Dublin graduate understands the value of being a good squad player.

“The team is incredible, there’s always competition in the in-house game. It’s definitely a tough team to break into. The girls are insane.

The forward line and midfield, it’s just really, really tough. The in-house games, I would have treated them as championship games last year to push myself.

“When you’re going out on the B team and you’re marking players like Niamh Collins, Olwen or Martha Byrne, you’re thinking to yourself ‘I need to play as well as I can to prepare them going into the All-Ireland semi-final, or to the All-Ireland final, next week’. That’s the way I would have had my mind set,” McGuigan added.

Posted in Ladies GAA | Comments Off on Ladies Football Feature Interview: Ciara McGuigan (Dublin & Thomas Davis) – The Tallaght Echo – May 21 2020

Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Laura Guest – The Evening Echo – May 18 2020

Laura Guest played her part in some of Irish rugby’s most memorable moments

IN an attempt to fill the void left by the absence of live sport, RTÉ have been delving into their extensive list of archives.

Every Thursday up until the end of August, the national broadcaster will be screening memorable clashes of the past across a number of disciplines. Last week was the turn of women’s rugby and Ireland’s historic Six Nations clincher against Italy in 2013.

A native of Templebryan, near Clonakilty, Laura Guest played the final 22 minutes of that rain-drenched encounter in Milan as the Scrum Queens secured a Grand Slam for the first and only time to date.

Though it was the lowest scoring game of that year’s Championship, Guest is delighted to see it feature alongside some classic affairs in other sports.

“There was some great memories going back. It wasn’t the prettiest game of rugby in the conditions.

“It was probably the best 6-3 match I’ve ever been involved in or I’ve ever seen,” Guest remembers.

“They had Clare’s victory in the 1995 All-Ireland hurling recently. If nothing else, it has been a lovely time to look back at some of those sporting moments.

“Given everything that’s going on at the minute.”

The gruelling affair with the Azzurre isn’t the only Ireland women’s game of that era to be shown during the current lockdown.

On April 19, World Rugby’s streaming service showcased their seminal triumph at the expense of New Zealand in the 2014 World Cup. Guest enjoyed a brace of cameos off the bench as the Irish defied the odds to overcome the southern hemisphere giants.

The Black Ferns’ only previous defeat at a World Cup finals came all of 23 years earlier and they were the firmest of favourites to claim the spoils in this pool stage meeting.

“I just remember again, going into that game there was a quiet confidence within the group that we were going to beat the Black Ferns that day.

“I think when the game was over, everyone’s phone was going mad and saying it was amazing. It was a fantastic game of rugby. It was very different to the 6-3 in Milan!

“It was absolutely a great contest from both sides. It was great to look back at that actually recently.

“The WhatsApp group was flying again around the same time that was being shown.

“Lovely memories to have. It seems like a lot closer than six years ago, but that’s the joy of it.”

After captaining Munster to an interprovincial title in 2014, Guest opted to retire from all levels of rugby as a player.

However, she was appointed head coach at Cork city outfit Highfield the following July and ultimately returned to her home province in an identical role two years later.

While she entered the latter position with vast experience under her belt, Guest admits it still represented a major step up in her off-field career.

“I had coached schools and I had coached adult women’s club teams.

“The level of professionalism that goes into it, it’s another level. I think it was fantastic to be able to be exposed to that.

“I’m certainly very grateful to the branch for allowing me that opportunity. I definitely couldn’t have done it without the management group I was able to assemble.

“Maeve D’Arcy, my manager. Lorna Barry, my strength and conditioning coach. Kathryn Fahy, my physio.

“Helen Brosnan, my assistant coach last year and prior to that David Lombard.

“I just couldn’t have been more blessed with that group of people and with the group of players I got to work with as well.

“I feel very grateful to have been able to work with them.”

Having enjoyed three years at the helm of the Munster women’s team, guiding them to an interprovincial championship in her debut season, Guest is set to depart the role in order to concentrate on her day job as a school teacher at Midleton College.

It had proven to be a difficult juggling act for the 35-year-old and she feels a full-time employee of the branch is best suited to taking over the reins.

“I just feel the commitment and the level that is needed now in the provincial women’s game, to try and match the high performance of the national side, it’s kind of leaning towards somebody who has more time.

“To try and really bridge the gap between provincial and international rugby.”

There is no doubt Guest has done her utmost to aid the progression of women’s rugby at the southern province and leaves behind an ideal template for her eventual successor.

If the IRFU can overcome a major obstacle that is currently in their path, she believes a bright future also lies in wait for the international side.

“I think there’s some exciting players out there to be honest and I think they’re beginning to come through.

“I still think one of our biggest challenges with the sport is, similar to any other sport really, to try and stop losing the female participants in their late teens. To really try and get those players to transition from underage to adult rugby.

“I think there are some great players coming through to the Irish set-up. Hopefully they’re building again.

“I think they’ve got some great players in their leadership group there and they’re very well captained by Ciara Griffin. I think there’s plenty more to come in the Irish side.”

Posted in Women's Rugby | Comments Off on Women’s Rugby Feature Interview: Laura Guest – The Evening Echo – May 18 2020

Camogie Feature Interview: Ali Twomey (Dublin & Lucan Sarsfields) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020

Twomey in high demand over last few weeks

By Daire Walsh

With many people across the nation being adversely affected by the continued outbreak of the Coronavirus disease, Dublin camogie star Ali Twomey is grateful to have found herself in high demand over the last few weeks.

