For International Women’s Day, Jacinta O’Rourke (Chair of the Leinster Rugby Branch Domestic PR Committee and Member of Rugby and Commercial & Marketing Standing Committees), met with a number of women (virtually, of course!) who are involved at committee level in Leinster Rugby.

Jacinta asked them to reflect on their contribution, how they got involved in Leinster Rugby and what makes them stay involved.

First up though, she reflects on her own journey…

“I became involved at club level in the way that most of us do. I brought my sons along to enjoy the many benefits of minis rugby at Skerries RFC and, although impressed by the level of organisation, I recognised that an extra pair of hands might be appreciated and so I asked the question that every Minis Coordinator wants to hear: “Is there anything that I can do to help?”.

“It wasn’t long before I was up to speed on the various aspects of minis activities at the club and so, when the role of Minis Coordinator became vacant I took it on knowing that I would be working with a great team of coaches and managers.

“As part of the club’s committee my organisational skills were soon noticed and the role that I took on next was that of Honorary Secretary.

“From there I was encouraged to represent the club at Leinster Rugby Branch level and I am now, 25 years after first volunteering at Skerries, Chair of the Leinster Domestic Rugby PR Committee and I sit on both the Commercial & Marketing and Rugby Committees.”

What is your proudest moment as a volunteer or the biggest change/achievement you have seen since you became a volunteer?

“I’m particularly proud of becoming the first female Honorary Secretary of Skerries RFC and during that time have seen my club enjoy many notable successes. It was wonderful to see the knock-on effect that this had in the community and I am proud to have been associated with those special times.

“Likewise, to see the success Leinster have enjoyed over the last number of years in the men’s game and the women’s game and that has been both enjoyable and rewarding. What I’m especially proud of is my involvement with the promotion of the domestic game through the work of the PR committee and growing the profile of Domestic Rugby within the province.”

Have there been any barriers/challenges for you as a volunteer?

“I haven’t come across barriers but the main challenges I’ve encountered are getting more females to get involved at committee levels.

“The recent Inclusivity Committee online webinars highlighted the benefits of having more female volunteers involved in decision making roles. I hope it will encourage more females to come forward and volunteer. It would be remiss to not mention the impact that Covid-19 has had in all walks of life not just rugby.

“However, it has been refreshing to see how we have adapted to better use of online webinars to engage with our volunteers.”

What keeps you motivated in doing what you do as a volunteer?

“Making a difference and adding value to anything I’m involved in. Meeting some fantastic people along the way, many who’ve become great friends.”

Do you have any female role models that inspire you as a volunteer?

“When I first started playing hockey with Skerries HC, there were a number of female volunteers who I looked up to and they sowed the seed to volunteering and giving back.

“I have also worked with some really great women across many committees in rugby over the years – some of these have gone on to be Presidents of their own clubs – which is a great feather in their cap and great for all women to see that we can become ‘leaders in the game’.

“To that end I am also delighted to see Ann Heneghan in Connacht, and next year Debbie Carty (Leinster) become the first female presidents of their respective provinces.”

How can I get involved as a volunteer in rugby?

“Hook up with your local club, you won’t regret it! So next time you’re down for Sunday morning mini rugby or watching a game on a Saturday, ask is there anything you can do to help. I’m happy for anyone to contact me or any of the PR committee to find out more.”

Dorothy Collins

Dorothy Collins has been involved at various levels both at her club, Old Belvedere RFC and the Leinster Rugby Branch for 30 years.

Her rugby volunteering journey started when her son played mini rugby. She had played a lot of sport herself, but mainly basketball and tennis.

Dorothy was prominent in helping to advance the development of Mini rugby in Old Belvedere and her skills were identified by the Club Management Committee at the time and she was appointed as the first female Honorary Secretary in her club.

In 2001 she became the first female Honorary Secretary of the Leinster Rugby Branch and she served in that position for eight years.

She continues to be involved on the Competitions and Age Grade Committees in the Branch. Dorothy is always available to help her fellow committee members, old and new, with her wealth of knowledge and experience.

What is your proudest moment as a volunteer/biggest change/achievement you have seen since you became a volunteer?

“I was the first woman Honorary Secretary of a club.

“But my proudest moment was becoming Honorary Secretary of the Leinster Rugby Branch. I believe I led the way for other women and showed them that there was no barrier to advancement in rugby.”

Have there been any barriers/challenges for you as a volunteer?

“When I was honorary secretary of Old Belvedere and of Leinster, I found some negativity, in particular some men that did not want a woman in that position.

“I had to get men to push some of my proposals but as I gained confidence and experience, I believe I gained respect and thankfully I had no difficulties in the last number of years.”

What keeps you motivated in doing what you do as a volunteer?

“I enjoy what I do and the feedback I get. I feel I can still make a difference.”

Do you have any female role models that inspire you as a volunteer?

“In Old Belvedere we had a woman Muriel Butler, who managed the Under 20s for years. She has since died but she always encouraged me.”

How can I get involved as a volunteer in rugby?

“Just ask! We’re always eager to hear from new people looking to get involved.”

