‘Across The Laighin’ is the magazine published exclusively for Season Ticket holders.

The sixth edition went live in August and over the coming week’s we will be giving Leinster Rugby supporters access to excerpts from some of the interviews and feature pieces.

The first of many things, the first female to sit on her rugby clubs Wexford Wanderers committee board as the Social Secretary, along with the first female to sit on the Leinster Branch South East Area committee as the clubs representative. The first female president of her rugby club.

The first female chair on the branch’s Facilities and Administrative committee. While also being the first female Junior Vice president of the Branch, then Senior Vice and now the ultimate volunteering role, the first female President of the Leinster Branch, which now also makes Carty the first woman to Chair the Management and Executive Committees.

From her many voluntary roles within rugby over the past 20 years, Debbie Carty talks to Lisa Doyle about her love of the game and what keeps her motivated to stay volunteering in the game she loves.

So, Debbie, tell me a little bit about the background of how you actually got into rugby in general.

Okay, I suppose it all started off when my son Corey started playing rugby about 20-odd years ago. I brought him out to Wexford Wanderers and I started helping out in the kitchen for their matches.

And how did you start helping out? Did someone approach you in the club?

No, I stuck my head in the kitchen one day and said, ‘do you want a hand?’ And the girl that was in there actually said: ‘If I was you, I’d run. Because if you get a job here, you’re never leaving.’ You know? So look, I stayed and, I started cooking for them.

And then I just started taking on various roles in the clubs, I took on the registration and then took on the club shop and then took on the kitchen for the senior team.

Then I became social secretary and the PRO of the club and the women’s rep on the South-East and then the president of Wexford Wanderers. So that meant a lot of roles there. But to even step into president role, that’s a big, big, big feat.

How did that end up happening? Was it just that you just had such an impact with all your roles?

Taking on all the different roles and, I had some great supporters in Wexford Wanderers, Kipper Ahearn, Pat Ryan Snr, Eamonn McCarthy, Jimmy O’Connor and Brian McGonigal, the then President Gerry Cassidy approached me and said, I want to put your name forward for club president.

I nearly fell off my chair, I was not expecting it, as it was a very big honour. It was huge. It was massive. And, again, that was the first woman for them in 90 years.

And you weren’t just club president for one year, you were there for three years?

Yes, I held the role of club president from 2011 to 2014.

Did you enjoy those three years in the role?

I did. I met some great friends, not just in my club, but around the country and the world. We went on rugby tours to Italy and Barcelona and different places and there are people that we still meet up with and link up with from time to time.

I’m hoping to visit every club if I possibly can at some stage. All across the 12 counties.

Is this how you ended up getting involved with Leinster Branch committees?

I started with the Leinster women’s committee. I went up as the women’s rep for Wexford Wanderers. Then ended up as the honorary secretary on that committee, then became the Chair of the women’s committee and then, back as the honorary secretary again.

Now I’ve taken over as the PR rep and continued with the South-East area committee. Then for the last few years, I’m also doing the PR for Wexford Wanderers and, then the position of senior rep came up on the Executive committee.

And how do those positions become available on the Executive committee?

Everyone has a turn in rotation for the presidency role of the Leinster Branch. There are representatives from the senior and junior clubs, but then all the areas and the sections, such as the youth sections, the women’s section, everyone has a turn.

And it was coming up to the South-East turn and I was lucky enough to be asked to throw my hat into the ring for the Senior Rep for the Southeast and in that position would get to take on the honour of the president of the Leinster Branch.

There were two other male contenders. And I won.

When you say you won the presidency, is it a vote?

Yes, it’s a vote. There were three of us in total running for the roll, then all the club reps vote. Everyone gets to vote on which of the three people they want to be president.

With your involvement in all the committees, between your own local rugby club, Wexford Wanderers, and all the different Leinster Rugby committees you’ve been involved with since 2007 to now, 2022, have you seen the number of females involved in committee level rise?

I’ve seen it rise in some places, I’ve seen it fall in some places and, and I think it’s a lot to do with, they’re not told exactly what their volunteer role is. I think it’s vital for volunteers to understand what is expected of them in the role they are taking on in their clubs. So, it’s not too daunting for anyone.

I’m not a believer in quotas. I prefer the best person for the job to go into it. But, at some point we’re going to have a quota laid down from a higher power. And they’ll say we want 30/40 per cent of your boards of management to be female.

At the moment, we don’t have enough females involved at our committee levels. But that is not Leinster’s call, that is up to our clubs and the representatives they send to the Leinster Branch. The representatives they want to represent their club, and it is their choice as to whether that is a male or female. Clubs have to start looking at their female volunteers and we have to start putting forward female reps.

