St Anne’s Community College has captured a remarkable rugby double, winning the Munster Girls Senior and Junior Cup finals in Musgrave Park, Cork on Wednesday.
Having won the Senior Cup last year, St Anne’s retained the title for the second successive year thanks to a 17-5 win over Ardscoil Mhuire, Limerick, who defeated their junior team in last year’s cup decider.
To crown a glorious day for the Killaloe secondary school, their junior side mauled Coláiste Ide, Dingle by 47-0.
This is the second successive year St Anne’s qualified for the Munster Senior and Junior Cup finals.
St Anne’s defeated Clonakilty and ISK Killorglin on route to the senior final. Ard Scoil Mhuire Limerick and Colaiste Pobail, Bantry were defeated by St Anne’s on their way to the junior decider.
When coach Grace Kearney set up rugby in St Anne’s back in 2015 there were very few girls playing the sport.
She is thrilled to see girls winning the senior and junior finals.
“It is a massive achievement for the girls and it has shown how much we have grown in the school in the last few years. Rugby has built and built in the school.”
In an interview with the Clare Champion in Clarisford Park on Sunday before the two finals, she said all the teachers such as former Irish Ladies Rugby star Rosie Foley had helped to source wool for Ann Benson to make supporters’ head bands. Killaloe Ballina RFC mentors Ken McKeogh and David Hennelly assisted with training.
“All the teachers and staff are supporting the girls. Maeve Óg O’Leary has been a great inspiration to the girls.
“There is a great buzz around girls’ rugby. We have First Years coming to me asking when rugby training is starting. We have great numbers training every week. Everyone is talking about rugby in the school.
“I always wanted rugby to be a sport that all girls could play. It didn’t matter whether you were an elite player like Maeve Óg O’Leary or someone who just wanted to play in a team.
“The St Anne’s junior and senior team are one big family. We train together a lot of the time and go on the bus together for games. That camaraderie is very important.
“Rebecca Rogers and Tuathla Ryan lined out in the Munster U-18 team last month, which was an amazing achievement. We had other girls on the Munster U-17 squad.
“St Anne’s is a GAA school, it is not a rugby school. Rugby was a minority sport. Thanks to the hard work of the girls we are becoming known as a ladies’ rugby school.
“It is great to see the girls playing in Musgrave Park, which is the home for ladies’ rugby. I am very proud of all the girls,” she said.
St Anne’s Senior captain, Rebecca Rodgers admitted getting back to the final to put the team in a position to retain the cup was their aim at the start of the year.
“When we were going through a tough time in the semi-final we said we are not going home to tell people in our school that we had lost the cup after winning the final last year.
“Losing the semi-final wasn’t an option. The St Anne’s girls have unfinished business in the junior cup.
“A lot of the Ardscoil junior side that played last year have moved up to the senior side,” she said.
The Killaloe scrum half started playing rugby with Killaloe Ballina RFC at U-12 level and continued with St Anne’s in First Year.
She believes that playing together at club and school level fosters team work and greater understanding between all the players.
“A lot of schools might only get one training session during the week. We have a school and a club training session during the week with a match most weekends with the club.
“This helps us to really bond as a team and we know what we have to do,” she explained.
Irish Ladies Rugby star Maeve Óg O’Leary from Ballina, who played for St Anne’s, is an inspirational role model for Rebecca.
“Maeve Óg has fought so hard for every single thing she got at underage level and is now excelling at everything she does. She has been a great help coming down and gives us tips when we were playing at interprovincial level,” she said.
Once the warm up before a game starts, Rebecca stressed it is vital that every player is properly tuned in to the task at hand.
“Everyone has to have their eyes on the prize and be ready to go. If a mistake happens during the game, you can’t dwell on it and have to move on.
“It is great to have a Munster schools’ rugby competition so we can show what we have worked for. This competition is increasing the number of girls playing rugby in schools and the overall standard.
“We have great support from everyone in St Anne’s’. It is brilliant. Everyone is asking about when the buses are going to the game. We have all worked so hard to get to the two finals,” she added.
St Anne’s Junior captain, Tuathla Ryan, Ballina, started playing rugby about three years ago, but only started taking it seriously last year.
As a utility forward, Tuathla has played as a prop at provincial U-17 level but lined out at No.8 in the cup final. She is currently part of the Munster Ladies U-18 squad following a lot of hard work and training.
Having commenced with the oval ball in the Killaloe Ballina RFC, she also took it up at school where some of her friends were already playing.
She said all her team mates are very comfortable playing with each other thanks to the cross over between the club and school.
“This really helps our game plan because we are more together in how we play. The amount of girls playing rugby in St Anne’s is huge over the last few years. With more girls playing, we can have more teams and have opportunities to go places.”
After losing last year’s junior cup final to Ardscoil Mhuire, Limerick, Tuathla recalled beating them comprehensively in this year’s quarter final was satisfying.
Staff and students in St Anne’s have rallied around the team. “There is a great buzz around the school, everyone is talking about the two matches. Apart from last year, this isn’t something that used to happen in previous years when people were talking about attending a girls’ game. It is amazing to have it that way.
“It is special to have people enjoying the game as much as we do,” she said.
Asked about how she copes with injuries in such a physical game, she said she doesn’t concentrate on any knocks during the game and deals with them afterwards.
“You are thinking about your team on the pitch and not yourself. You are concentrating on how to help the team win. It is at the back of your mind if you get hurt.
“It is amazing that two teams have qualified for two provincial finals. We have friends on both teams and have got closer in the last few months.”
St Anne’s: Zoe Loughran, Ellen O’Shuaghnessy, Anna Hanly, Fionnuala O’Rahilly, Sarah McNamara, Emily Byrne, Rebecca Rogers; Alice Walsh, Edie Reynolds, Amy Reilly, Roisín Mockler, Ellie McEvoy, Alannah O’Donovan, Hayley Byrnes, Karen O’Mahony.
Replacements: Ciara Fitzgibbon, Jessica Duggan, Patricia McWey, Natasha Crotty, Hannah Beck, Aoibhe Slevin, Sarah McEvoy, Alana McKeogh, Poppy McNamara, Caoimhe Maguire.
St Anne’s: Aoife Coleman, Emer Gilmartin, Lucy Pearl, Mia Hennelly, Sophie O’Neill, Charlie Dillon, Grace Dillon; Amy Lynch, Ciara Bigot, Emily Darcy, Muireann Houlihan, Isobel Quinn, Clodagh Ryan, Lauren Dowling, Tuathla Ryan.
Replacements: Ellie Hennelly, Amber Herbik, Ava Donnelly, Meg Mulcahy, Evie Hass, Louise Fahy, Hannah O’Shaughnessy, Hollie Keogh, Paige Keogh, Lily Power.