Across the Laighin: Lorna Quinn – Player, Coach, Manager, Administrator
July 20, 2021 4:08 pm Lisa Doyle
‘Across The Laighin’ is the magazine published exclusively for the benefit of Official Members.
The third and final edition went live at the end of the season and over the coming days we will be giving Leinster Rugby supporters access to excerpts from some of the interviews and feature pieces.
Player, Coach, Manager, Administrator. There isn’t much Kerry native Lorna Quinn hasn’t done to help better the game of rugby in Leinster, particularly for the women’s game and inclusivity.
As women’s rugby around the province continues to grow and with more females than ever playing the sport, now, more than ever, the hard work of volunteers to keep things moving, from coaching and player development, to running clubs, officiating, and administrating is a necessity.
Without the tireless and selfless work of thousands, so many of our clubs would not be the success stories they are today. And the volunteers involved in all sectors of the sport do it simply for the love of the game.
Lorna Quinn is one such volunteer within Leinster Rugby with a commitment that is hard to rival.
A voluntary club coach, manager of the Leinster Rugby women’s squad, and on numerous committees, both in her own club Garda/Westmanstown RFC and within the Leinster branch.
And before we even get to the rugby side of her life, she has plenty to keep her occupied. Along with balancing the activity of her rugby life, she has three young daughters of her own that inspire her every day to keep doing what she is doing – creating opportunities for women and girls in sport, breaking barriers.
“They will definitely have the opportunities, and maybe they won’t love rugby as much as I have, and that is OK too, as long as they have the opportunities to try and play whatever sport they want, I’m happy,” she says.
Coming from a Kerry GAA family, Lorna played in her local club Ballyduff, in Tralee, from a young age and it was not until she headed off to college in UCC that she picked up the oval ball.
“I grew up in a staunch GAA family, so I would have always been in the club and played GAA all my life, my father held every role in the local club from chairman to secretary and everything in between, so I grew up on the side of the pitch,” Lorna offers, giving some insight into her family background in sports administration.
“I had never played rugby until I went to college in UCC and I saw this poster on the wall of the canteen: ‘Be on the first ever women’s rugby team in UCC’. And I jokingly said I could try that, and we went out and watched a training session and they were doing contact and I remember saying ‘Wait, there’s no way I could do that’.
“So, I went out to the first training session and we were practicing our tackling and I turned to one of the girls and said ‘It’s not as bad as it looked earlier’ and she laughed and said ‘It’s the exact same game’, so it just looked much worse than what it was, and I fell in love straight away. I knew nothing about the rules, or how to play the game, I just loved the atmosphere, the people, and the general vibe from the game itself.
“It was a different situation back then; you just played with as many players as you could round up and that might be six players on a full pitch, and it was just playing whoever we could.”
She recalls memories of her first ever rugby game with UCC with a lot of fondness, but also a slight hint of disappointment at how undeveloped the game was.
“My first rugby match, I will never forget it, it was in Waterford, we were told to bring red tops to wear as we had no jerseys, our manager was one of the players and we played 10-a-side, and only had 10 players that day.
“I was very lucky as there was such mixed ability on that team, a lot of girls were just starting playing for the craic, some have actually went on and played for Ireland. We also had Kate McCarthy who was playing with Munster at the time, and she was a phenomenal player and leader on the pitch.
“So that was my introduction to the game, I loved playing every minute that day and fell in love with the game that day and that was me hooked ever since.”
With the GAA background, Lorna surprised her family when she told them the news that she had started a new sport and was swapping the round ball for the oval ball.
“They all thought I was mad. I tended to get injured as well, so I remember my mother saying, ‘I cannot afford to be paying those medical bills’, but rugby just suited me way more and I got injured far less on the rugby pitch, ironically.”
“My dad always supported whatever sport I wanted to play, he was happy as long as we were taking part in some sports and enjoying it. He would not have known much about rugby, but he always came to my games to support me, he just loved sports of any kind really.”
