Clontarf went into the Leinster Women’s Development Blitz at Ashbourne RFC hoping to give thirteen of the squad a first taste of rugby and to learn a little about what it takes to compete at this level…

These modest expectations were blown away by a series of performances showing immense heart and considerable flair and hinting at a bright future for the women’s game in North Dublin.
First up were Malahide, an 11-strong outfit evenly split between novices and hardened veterans. After a nervy start and a Malahide try, the ‘Tarf was lifted by a bone-crunching tackle by Audrey McBrien on her opposite number, leading to an attacking scrum from which Captain Angela Dwane powered over for her side’s opening score. The deft handling on display in the build-up was to be a hallmark of Clontarf play all day, perhaps the result of a recruitment campaign directed at the Summer Tag Rugby circuit.
Where Tag Rugby cannot prepare players is in the contact area. While Clontarf’s rucking was organised and adept, aided by the vociferous marshalling of scrum half Lorna Byrne, some of the newer players have still to gain full confidence in the tackle. Malahide capitalised on this for a second try, only to find themselves clawing the air in the wake of Maeve McQuillan five minutes later, as the basketball convertee galloped fully fifty metres to round out the game at a fair 12-all draw.

Greystones RFC fielded a largely inexperienced side, and while they showed admirable resolve they were outmatched by the insistent physicality of Clontarf. Centre Kathy Byrne led the charge, swatting away tacklers on numerous stampeding runs before being rewarded with a try, assisted by her sister Lorna. Grainne Kennedy, playing No10 with a cool assurance befitting her experience, sneaked down the right wing for a sumptuous score five minutes later, while Mairead Hennelly followed up with an awe-inspiring tap-and-go penalty which saw her carrying four opponents on the last ten yards of her journey to the tryline.

Greystones’ spirited resistance netted them a try at the beginning of the second half, before Maeve McQuillan added another length-of-the-field score and Fiona Colfer rounded out the match with a typically strong run from the 10-metre line to bring Clontarf’s final tally to 27 points. Kicking duties were performed by Heather Byrne, whose range and accuracy mark her out as a contender for further honours in the future. One unfortunate note was a knee injury to Aoife O’Donoghue, depriving Clontarf of one of its most potent weapons around the fringes for the rest of the day.

No amount of pre-match sandbagging from the Balbriggan coaching team could disguise the ability of their small squad, and Clontarf found themselves in a battle from the start. The lineout functioned well, thanks in no small part to the flawless throwing of No2 Helen O’Connor and the commanding jumping of locks Patricia Kelly and Mairead Hennelly, but judicious use of the Balbriggan boot left fullback Nic Tynan having to cope with considerable pressure. Fatigue began to set in, and Clontarf were unable to prevent a try from one of the opposition’s GAA converts on fifteen minutes.

Clontarf fought back with tireless work in the loose by replacement hooker Sorcha McGuire, powerful running by wing Inga Byrne and the one-woman search-and-destroy mission that characterises Niamh Keaveney’s game. Other honourable mentions go to Amy Fogarty, whose front-row play improved with every minute on the pitch, to super-sub Aoife Teeling and to Glynnis Shaw, taking the field with a total of two hours’ rugby training under her belt.
After a period of concerted Clontarf pressure, a penalty 10 metres from the Balbriggan line was taken quickly, but a miscommunication led to the turnover of the ball and a subsequent try at the other end fifteen seconds later. It was a cruel end to such a spirited struggle, but one from which Clontarf will surely learn.
With a final reckoning of one win, one draw and one loss, Clontarf now have a list of areas where technical improvement is needed. While this is something that the coaches must address, it will be a comfort to those coaches that the qualities which cannot be taught – spirit, adventure, courage and resolve – are ones that this brand new squad seem to have in abundance.?