Women of Leinster Rugby: Christy Haney
February 3, 2023 9:25 am Des Berry
As the Vodafone Women’s Interpro Series concluded last month, Leinster Rugby is continuing focusing on some of the unsung heroes making the girls and the women’s game tick across the 12 counties of Leinster.
These are their stories and their work. These are, The Women of Leinster Rugby.
CHRISTY HANEY – THE CO-CAPTAIN
Ten years ago, at a sports fair at the University of Virginia (UVA), the presence of “a really cute, fluffy dog” drew Christy Haney to the rugby table.
She had played a bit of everything as a child, narrowing her focus to softball, until knee trouble made her look for an alternative way of competing.
“Oddly enough, I wanted to take up a sport that would be easier on them, so I took up rugby,” she laughs.
Five days and two training sessions later, she turned up to her first match and was immediately placed at prop forward as an introduction to the game.
“I think when you don’t know anything about the sport, it doesn’t matter where you start playing. It was nearly better that I didn’t know what I was getting into.
“I rocked up on the first Saturday and soon asked a girl: ‘so, how long are these games?’
“There is no way I am running for 80 minutes.”
“It wasn’t too bad because I got a 10-minute yellow card break in the middle of the match for boring in at a scrum. I didn’t have a clue what that was, but a moment to catch my breath in the sin-bin did me no harm.”
In her first experience, Christy was fortunate to come across two tremendous coaches Julie Comer and Nancy Kechner, who was USA’s 2018 Women’s Coach of the Year.
Christy knew she was made for the game when Nancy shared how “the prop Gods are smiling down on us” in reference to her progress at UVA.
The UVA squad would get into local derbies with Virginia Tech and James Madison University, also routinely driving four-to-five hours to play matches in Pennsylvania or North Carolina and driving back home on the same day.
“It was all an adventure back then. We would wake up at 4am, meet at the coach’s house where we would have bagels and cream cheese and lash ourselves into the cars,” she says.
“The team bonding that happened on those road trips was invaluable. We were truly a family and we knew everything about each other,” recalls Christy.
“Nancy would make Friday night team dinners for us all and we would return the favour by walking the dogs or helping out around the house.
“There’s nothing that Nancy and Comer wouldn’t have done for us. I think they exemplify what rugby culture is to me – that willingness to be there, no matter what, for your teammates on and off the pitch.”
In 2012, 2013 and 2015, the off-season was used to get in better shape with the NOVA Women’s 7s, under the guidance of Dana Creager.
In the summer of 2014, Christy traveled to Canada with the US All-Collegiate team to play in a two-game series, taking the opportunity to meet and play with incredible women from all across the states, some of whom are now currently playing on the US 15s and 7s teams.
In 2016, Christy ended her time at UVA as the captain of Nancy and Comer’s first-ever team to make it to the USA Rugby Women’s College Elite D1 Championship Final.
“We were the underdogs going into the match and surprised even ourselves when we took and maintained an early lead. In the 79th minute, an intercepted pass, leading to a converted try was our downfall. It’s up there with one of the most devastating losses I’ve experienced.”
When the time came to leave UVA, Christy moved to Ireland to pursue a Master’s degree in Structural Engineering at UCD, captaining ‘College’ to win the annual colours match against Trinity in 2017.
“I had never been to Europe. I had never really travelled outside of the US. My comfort zone was rugby, so when I arrived my first thought was to find a team.
“During one of my first UCD training sessions, I met St Mary’s prop Leah Hayden, who invited me the next evening down to one of their sessions.
“It was such a welcoming club. I got to play with Ireland internationals Paula Fitzpatrick and Orla Fitzsimons. I didn’t even know who they were at the time,” she admits.
Two seasons were spent at St Mary’s College where the low of relegation in 2016/2017 was followed by the high of promotion in 2017/2018.
At the end of the Masters, Christy had a decision to make, stay in Ireland or return home.
“I had come to Dublin for a year. But I had made the mistake of coming to a country that used millimetres and metres for work and was terrified of going back to feet and inches.
“I was enjoying my rugby and committed to staying for three-to-five years to earn my ‘chartership’ and try to play for Ireland. Having achieved both goals in 2022, I’ve now bumped that out to another three-to-five years.
“God only knows how long I will be here now.”
In 2017, Leinster coach Adam Griggs invited Christy to join the provincial set-up in a whirlwind appreciation for what Irish rugby looked like at that level.
“That was really cool. There was such a feeling of family at Leinster, a feeling that has only grown in the last five years.”
In 2018, Christy moved to her current club Blackrock College where she was welcomed by Phillip Doyle, aka Goose.
“It was at a time I was struggling with rugby. Goose helped me to remember my love for the game”.
Four years later, under Ben Martin and Goose’s coaching, Christy was recently a part of Blackrock’s All-Ireland League title win over Railway Union.
A change of Leinster coach to Phil de Barra led to a change of captaincy in 2021, Christy sharing the responsibilities of leadership with Michelle Claffey and Nikki Caughey.
“I was completely floored. It was such an honour to be even considered. Only the week before, I had asked our lineouts coach, Maz Reilly, who she thought would be captain.
“‘What about you?’ She said”
‘No, I’m sure he’ll pick someone with a higher rugby IQ than me.’ I said at the time.
“But there’s a lot more to leadership than that. It’s about setting and driving standards by working hard and setting an example, whether you’re a ‘captain’ or not.
“I try to be the leader that is needed in the situation that arises. Different girls need different things, whether it’s a calming influence or someone to rile them up, and I like to think that’s something I’m good at.”
This season, the co-captaincy has been retained by new coach Tania Rosser, Christy sharing the accolade with Hannah O’Connor.
She has even been attracted into coaching the Blackrock Minis U8s, U10s, and U12s, in a sign of her deepening love of the game.
“To see contracts being offered and coaching 10 year-olds that, maybe, could be offered contracts in 10 years’ time is a cool concept for me,” she states.
“I am so excited for them to inherit the rugby that we are building on top of the foundation of the game already created in Ireland by the amazing women who have worn the jersey before us.”
Grandmother Gertrude Torpey from Borrisokane, north of Nenagh, moved to the United States in her twenties, marrying a man from Glasgow.
The Scots-Irish heritage is deeply ingrained, Christy’s family even streaming TG4’s broadcasting of matches.
“My family doesn’t know much about rugby, and they certainly don’t speak Irish,” she laughs,
“My Dad, Sean, came over for the Six Nations match against Scotland last year.”
In typical Irish fashion, Sean has kept quiet his ‘Irish pride’ at Christy’s achievements in collecting five Ireland caps, saving those garlands for strangers.
His daughter only learned of his feelings when bumping into a woman who had met Sean at the Six Nations match.
“Oh my gosh, I met your dad at the Scottish match. I never met a man as proud,” she told Christy.
“Oh my God, I was mortified.”
There’s nothing more Irish than that.