If clubs start looking now, if they are not already, and find the right female person for the role, that might entice more females into it.

My mandate this year will be to get more women involved in running their clubs and in order to do that, I will hope to be rolling out a series of roadshows on how to recruit, encourage and mentor women to come into roles within their clubs.  We will do a Q&A with myself and my pathway, explain the pitfalls that some clubs may make and how to set up a mentoring program within their club to encourage more women into volunteering.

As the first female president for the Leinster Branch, you’re obviously breaking barriers. Do you hear that line a lot now? Are you sick of hearing this?

No, I’m not. It was a bit daunting on the run up to the AGM, because someone had rang me that day and said, ‘It’s a huge historic milestone’. And I suppose it really hit me then. And then at the AGM that night I said, it is a historic milestone, but it’s not the first one Leinster has done.

We had a first female honorary secretary in Dorothy Collins. We have female area reps. We have female chairs. Leinster Rugby gave women’s teams in the AIL senior status last year. So yes, it’s a historic milestone, but it’s one of many, you know, and may all these things become the norm in the future.

I have had people ask me, ‘What do we call you, Lady President or Women President?’ I said, just call me ‘President’. You wouldn’t ask a man that. That’s all I want to be known as is a president. May there be a dozen more women coming behind me or a dozen more men, but just call me ‘President’.

Over your 20-plus years involved in rugby in general, from the club to Leinster, to everything in between, what has probably been the biggest change you’ve seen or have you even seen any big change?

The biggest change I’ve seen is in girls rugby. That has been just phenomenal from when I was back on the women’s committee, back in 2011, we only had a handful of girls teams and most of the senior women’s teams didn’t have a youth system or pathways.

Now this season for instance, we have the Sarah Robinson Cup a pathway for girls similar to the boys pathway, where girls from every club around the province can get a chance to play for the Leinster Women’s senior team. Even watching my own club now with a 10s/12s/14s/16s/18s team for girls. That’s not just my club, there’s something like 70 girls teams now playing across Leinster. Then also last season, the schools rugby came into the girls side of it, along with an U-20 Area competition, which is fantastic to see.

The girls section has definitely been the biggest growth I’ve seen. Watching that just go from strength to strength and seeing better coaches and better referees going into the game, creates quality. It brings much more of an air of professionalism about it.

And then what has been, again, locally in your club or with Leinster, your proudest moment as a volunteer in general?

I would probably say some of my proudest moments were the mammy proud moment on the sideline.

When my son Corey played for the Leinster Juniors and they won that interprovincial series. That was a very proud mammy moment. The next one after that is becoming the President of Wexford Wanderers, then becoming the senior rep for the Southeast area committee, and then the icing on the cake was becoming the President of Leinster Rugby.

Those memories so far, they’re my three big ones, they’re stand outs for me.

You have held so many volunteering roles over 20 something years, what exactly keeps you motivated to keep you doing all of that?

The whole social and friendship side of rugby, I walked into Wexford Wanderers 20 years ago as a young single mother looking to pass the time while Corey was training, I came away with lifelong friends, a comradery and sense of community that you can only find in a rugby club and ultimately now I have the best job in the world.

What advice would we give to other females thinking of getting involved in volunteering in their own local rugby club?

I think the best piece of advice I can give is just talk to someone in the club, one of the best people to start with is a coach, their children’s coach. Because you may not see or know all the committee members. If a club has a welcoming officer go straight for them and just start the conversation.

What are your aspirations, for this year as president in Leinster Rugby?

One of the biggest things I want to do is to get more women involved in rugby. And when I say that, it’s not just playing rugby on the pitch, it’s across everything, there is so much work in the background to keep a club thriving.

Especially in the leadership side of things in the executives and the management boards, clubs need to get more women involved in the running of rugby. We’ve a raft of them out there playing now, but we need more women running the clubs. So, that’s my big thing.

And then finally, I know it’s probably not for you to say it, but how proud are Wexford Wanderers to have you as their club representative and now as the first female president of the Branch?

I went to their AGM a few weeks ago and their president got up and made a speech, he said how delighted they were to have me. How proud they were of me. It’s a once in a generation thing for a club like Wexford Wanderers. They are not going to see a president there for what could be 30/40/50 years again.

I got a huge round of applause. And knowing you have those guys’ support is amazing, but not just Wexford, all the other clubs in the Southeast have almost adopted me as an honorary member and I always get a great welcome in all the clubs in the Southeast

As I said, I started helping in the kitchen 20 years ago. Worked my way through the ranks, worked my way up through all the different representation. And I don’t just want to be a token woman and I’m never made feel like I am one, I want to actually make a mark as a president of the Leinster Branch.