Now with years of rugby experience under her belt, there have been some great memories built up on the pitch, a standout memory for Lorna was reaching the AIL final with her club Garda/Westmanstown RFC and playing against Tralee, her home club back in Kerry, and having all the family there supporting her in their best-dressed attire.
“I was playing with Garda/Westmanstown and we were in the AIL 2 final (that was a time when there were two divisions in the AIL). We won the AIL 2 section and went on to play Tralee in the All-Ireland final and Tralee would have been my home club before I left for Dublin.
“So, playing Tralee in Nenagh and I remember my nephew’s confirmation was the same day and my entire family left the confirmation, fully-suited and heading to cheer me on while playing for a Dublin club against my home club, but I had great support that day.
“We did lose that day, but I remember really enjoying that game and the atmosphere and playing my home club with all my family there on the sideline is a great memory for me.”
After a back injury put a halt to Lorna’s playing days, she knew she could not just leave the sport behind as she had grown such a love for something that had become such a big part of her life. The best way to stay involved in the game by coaching and giving back to a club that she felt had given her some great years.
As with many players who step away and hang up the boots, no matter the level of the game they are playing at, there is a void of adrenaline, that release that comes from training and playing matches. Would coaching and prowling the sideline give Lorna the same buzz as togging out?
“Yes definitely, you still have your competitive edge as you want to win and you’re still involved with your club/your team. I started an U-18 girls team in the club and started coaching them. Then I coached the U-15s and U-18 girls teams before taking on the senior women’s team in the club. So that built up my coaching experience and gave me confidence in my ability as a coach.
“Coaching the seniors is a little bit different, you can really bring that competitive edge while coaching that group and it nearly fills the void of not playing anymore,” Lorna explains.
While she recognises that the core elements of coaching stay the same from top to bottom, the emphasis on being competitive increases as you push into the older ranks.
During her time as head coach, Lorna took one season off from the role while pregnant and was straight back on the field once little Caoimhe made her appearance into the world.
“I am still coaching the senior women’s team in the club, so I took a break when I had my babies, where I took one season off. I am back now coaching in the club and cannot wait to get a few games underway with them.”
As they say, ‘no man or woman is an island’, as this is very true when it comes to Lorna and the support she has around her.
“I have a very patient and supportive husband, Cliff, he plays such a supportive role for me, whether it was supporting me on the sideline when I was playing to minding the kids if I had a committee meeting. He is a big sports person himself, so he understands the commitment involved.
“Honestly, I think if I had have taken a step back and realised what spare time was, I might not have got involved so much in coaching etc, but I am so glad I did stay involved within the game I love.”
While juggling her family life and coaching life, Lorna has also held the role of Team Manager for the Leinster women’s squad, again all in the midst of having a baby! And little Caoimhe was never too far from a rugby pitch from day one.
“I think I have done five seasons as the women’s manager now. My first season as manager with Leinster, I was pregnant with Caoimhe, and I remember the second season with them, on the trials night, Caoimhe was six-weeks-old and Cliff had her in the car in the car park, so I could feed her if I needed to. So, I think the support of those around you and support of those with you and involved with you in rugby are key.”
Over five years managing the Leinster women’s team, Lorna tells us of the changes and huge growth she has seen within the sport during that time.
“There has been huge growth in the short few years, I do not think you can even compare my first year and last year managing, in terms of support.
“The support has always been there, but just how much its grown, especially from the sponsorship side. Sponsors want to be involved, which means more support for the team, which in turn means more opportunities and options for the women,” Lorna explains.
“The success has grown as a result, but also the popularity of the women’s game has grown from it. From the support from media to the numbers of spectators at games, all that side of things has grown, and it’s been very exciting to see and still very exciting to see what’s to come in the future.
“Leinster Rugby creates this professional set up around the team, even though we are amateur, the professionalism behind that team is immense. But definitely there has been a huge growth over my time with the team and it’s very exciting to see where it will all go.”
