sideline chat

Carol Staunton, Former Ireland Women's Rugby international and rugby player with Connacht, Galwegians RFC; NUIG RFC

Carol Staunton

Carol Staunton

At what age did you start playing? I was 23 and had just moved to Dublin after my Masters. I was always interested in playing, but never really had the chance to before. A friend from college had started playing on her year abroad and got me to join when she came home. Best thing I ever did.

Do you remember your first game? Just some small details. I don’t think you can ever really ready yourself for your first game especially when you know better – it’s like jumping into the deep end and hoping you survive. It was all a blur and I hadn’t a clue what I was doing on the pitch that day, but it was so much fun, I was dying to play again.

What is your ideal position and why? I adored playing in the backrow, especially at No 8. I felt it was the position with most freedom on the pitch and from where I could contribute the most. But if I’m being honest, every other position scared me – they all required more of a tactical and technical brain than I had!

Who inspired you when growing up/ and now? Sonia O’Sullivan – who else. I loved athletics when I was younger and we were blessed with amazing achievers around her time – Caitriona McKiernan, Olive Loughnane… These days I have a new-found respect for those who come back from injury, and those who are still punching above their weight after people have decided they’re past their prime. It’s incredibly inspiring.

Did you also aspire to play at the top level? Nope! I suppose every child has dreams of representing Ireland someday when they’re outside kicking a ball in the garden or running around. Nor did I have any in rugby and it all happened without any grand plan. I was capped for Ireland 18 months after I started playing before even having played at interprovincial level. It was a step up I was not prepared for, and in hindsight I’m not sure I would have said yes if given the chance again. Still – no regrets!

What do you particularly like about your sport? The inclusivity – there’s nothing like it. There’s a place on the park for everyone, no matter your shape or size or experience. Your team mates become your family – and I miss mine terribly. The nature of the game is unique too; that feeling when you make a hard tackle or make a break with the ball – it’s just electric.

Who was the greatest influence/role model? Not to sound too sentimental, but I was influenced by those around me. I played the majority of my rugby in Galway, so it’s hard to see past members of the community in the West. There are too many to name here, but they know who they are. They nurtured us (and often togged against their will ) to advance women’s (and girls’ ) rugby in Connacht to what it is today. It’s a competitive game – you need to push each other at training and encourage each other in your lifestyle choices to get the best out of the team. It’s a bonding process, and you need your leaders to set the tone. We all had that responsibility but, for me, Emer O’Dowd set the standard. She was a backrower too, so she can claim she taught me everything I know!

Biggest challenge to date? Saying goodbye to playing. Accepting the fact that your body can’t perform like it used to was tough and took a while – the heart wanted to keep going, but it wasn’t happening. I struggled to get back to how I was before injury (two separate ACL tears ), though I count myself lucky I did get to play again in some capacity.

Greatest success/achievement, or most memorable? On paper my Ireland caps would have to be it, but the one that stands out for me and makes me so proud is being part of the NUIG RFC team that reached the Intervarsity Rugby Finals for the first time in 2010. We weren’t supposed to get that far, we weren’t supposed to play as well as we did…it was one of those moments where we all sang from the same hymn sheet and there was just no stopping us - until the final, when we got absolutely walloped. Still, one for the books. Captaining Connacht was also very special.

Favourite memory? Too many! The stand-out moments when I look back are club games, especially cup matches when our Galwegians teams really fronted up and came away with a couple of national titles. The first one – in 2012 – was incredible. Only a few seasons before that we were struggling to get numbers. Hearing I was picked on the Ireland squad for its first World Sevens Series tournament was a feeling I’ll never forget.

Fiercest opponent/s? Every other province. When we were only getting to play each other once a year the battles were guaranteed to be ferocious.

Strenghts/weaknesses? Strengths: I loved fitness. I was one of those annoying people who liked pre-season training. For a forward, I was pretty quick which helped when you found yourself with half a pitch in between you and the try line. Weaknesses: I wasn’t great at the technical stuff. I operated best in chaos! I also found it hard to let mistakes go. It meant I didn’t enjoy my rugby as much as I could at the time, but I look back now and thankfully all I have are amazing memories.

If you were not playing your sport, what sport would you want to play? Anything that involves running around with mates. It keeps you young!

What do you do to relax? It doesn’t take much for me to be able to relax these days once I finish the working day! But reading and hanging out with friends help.

Favourite sports person? Simone Biles is our once-in-a-generation athlete. Her talent, her attitude, her confidence…it’s so powerful. She’s built in the Serena Williams mould of openly acknowledging her gifts which, as has been said a lot in recent times, isn’t something we’re used to seeing in female athletes.

Best/worst aspect of lockdown: I came late to the party, but discovering podcasts has been a revelation. The worst? Plenty, though it’s hard to feel too sorry for myself when my family and friends have, so far, come through unscathed.


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