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Irish international Union and 7’s player
• Started playing rugby at 17 at Mallow RFC, being selected to and captained the Muster U-18’s before playing for UL Bohemians RFC, with whom she won several AIL Championship Titles. She was selected to the Munster Senior Women’s side at 18.
• Moved to London and joined Richmond FC, helping her side capture a number of Premiership Titles.
• Joined Harlequins Women in 2019. She earned her first cap for her country in 7’s against the Black Ferns at age 24, representing Ireland in the Women’s World Series.
• Her first 15’s cap came at age 27 against Canada in Dublin.
• To date she has 15 caps for Ireland, has won several Player of the Match awards for the Premier 15’s, was nominated for Irish Player of the Year for the 2018/19 Season, and represented the Barbarians against Wales at Principality Stadium in 2019.
Anna has played for clubs and teams across the world through time spent abroad in Argentina, Austria, Australia, and Japan. She’s also a secondary schoolteacher of languages, has worked with the Harlequins Foundation developing rugby at the community level, is a qualified rugby coach, and an outspoken advocate for women’s rugby and women in sport. She splits her time between Dublin and London, and is currently preparing for the Women’s Six Nations with the Irish Team.
How did you start playing rugby, and what made you fall in love with the sport?
I started playing rugby in my home town of Mallow at the very first girls' rugby training session. I still remember hearing the announcement on the intercom in school saying that there would be girls' rugby training on Friday evening in Mallow town park at 7pm. It was an amazing session in the muck, cold and rain, surrounded by all my new teammates. When I got home and into the shower to wash off all the muck, I was singing at the top of my lungs with happiness. I knew that I had found something special, but I could never have envisaged at that stage the impact that rugby would have on my life.
My home province of Munster had a really big impact on me growing up. I used to go to the games with my family and friends and the atmosphere was incredible in those days. We used to travel all over Europe supporting them and I loved meeting the other fans and just talking rugby and singing songs. The way Munster played the game was very physical and exciting, while at the same time very respectful and passionate. That is what made me fall in love with rugby.
Rugby means everything to me. It has shaped who I am and who I want to be. My life has been so much richer because of it and I will be forever grateful for the experiences and network that this sport has given me. Each day revolves around making myself a better player, both physically and mentally. When there is time left in the day, my focus turns to rugby as a whole - it's a constant thought process and dialogue about how we make the game better for the players of the future.
What do you think makes rugby such a powerful experience for women and girls?
Rugby is not the traditional image of femininity that women are sold. I think that the women and girls who get into rugby know that they are in some ways breaking that stereotype and that is a powerful feeling. Alongside that, you are surrounded by women who are all of a similar mindset, no matter how you might differ in character. A women's rugby team is an incredibly liberal place to be. The number of entrepreneurs, new business owners, leaders in their field and simple ceiling-smashers I've come to know through rugby is phenomenal and they inspire me every day.
Who are the role models or mentors who made a difference in your career?
I have had so many role models and mentors down through the years - both male and female - who have given everything for women's rugby. My very first coach, Mervyn, opened the door into my playing career when I was 17 and I will always be grateful for that. I have had so many super teammates who have inspired me on and off the field that it doesn't feel fair when I mention just one or two. They know who they are and they know that they have made a difference to my life. Likewise, making a list of the coaches who have made a difference to me could go on forever. I'm so lucky to have met so many inspirational people on this journey.
What are some of the challenges with women's rugby?
The challenges in women's rugby are changing all the time. There are different battles players, coaches, supporters constantly have to face and once you have overcome any mountain, be sure there will be a few more in your way that you have to continue to navigate. It's the way it will be in a growing sport until we reach a par with our male counterparts. In the meantime, if we can grow participation and numbers of bums in seats through whatever means necessary, we will be on the right track.
Rugby has taught me that I get the best out of myself when I'm surrounded by people I love and respect, and that my body is capable of far more than what my mind tells it. I would like there to be more live coverage of women's rugby on the high-profile TV channels, for both club and country level. When the international games are covered you get wonderful footage and various angles of tries scored and skills on show; imagine how many moments of brilliance are missed by not having club games covered, and imagine then how flooded our social media channels would be with multi-angle clips from club games around the world. That would be class!
Which clubs have had an impact on you?
There are many clubs that have left a mark on my life. My first club, Mallow RFC, gave me the best first steps into the game that anyone could ask for. University of Limerick Ladies Rugby (ULLR), where I made friends for life and we played and partied our hearts out. UL Bohs, the club who shaped me into the rugby player I would become and who allowed me to dream of playing for Ireland. Munster Rugby, the ones who got my heart to drum to the rugby beat. Estudiantes Rugby Club de Pehuajó, the Argentinian men's club who took me under their wing and gave me a rugby family so far away from home. FRU Schönbrunn (now RU Donau), my sevens team in Vienna who allowed me to keep in touch with the game during my year studying abroad. Vienna Celtic, the men's 15s team who I trained with (and on occasion played with) and again gave me an outlet for practising my trade while away from home. Rugby Austria, who inspired me by being a wonderful rugby team in a non-rugby playing nation. Richmond FC, one of the oldest and most successful women's rugby clubs in the world where some of the best rugby players this world has ever seen have passed through. Harlequins FC, who drive the standard of the women's game for this generation of high performing players.
1. What’s your middle name?
2. What position do you play? Have you played others as well or before?
Number 8/Back Row. Played 10 for my uni team and sometimes 9 for my club. I also got my Premiership debut on the wing!
3. Do you have a lucky game day hairstyle or item of clothing or tape with words- any game day turnout rituals
I usually braid my hair to keep it out of trouble and I wear some tape on my head to keep my ears from getting turned out and so my mam can find me on the pitch.
4. Favourite workout
Weights or Zumba
5. How do you want to leave the jersey (and the sport) better for the next generation of female athletes?
I want the next generation in the jersey to be full time professional athletes, and I want the jersey they will wear to be a reminder of the path woven by the players that came before her, and the sacrifices made to get the jersey to where it is and where it needs to be.