With the growth in popularity of the game of women’s rugby meaning more numbers on the field and in the stands, how can governance of the sport be improved? There is a strong female presence in the governance side of the game, within our clubs but Lorna explains how we have a long way to go yet, to ensure we have more females on committees, making these important decisions that can affect the teams.
“There is a long way to go, as we need more females involved in the governance of the game. I think now with more females retiring from the game, they feel they have the confidence in their knowledge of rugby to take up more governance roles, so I feel that side of things can only grow.
“Some women lack confidence, a mother on the sideline may be less likely to put herself forward as a volunteer for the club and that needs to change. Women have the skillset; they have the knowledge, and it just brings a different voice and opinions. So, we do still have a way to go, but yes more females are stepping into those governance roles, which again can only better the game. But we still have a long way to go yet.”
And if the coaching and management wasn’t enough to quell her appetite for rugby, Lorna has been on several Leinster Branch committees throughout the years. She started on the Leinster Branch Women’s Committee as her club’s representative and has held many roles within the branch since including Chairperson and Competitions Officer, and is now on the newly formed Inclusivity Committee.
“I became a member of a committee in the Leinster Branch, as I was captain of my club team, and I was the representative for my club on the women’s committee. There were not too many volunteers, and it was a time of big changes, so I just thought you cannot be giving out about how things are done if you do not get involved.
“So, I was on the committee and ran for the position of Competitions Officer that first year and held that role for two seasons and then I went on to Chair the Women’s Committee for two seasons, which led me to sitting on the executive committee.”
Throughout this time, Lorna’s home club Westmanstown was struggling with numbers, coaches, and volunteers in general, so she knew she had to step up and do something before it was too late and the female teams were no more in the club.
“I had to take a step back then as my own club was really struggling at the time and I just thought I needed to take some time to concentrate on my own club for a while.”
Thankfully, the Women’s team in the club is again thriving with thanks to Lorna and the many other volunteers involved in driving female participation within the club.
As previously mentioned, Lorna is also the Honorary Secretary of the Leinster Branch Inclusivity Committee. The Inclusivity Committee is a relatively new committee within the branch and was formed two years ago, to develop and implement a strategy to significantly enhance the active participation of women in the playing, coaching, management, administration, and governance of the sport in Leinster.
“It was two years ago, I then got a call from Moira Flahive, the Chair of the Inclusivity Committee for the Leinster Branch asking if I would like to get involved within that committee, and while I did have a lot on between family life and rugby life, now being a mam to three girls, it is something I am passionate about, we must build the right future for our girls and for everyone in society, so I wanted to get involved.”
When asked about the journey of that committee, Lorna explains their main plans and objectives, and the importance of diversity on such a committee.
“The committee’s main objective is to ensure Leinster Rugby is inclusive on all levels, but the female game was to the forefront, and we had to look critically at the female game within Leinster. There are many people on that committee, from many walks of life, which I think you need on a committee like that, and we tackle many different subjects, for example in the past year we have looked at the bye-laws, mixed-ability teams within clubs, looking at what clubs need to ensure their clubs are inclusive for everyone in the community, youths, player retention within clubs and so on.
“The question was asked to me, ‘Why are we concentrating on the female game so much, should our roles not be far more diverse?’, and our roles are definitely more diverse, we have organised events around Pride this year, looking at many different diversities and backgrounds, such as LGBTQ+, we are looking at inclusivity in governance etc.
“But regarding the female game, the very short answer I would say to anyone is ‘I am raising three girls and until they have the exact same opportunities available to them, as boys do, then we are as not as inclusive as we could be’. That is why we are looking at the female game so strongly.
“As a committee we cover many aspects within in the game, but our general role is to ensure Leinster Rugby is an inclusive club.”
