Women and rugby coming together for Connacht

Carol Staunton in action on the rugby pitch

Carol Staunton in action on the rugby pitch

Traditionally a male domain, the sport of rugby has just got more interesting following the selection of Westport woman Carol Staunton as a member of the Irish squad for 2010. The 26-year-old former Westport United player, who once before represented her country in rugby having made the Irish squad in 2008 where she got her first cap at the women’s European championship, is a passionate exponent of the virtues of rugby which she cites as the best possible all-round sport for teamplay and fitness. More specifically in terms of women’s rugby, Carol, daughter of Michael and Frankie, Slogger, is a keen advocate for greater participation by the fairer sex in the sport, believing that it is not only young people who need convincing of its worth, but also parents of young girls.

“I wouldn’t know many parents wanting to push their girls to play rugby but there is great work being done now with Connacht rugby and I have seen seven-year-old girls out playing and that’s great. The only local club that has initiated a women’s team is actually Westport which is brilliant because I would love to go back and play for my home team some day. If people could just get the whole masculine element out of their head we could make huge progress.”

The heavyweight masculine association is difficult to lift, however, and the world of advertising certainly hasn’t helped in recent months.

“I wholeheartedly disagree rugby is a man’s game. This is the prejudice you are up against. Some of the girls I play with on the squad are the most glamourous, elegant women I know and just because we play something supposedly masculine takes away from the work that we do. Rugby is all about precision, technique, skill, stamina and speed. To get a sport that does all of these is amazing, so it is sport perfected.

“Unfortunately, things such as the recent Hunky Dory ad campaign only puts it backwards again. None of those girls in the posters had any scratches or marks on them and I can tell you our girls would take them on any day and show them what real rugby is!”

Female rugby players aren’t attempting to compete with men either, adds Carol. “The game is in a completely different league to men. We’re different athletes. That said, the senior Connacht men’s team and their management have been so supportive of myself and Claire (Mulloy from Galway who is based in Cardiff and has also been picked for the squad ) and we’ve been joining them in non-contact training sessions. It is such a privilege to train with professionals and if we keep doing that it will help bring up our own standards.”

What age is a good age to start?

“Most of the Irish girls playing right now are around the 30-year bracket. In terms of longevity its quite a good sport once you take care of yourself. I know women who are playing in their 40s and are well fit to go.”

Carol’s own rugby career took off after she began playing inter-provincial rugby. “ I played with Leinster in my first season but most recently I’ve been playing for Connacht and I’m where I should be. We’re quite a small province in terms of women’s rugby and the game has traditionally been a two horse show between Leinster and Munster, where there are loads of clubs. We’ve seen a lot of improvement but still we only have one division unlike the others which have several, so there is only so far we can compete. But I have no doubt that some day we will be competing for the title.”

Where can good players be found?

“Connacht ladies are very successful in GAA and women’s soccer and that is one of the reasons why rugby has fallen behind and rightly so. I would love to know how we would do if we got some of those fine athletes with a rugby ball in their hands. The talent is there in Mayo and if we could just get more of it I have every confidence we would tear the competition apart.”

The World Cup Ireland/England game is scheduled for August and will be screened by Sky TV where viewers may get a chance to see Carol in action.

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