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'I didn't take it as a malicious attack on my sexuality:' Lindsay Peat on overcoming sledging

The Ireland prop speaks to The42 about her experience.

DURING TIMES OF uncertainty in a game, Lindsay Peat takes a second to remind herself that she has survived difficult times like this before.

Lindsay Peat Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We’ve been here before and it works out,” is a mantra that has sheltered her through many storms in the past, and has become an effective tool in her game-mode armoury.

The mentality sounds simple in theory but its origins come from a difficult period in her life, in which she became the victim of sledging.

Sledging in women’s sport is a topic that has gone relatively untouched on a public scale, with Cork camogie star Ashling Thompson among the few to have spoken out about their experiences in this country.

In her younger years, Peat was struggling to come to terms with her sexual identity. She had the acceptance and support of her family, when she revealed she was gay, but, on occasion, opponents would use her sexuality to try and provoke a reaction in a game.

“Yeah, it would have been a couple of times. I’ve been on a journey in sport and that journey has been from that person who was terribly insecure, terribly bad tempered and was uncomfortable with myself at times.

“That journey has brought a more comfortable acceptance of myself thankfully. It happened three times max. There’s probably more but thankfully I’ve forgotten them, but there’s one or two that would stick with you.

I keep them for the only reason that that was them having to resort to that and thankfully, I didn’t react. At times when you do want to blow your top off or react badly, you just take a deep breath and remember that you’ve dealt with this before, you’ve gotten through this before,” she tells The42.

“I didn’t take it as a malicious attack on my sexuality. I think it was more so used in bad taste to try and annoy me and that’s fair enough as well.”

That psychological mechanism which has guided her through rough patches in a game, was forged in the resolve she showed when opponents tried to break her down.

And rather than give into the taunts at the time, Peat chose to punish the offenders in the most effective way she knows how, by channeling the hurt into putting scores on the board.

“I just roared at my teammates to give me the ball and try and take them on to do damage (on the scoreboard).

That’s the only way you can answer people in that sense. I’ve never taken it as a personal attack on me or my sexuality.

“It was more to try and annoy me to try and get me out of the game. You have to take that hand in hand. That’s just the way things go.

“I’m just giving examples to remind myself that we’ve been here before and it works out.”

Source: EclipsePicturesIE/YouTube

The new Irish film ‘Handsome Devil’ addresses the issue of homosexuality in sport.

It documents the struggle of a male rugby player in a sports-fixated school, coming to terms with the fact that he’s gay while also trying to maintain a certain image of masculinity among his unenlightened teammates.

Peat, who has a baby boy with her wife Claire, hasn’t seen the movie, but she can appreciate the kind of lesson that viewers can take from it.

“Films like that, can tell a story and send a message to someone. Whether it’s gay, straight, your religion or whatever it may be, it’s important to get it out there and help people.

“I’ve been very lucky and I’m sure other people haven’t been so lucky, so films like that tell people a story and people can take what they need and what they want from it. I think it is important.

Lindsay Peat with her son Barra Lindsay Peat holding her son Barra. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

“And that’s across anything, whether it’s gay or religion or anything that brings that slight controversy that makes people feel uncomfortable.

“Thankfully, I’ve been able to be who I am and I’m a much happier person. It’s an easier life. I’d hate to think that anyone is carrying such a burden that drives them to do something silly.”

A former Gaelic football, basketball and soccer player, Peat has gone on to make a seamless adjustment to rugby.

Her progression in the sport has been swift and just two years in, the Ireland prop was voted the BNY Mellon Women’s Player of the Year for 2017.

It’s an affirmation from her peers that Peat has evolved from a newcomer in the squad, into a leader of the pack.

But the individual accolades don’t sit snugly with her. When she received the phone call from Nancy Chillingworth of Irish Women’s Rugby to inform her of the nomination, she struggled to find the words to respond.

“There was a just a deafening silence and she said, “hello? Are you still there?” I didn’t know what to say to her. I’m still in shock at the nomination let alone getting the award.”

Lindsay Peat is presented with the BNY Mellon XVs Player of the Year Award by Jennifer Tully Bell Lindsay Peat holding the BNY Mellon XVs Player of the Year Award. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

She never considered that her name would be called out at the awards banquet and was more distracted by the stress of deciding on an outfit for the evening.

She was confident that one of the other nominees — Paula Fitzpatrick or Leah Lyons — would eventually get the nod, and was just happy to be among some of the most respected figures in Irish rugby.

“Honestly, it was the last name I was expecting and probably the first thing that came to my mind was the regret of slagging Paula and Leah as to how they were going to get all the way up to the stage because I didn’t really think about it.

“Our table was down the back and obviously, with all of us wearing heels it was a pretty long journey so I didn’t really have any route.

“I wasn’t really planning, I was just happy enough to be among the elite women players and to be nominated along with them. That was more than enough.”

Paula Fitzpatrick and Lindsay Peat Paula Fitzpatrick and Lindsay Peat standing for the national anthems. Source: Ian Cook/INPHO

She adds: “It has been very hard to take but I’m not a person who does it for that. I’m just a big kid who loves playing sport.

“I’ve been just privileged to play with some absolutely fantastic players and fantastic teams. I’m just honoured by that fact and anything outside of that is an absolute bonus and it’s not something I really do it for.

“I don’t feel like I deserve any of the nice things people have said. I’m very overwhelmed and thankful. The phone was pretty nuts.”

The World Cup in Ireland is just three months away and Tom Tierney’s side are immersed in their pre-season work.

Their first camp begins this weekend, with Australia, Japan and France awaiting them in Pool C of the tournament.

For her own preparation, Peat has decided to cut her work back to two days a week to allow for better recovery time between each session, while also affording her more time to spend with her family.

Peat says that making the change is “hugely down to Claire and her commitment to financially take that burden while I try to focus on this at the minute. I wouldn’t be able to do it without her.”

The Six Nations campaign put some competitive victories in the bank for Ireland, with a loss to England in the Grand Slam finale standing as the only blemish on an otherwise flawless record of results.

According to Peat, the squad reconvened two weeks after the defeat to England as the World Cup started coming into focus.

“We only had two weeks off but that’s fine, we couldn’t really afford more time with not finishing the job at Six Nations through a number of reasons.

“Really, we can’t say that we gave it everything. Things didn’t go our way but to build on good points and the four out of five wins, we just want to give this the best crack we can.”

Lindsay Peat is consoled by her father Ken after the game Lindsay Peat consoled by her father after the defeat to England. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The commentary around England’s triumph has touched on the fact that they are a professional outfit.

But Peat was never daunted by their status and believed Ireland could compete for the ultimate prize, when the sides met in March.

“There’s been a lot of talk about the professionalism and obviously that will play a positive part for England, and fair play to them.

“You need people to take the lead and others will follow, and hopefully eventually we will.

“I was very optimistic going into that England game and I’m still optimistic going into the World Cup. Not to take away from them. The professionalism has only added to a group that was a really good team.

“It didn’t cross our minds. We’re in an Irish jersey and that’s where we want to be and it’s what we’ve trained for. Regardless of anything outside of that, that was our sole focus.”

Those times are behind Peat now, and she’s navigated storms like these before. The World Cup in August presents a new opportunity for her, and nothing will distract her for it.

“For me, I just want that Irish jersey.”

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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