With such a strange environment still existing at the moment in society, many of the Pride events mentioned by Lorna have been in the shape of features and discussions on the Leinster Rugby website. On Pride Day, Leinster Rugby, along with Bank of Ireland, held a webinar entitled Building Allies with Pride – Leinster Rugby: A Home for All which was hosted by television presenter Craig Doyle.
Joining Doyle on the panel were Moira Flahive, Richie Fagan (Emerald Warriors RFC), Craig Maxwell-Keys (RFU Referee) and Leinster players Jack Dunne and Lindsay Peat. Each told of their experiences of coming to terms with their sexuality and how they have, on occasion, had to help other people come to terms with it.
No one committee can do it all, without the support of everyone around them and the buy-in from clubs. Lorna tells us how the support and buy in from all involved has been overwhelming.
“Honestly, I am blown away by the support, as I think you question it sometimes, but even just from talking to our clubs, the appetite is there for change. Yes, there is always questions asked and maybe some kick back, but when we lay out the plan, what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it, the support and want from our clubs to be more inclusive is fantastic to see.
“We are showing them practical ways to ensure their clubs are more inclusive, rather than just telling them and I think the clubs appreciate that and realise we are all working together for the better of the game and the better of our clubs, at the end of the day.”
So with such vast experience in the land of Leinster Rugby committees, you might think it would be difficult to choose a highlight. Not for Lorna, she quickly earmarks her takeaway from her time serving the game throughout the province.
“It was myself and one other female on the Executive back then and over the six years, it has grown slightly and evolved with six female representatives, but it is always growing and it’s important to keep building.
“And we must remember, it is also about having the correct representatives on those committees, whether that be male or female, there is work involved in sitting on those committees and representing your area.”
So, with the GAA background, and a chance meeting with rugby in college, what would Lorna have missed the most if that run-in with a noticeboard in UCC had never materialised, if she had never taken it upon herself to head down to watch the first ever UCC women’s team take on their first session?
“Hands down the friendship. My best friends all came from rugby, and I continue to have them in my life to this day. You just meet so many different people along the way, people from all walks of life and that is from all aspects of the game, friends from playing, from being a manager, from all the committees I’ve been on, every role I have held in rugby has given me friendships that I never would have encountered.”
Lorna’s daughters frequently come up in conversation, and it is obvious to see that her three girls are what keep her focused and doing what she is doing. Would the hope be that they will one day pick up a rugby ball and head to the local rugby club and join a team?
“My stepdaughter is 11 and is playing with Westmanstown girls at the moment and I help with coaching them, so the both of us will be up in the club tonight for training – you can’t keep us away from the place!
“The three-year-old and one-year-old, never have a rugby ball out of their hands, so yes I can imagine they will be looking to join their big sister in the club as soon as they can.
“They will definitely have the opportunities, and maybe they won’t love rugby as much as I have, and that is OK too, as long as they have the opportunities to try and play whatever sport they want, I’m happy.”
Reflecting on her time with Leinster Rugby and looking forward, there is still plenty that Lorna wants to achieve with the province both as part of one of the squads and in the boardroom as she aims to help to steer the province in the right direction in all aspects of the game.
“If we are looking at the pinnacle, what I would really love to see is a women’s academy set up in Leinster Rugby, that is obviously in the future, but it would be amazing to see something like that come to life.
“Personally, as a coach too, I would like to see more success for the senior women’s team within my club, so lots more hard work there this season and when you are coaching a team as willing as they are, I’m sure it won’t be long until we see some silverware there hopefully.”
“One of my proudest moments I suppose was seeing one of the young girls I coached playing for the U-18 Leinster Rugby girls team, and then as manager for the Leinster Women’s team, I’ve had two girls come through on that squad that I would have coached, seeing them put on the blue jersey is just amazing when you think back to years ago when they were starting the sport, and really seeing our From The Ground Up motto of Leinster Rugby come to life, so they were definitely proud moments for me.”
With Lorna’s commitment to the game, and betterment of it, unwavering, it’s very likely that those two girls making their way from her tutelage through to provincial honours will not be the last.