A health safety environment coordinator at Swords-based company Mitie, the Lucan Sarsfields attacker has remained out in the field rather than being confined to working from home.

“I’m still in the office. I’m working in a facilities company, so there’s still a lot of clients. Banks and things like that which would be essential services. They still need to be running. We would be contracted in for them, so we’d need to be working to keep them in business. We’re still kind of flat out at the minute,” Twomey explained.

“Probably busier than before. I’m personally busier than I would have been before. I know there’s a lot of people that have been laid off. I’m just happy that I’m still lucky enough to have a job and I have a routine where I am going into work. It’s positive.”

Due to an injury she sustained at the tail end of 2019, Twomey had already been training on her own before the global pandemic took a firm grip on these shores. As a consequence, she was able to adapt to a remote training regime quicker than most.

The former St Joseph’s College, Lucan student is currently working off a programme alongside her Sky Blues team-mates and, given the uncertainty over when they will return to competitive fare, she believes a measured approach is required in testing times for the squad.

“Everyone is in the same boat and some days people find it hard to get motivated and to get out. That’s fine as well. It can be hard to stay motivated when there is no set date. There is uncertainty, you don’t know if you’re going to be playing matches or not this year.

“If everyone is maintaining the fitness that they have now, and then when there’s talks of games you can ramp it up. I don’t think people should be getting too caught up in actually doing really tough sessions now and trying to peak when there’s nothing really to peak for. It’s just important that everyone is maintaining fitness and everyone is happy.”

Now in her 10th year on the panel, Twomey has witnessed many ups and downs in a Dublin jersey.  Having struggled to register a win in the senior championship for many years, the Metropolitan reached three All-Ireland quarter-finals and one semi-final over the course of the past five seasons.

Though John Treacy and Willie Braine are now steering the ship in a joint capacity, Twomey credits Shane O’Brien and David Herity – a five-time Liam McCarthy Cup winner with his native Kilkenny – for sparking a major upturn in the county’s fortunes.

“The two of them did unbelievable work with Dublin camogie and they worked with the whole of Dublin camogie.

“I know David did so much work bringing in club players and minor players. I know the county board set up camps, but David really made sure that they worked well. He cared about Dublin camogie as a whole and not just our team.

“I think that really brought everyone together. It brought younger girls to our matches and things like that. It made people want to play for Dublin. I think a lot of that was down to him. He did so much work. It showed because we got to a semi-final in 2017,” Twomey added.

Posted in Camogie | Comments Off on Camogie Feature Interview: Ali Twomey (Dublin & Lucan Sarsfields) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020

Camogie Feature Interview: Hannah Hegarty (Dublin & St Jude’s) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020

Hannah can’t wait to make up for lost time

By Daire Walsh

Dublin camogie skipper Hannah Hegarty admits she can’t wait to make up for lost time with St Jude’s once clearance is given for the resumption of club activity.

For a combination of reasons, the defensive lynchpin’s time with the Wellington Lane outfit was restricted throughout 2019 and she last featured on the local scene in the southsiders’ senior championship final defeat to St Vincent’s last October.

“I didn’t get to go to any pre-season trainings between county and college this year, so I’m absolutely dying to get back with the club. It’s something that I’m really looking forward to.

Especially as I’d broken my foot last February, so I actually missed the whole club league,” Hegarty acknowledged.

“The only bit of club I’ve played in the past year or more was the championship last autumn. I’m very eager to get back with the club girls. Definitely.”

Just before the Irish government introduced the first of the restrictions to deal with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, Dublin played their third and final group game of the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League.

A 1-10 to 0-10 reversal at the hands of Limerick meant the Metropolitans finished their Division One campaign without a win to their name – something that was a source of frustration for Hegarty and the squad as a whole.

“Disappointing, in terms of the work that we had put in and the plans that we had put in place. We never really achieved what we had set out to.

Obviously scoring is an issue, but we’re still conceding scores on the defensive end as well. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where we let down a small bit, but that’s the nature of trying to figure out where we need to improve.”

In addition to her prowess with the small ball, Hegarty is also a talented Gaelic footballer.

She represented Dublin as a dual player at minor level and had the unique distinction of captaining both squads through their respective championship odysseys in 2015.

She was set to lead the DCU footballers into battle at the O’Connor Cup finals weekend in the Kerry Centre of Excellence on March 13 and 14, but the escalation of the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to these particular plans.

“We were really looking forward to the O’Connor Cup weekend this year. We were told an hour before we were meant to meet to leave for Kerry that we wouldn’t be going. A very late call.

“When they made that decision, I was like ‘that’s it’. I knew it wasn’t going to be re-scheduled. Then obviously a few weeks later it was announced that it was cancelled all together.”

Now one of the more experienced members of the panel, Hegarty enjoyed a whirlwind introduction to the inter-county set-up under David Herity in 2017.

In addition to helping Dublin reach their first All-Ireland semi-final since 1990, Hegarty earned the first of two All-Star nominations to date.

“2017 is definitely a year I look back on with a big fondness. It’s where we want to get back to. In terms of the mental side of things, we were in a different place I think. On a personal level, getting the All Star nomination, it didn’t feel real.

A young player, my first year up at senior,” Hegarty recalls.

“It was a real surreal feeling. Even when we were at the All Stars, I was sitting there looking around at the calibre of players I was sitting with it and it was enough to even be there on the night.”

Posted in Camogie | Comments Off on Camogie Feature Interview: Hannah Hegarty (Dublin & St Jude’s) – The Tallaght Echo – May 14 2020