Mary Quinn

Mary Quinn’s journey started back in 2007 when attending the Leinster Rugby Women’s last home match of the season in Donnybrook.

She was chatting to Caitriona Bergin who at the time was a Leinster Women’s Development Officer and following on from a cup of coffee and a chat, she joined the Women’s Committee as the Youth Officer.

She then went on to chair the Women’s Committee in the Leinster Rugby Branch.

Her success in encouraging more volunteers to get involved with Women’s Rugby led to her being asked to chair the Women’s Sub-Committee of the IRFU and in 2015 made history by becoming the first woman to be elected to the IRFU committee. Along with Su Carty, she is one of two female representatives on the IRFU Committee presently.

What is your proudest moment as a volunteer or the biggest change/achievement you have seen since you became a volunteer?

“Like the game itself, volunteering in rugby in any role involves being part of a team, so I don’t have a personal proudest moment or biggest achievement.

“The biggest change I have witnessed is the growth of the female game at minis, youths and at adult level in clubs, schools and colleges and the growing support for and media coverage of our international women’s teams.”

Have there been any barriers/challenges for you as a volunteer?

“I think there are always challenges when you try something new in life and volunteering in rugby is no different.

“I found people in Leinster (and later in the IRFU) were very willing to answer my questions, share their knowledge and help me with kindness, humour and patience!”

What keeps you motivated in doing what you do as a volunteer?

“The fun I get working with like-minded rugby people, the friendships I’ve made and the opportunities we help create for girls and women in the game.”

Do you have any female role models that inspire you as a volunteer?

“There are many women that inspire me but if I was to single one out it would have to be my late friend Noeleen Spain.

“Noeleen volunteered as the Youths Officer on the Leinster Rugby’s Women’s Committee for many years. She generously gave of her time, experience and love of rugby towards helping to develop rugby for girls in Leinster.”

How can I get involved as a volunteer in rugby?

“Go to your local club and ask if the club needs help with any role or project. You can try out some volunteering before committing yourself to a long-term role. Alternatively, get invited to coffee!”

Moira Flahive

Moira Flahive has volunteered for as long as she can remember.

Her parents always volunteered, especially in sport and local initiatives and so the old maxim proved true that education begins at home.

Moira’s involvement in Leinster Rugby began when the then Chair of the Disciplinary Committee, Michael Coghlan asked her to get involved.

In 2018, Moira was a member of the working group set up by the Leinster Rugby Branch to undertake a comprehensive review of the Branch Bye-Laws and in 2019 she was subsequently asked to chair the newly established Inclusivity Committee.

One of the main objectives for this committee was to develop and implement a strategy to significantly enhance the active participation of women in the playing, coaching, management, administration and governance of rugby in Leinster.

What is your proudest moment as a volunteer or the biggest change/achievement you have seen since you became a volunteer?

“I volunteered in the Marriage Equality campaign for a yes vote. I was one of thousands and so only a small cog in a huge volunteering effort but when the vote was passed so overwhelmingly, I felt that I had played a small part in a hugely positive societal change.

“On a sporting front I umpired hockey which is a role very few have the appetite to volunteer for in any sport! But I loved it and always say that if you want to learn about yourself pick up the whistle – it is hugely rewarding.

“Finally, I am immensely proud of the work of the Inclusivity Committee of Leinster Rugby. Although we are a brand new committee whose work has only just begun, we have already made strides and have so much more to offer the game of rugby in the province.”

Have there been any barriers/challenges for you as a volunteer?

“Not that I can ever remember. Usually, people are delighted when somebody steps up to the plate and says, ‘I’ll do it’!”

What keeps you motivated in doing what you do as a volunteer?

“That’s easy; the people you meet along the way – all sorts, from all walks of life, with different views and experiences – throw that into a pot and you have an interesting and rewarding platform from which to achieve a common goal. I have made lifelong friends through volunteering.”

Do you have any female role models that inspire you as a volunteer?

“The biggest role model in my life was my PE teacher in secondary school, Carolyn Shankey. She showed me that there is no end to your ideas, putting them into play and making those ideas a reality. If those ideas involved breaking new ground or into new territory, why not? I went to a Quaker school and that environment was very supportive for teachers like Shankey and students like me.

“Today, the biggest role model in my life is, without doubt, my wife Christina. She is a huge inspiration to me. Volunteering, offering help and support are all in her DNA and I learn from her every day.”

How can I get involved as a volunteer in rugby?

“The same way as with any volunteering, put your hand up. Do not necessarily wait to be asked. Leinster have huge supports out there for clubs who wish to enhance their volunteer base and so if in doubt just ask!”

Debbie Carty

Debbie Carty became involved with Wexford Wanderers 20 years ago when her son started playing U12s Rugby.

She just walked into the kitchen one day and asked the woman making soup for the team if she needed a hand. The reply that she got was, “run now or you’ll never get out!”. She obviously didn’t take her advice!

Debbie started helping with the post-match food for her son’s team, and it went on from there.

She went on to help in the club shop, and then took on the registrations before becoming Minis Coordinator, Club PRO and then the Social Secretary on the Club’s Executive Committee.

