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.

ELAINE LYNCH

In 2010, the only thing Elaine Lynch knew about Athy Rugby Club is that it held a disco when she was in secondary school that she was never allowed to go to.   

Martin and Elaine Lynch wanted their son Eoghan to play a team sport and rugby was the latest on the list.

“We have three kids Eoghan, Liam and Amy and I used to walk around the pitches with Liam and Amy when Eoghan was training,” starts Elaine. 

“I started out by making chicken soup for the home matches because my mother-in-law had given me a big soup cauldron. That was how I first got involved in the club.”

One night, a coach noticed how Elaine and the kids were always walking in the club and asked if Liam would like to try playing. That was two in. 

Of course, Amy thought what was good enough for her brothers was good enough for her. That was three in. 

In 2012, Elaine was still beavering away in the club’s hospitality end when the call came out to join the new Women’s team. 

One of the women in the club, Carmel Henry, asked Elaine to do pre-season just to get fit. It had been nearly 20 years since she had last played any sport. 

At the end of pre-season, the coach Laura O’Callaghan invited those interested to stay at it with the view to training on Tuesday and Friday and playing on Sunday.      

“At the same time, I was asked to help coach Amy’s minis group on Thursday night and they would have blitzes and matches on Saturday.”

Within the space of a month, Elaine had committed to five days of playing and coaching rugby.

At 37, she played her first rugby match against Tullow, coming on as a replacement. 

“The first thing I did when I came on was to throw the ball to a Tullow girl when she called for it,” she says.

“For any new girls coming to training, I always tell them about the first thing I did as a player. 

“I say, ‘don’t worry. You can’t do much worse than that.”    

In fact, the game also helped Elaine to deal with a serious health issue that had hampered her life.

“I had a problem with a low heart rate from when I was younger. When I played, it had the health benefit of keeping it higher.

“My problem was that when I went from running where my rate was high to suddenly stopping, it could lead to me fainting. 

“It happened after a match in Dublin. We were all standing in a huddle and Martin, my husband, had gone into the clubhouse.

“We all had our arms around each other. I fainted and Laura, our coach, knew Martin might see it. She ordered everyone to sit down on the grass so that no one would see me slumped on the ground.”.   

Not long after, Elaine had to have a pacemaker inserted in what looked like the end of her playing career, according to her consultant.  

The following year, at a medical check-up, she pushed forward the idea of playing again and was surprised to be told she could see how it goes.

In 2014, one evening, Joey Carbery, the father of the Ireland international of the same name, approached Elaine at training.

“What do you think of starting up a girls’ team in the club?” he asked. 

“Oh, that sounds like a great idea,” I said.

“That’s grand. I’ll put your name down for it,” he bellowed.   

“I was like, ‘Okay.’”

That was it. 

On the first night, there were seven or eight for the girls’ minis. On the second, there were 12 or 13. On the third, there were 20-something. The printing of posters and the power of word-of-mouth worked as the oracle for Elaine and Geraldine O’Brien.    

“I posted an email to all the clubs in Leinster trying to figure out which clubs had girls’ teams we could play, leading to matches and even an appearance at a Leinster match during half-time in The RDS.” 

The impromptu work of reaching out to other clubs generated the momentum for Athy’s girls to play regularly. 

In 2017, it was noticed that there was a void for the U16 girls at the North-Midlands level. Padraig Hearns from Portlaoise enlisted Elaine in helping to coach at a training programme for clubs like Port Dara, an amalgamation of Portarlington and Cill Dara, Naas, Clane and Athy to introduce the girls earlier to the provincial system.  

On October 16th last year, under the eye of coach Mark Bergin, Elaine and Amy played together for the first time in a Leinster League Division Three match against Wicklow (J1s) at home in The Showgrounds. 

“I never thought I would still be playing, but playing with my daughter was something special,” she admits. 

“Amy turned 18 that Saturday and told me she would play with me the next day. I didn’t think it would happen because she was going on a big night out. But, she made it.

“It was hilarious. At one point, at a lineout, she said, ‘mam, you go to the front.’ 

“‘One of the Wicklow girls said, ‘did she just call her mam?’ It caused enough of a distraction for Amy to call a quick lineout and win it.”       

At the moment, she is an assistant to Geraldine O’Brien for the U18 Girls, training Tuesday and Thursday.

Elaine and the girls eligible to play both U18s and Women’s join the older group for a second session on Tuesday and another on Friday. The U18s play on Saturday; the Women on Sunday. 

A nurse by profession, Elaine is often called upon to provide assistance at matches as the primary first aid responder. 

“We started out going to Athy for Eoghan so that he could have something for himself and we all ended up involved in it,” she says.

“Some of my best friends are people I have met through rugby. My husband’s best friend came through it. My children are the same.  

“It has given so much to our family. It has given us a focus, a place where we all feel at home.”

“Do you still make the chicken soup?”

“No, I don’t have the time.”

Fair enough.