Even when playing, Debbie would often go straight from the pitch to the kitchen to ‘put the rice on’ and when she eventually became Club President, she would find herself serving food to the teams in her blazer!

Thankfully though, thanks in no small part to Debbie leading by example, Wexford have increased their volunteer base and so her shifts in the kitchen have become more occasional!

Debbie continues to help out wherever she is needed around the club and her involvement within every area of the club means that it was no surprise when she was voted Club Person of the Year recently.

With the help of some encouragement from her clubmates, Debbie agreed to become the club’s representative on the South East Area Committee.

With the South East Area rotation for Presidency for the season 2021/22, as Senior representative of the South East Area, Debbie is now in line to become the first President of the Leinster Rugby Branch from the area and also the first female Leinster Rugby Branch President.

This achievement will hopefully encourage more women to see the possibilities that exist for anyone who wants to be at the heart of change and development in the game, regardless of gender.

She has previously served as Chair of the Women’s Committee and is currently working to promote the work being done by clubs in the South East in her role as Area PRO on the Domestic Rugby PR Committee.

What is your proudest moment as a volunteer or the biggest change/achievement you have seen since you became a volunteer?

“Ah, this is easy and it comes in two parts, my first proudest moment was becoming the Club President for the three years from 2008 to 2011 and being the first woman to do it in our 90-year history.

“My second was being elected as Junior Vice President of Leinster Rugby in the season 19/20. I am currently the Senior Vice President and next year I will be the first women to become the President of Leinster Rugby in its 142-year history.

“It is a challenge I look forward to and I am so proud to be the first woman in this position and to show women that yes we have something to bring to the table, we can sit on the Execs and we can become Presidents, Hon Secs and Chairs within our Club and our Province.”

Have there been any barriers/challenges for you as a volunteer?

“The only real barrier I have come across is that there just isn’t enough volunteers and it’s usually the same people who do everything all the time.

“I find that there are a lot of people out there who want to help or volunteer, and they don’t know who to ask or where to start. I think clubs should have a volunteer ‘pathway’ of sorts in their club and have a poster in the club with all the volunteers and members of the branch executive on it, so people know who to approach if they want to help out.”

What keeps you motivated in doing what you do as a volunteer?

“The other volunteers. There are so many of them out there that work day and night for their clubs and their provinces.

“I sit on a number of committees and I am always impressed by the committee members and their devotion to their club and their province.

“We all have bad days when you wonder why you’re giving all your time to volunteering, but I can guarantee you that once you sit in on one committee meeting and you hear people’s ideas on what more can we do for rugby, what we can do for our clubs; these people motivate you and want you to do better.”

Do you have any female role models that inspire you as a volunteer?

“I have a few but the first woman I ever met that inspired me was Dorothy Collins.

“Dorothy is an unbelievable person and has a wealth of knowledge that I can only aspire to have. She was the first woman in Leinster Rugby to become the Honorary Secretary of Leinster and has been involved in every section of Leinster Rugby.

“When I first met her I was on the Women’s Committee and was in awe of this woman who knew everything there was to know about rugby and always treated me with the utmost respect, even when I wasn’t sure what I was doing, and has always offered her experience and knowledge when needed.

“I have to mention one other and that is Jacinta O’Rourke who I met many years ago when we were the only two women on Leinster Rugby’s Executive Committee. She was Skerries RFC’s first female Honorary Secretary and did tremendous work for both her club and Leinster.

“She is a very quiet woman about her achievements but I and anyone who works with her knows what she has done for rugby in Leinster and is a woman that all clubs should want on their committee because she fully commits herself to everything she does as a volunteer.

“She is now the Chair of Leinster Rugby’s PRO committee and has brought the committee on in leaps and bounds in the last few years under her leadership.”

How can I get involved as a volunteer in rugby?

“Find out who are the people on the committee in your club, talk to the President, ask the woman in the kitchen does she need a hand (they always do!) if your club has a volunteer pathway they will have the names of who to talk to.

“It’s not just tea and coffee makers that are needed. If, for example, you have a background in finance talk to the treasurer, a background in your workplace’s social committee you will definitely be wanted on a fundraising or social committee, but all these clubs have sub-committees that you can join.

“So if you are a bit daunted about taking on a full committee role, then join a sub-committee, I can tell you that you will be welcomed with open arms and I can guarantee you that it will be one of the most fulfilling things that you do in your life.”

Five brilliant volunteers and rugby administrators.

They also happen to be women and we are delighted to shine a light on the wonderful work that they have done and that they continue to do for their clubs and for the Leinster Rugby Branch on this International Women’s Day.

Interested in Volunteering?

With the exception of Debbie, who played for one year, none of the contributors played rugby.

But they all have different skills that they have brought to the table and have proven that you certainly don’t need to have played to make a difference.

Of course, those that have played are also welcome to re-engage with their clubs and to volunteer! It’s the mix of those that have and those that have not which makes for better results.

So, if you feel you have something to give, whatever limited time you have available, don’t be afraid to offer help, I promise you will get as much from it as you put in.