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'It's something you dream of when you first start playing' - from rugby roots to Ireland's call

Aoibheann Reilly will make her Ireland 15s debut this weekend.

Aoibheann Reilly.
Aoibheann Reilly.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THERE WAS NO fore-warning. No fuss.

Aoibheann Reilly found out she would make her Ireland debut this weekend when the team was announced to the wider group on Monday.

“We were all told at the same time, together as a fresh, new squad. As soon as I saw it, I couldn’t believe it. It’s just something I’ve dreamed of since I started playing rugby back in Ballinasloe.”

Home was her first port of call.

She rang her parents straight away, and they were obviously delighted. 

“We’re a big rugby family,” the 21-year-old smiles, ahead of her bow at scrum-half against Wales tomorrow [KO 4.45pm, live on Virgin Media One].

“It’s something you dream of when you first start playing, wearing that Irish jersey, so it just meant a lot. I was so happy that I could share the moment with them.”

That’s where it all began, after all. Her earliest memories of rugby are with the Ballinasloe U12 Community Games team her father, Stephen, coached, and her brother, Colm, who is on the books at Connacht and is also a scrum-half, also played with.

Another key member of those sides was Beibhinn Parsons; a life-long team-mate and friend. Now part of the same 15s squad, having joined forces on the Sevens scene through the years, it’s fair to say that Reilly was inspired by Parsons’ rise to stardom.

emily-gavin-aoibheann-reilly-and-beibhinn-parsons-celebrate-with-the-trophy-1592018 Reilly (left) and Parsons (right) celebrating after their U18 interprovincial final win with Connacht in 2018. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I would have been there back in Energia Park for her first cap,” she recalls. “We went to primary school, secondary school together. Played GAA together even.

“When we first got called onto the U18s Sevens together, that was the pinnacle moment where you realise somewhere down the line in the future, we could be playing for Ireland together. That’s something that just really drove me when I was younger and it’s just a dream come true really.

“It’s a very special moment that we’ll get to share on Saturday.”

While Reilly has represented her country on the biggest stage in another code, it’s far from the same. “I suppose Sevens and 15s, although they’re both rugby, they’re different games and the environment is different,” she explains.

“It’s still a very special moment for me and I’m sure I’ll be just as nervous come Saturday. It’s such an honour. I always wanted to play 15s. It’s very exciting.”

aoibheann-reilly Reilly in training recently. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

That Sevens experience certainly helps, though, as does her recent string of impressive showings in the Energia All-Ireland League with Blackrock College. Both of those are huge factors towards her inclusion, she notes.

“I’ve been lucky enough to get that AIL exposure. Getting those games under my belt, I’ve felt way more comfortable at nine, controlling the game. Getting that fast tempo. That has definitely helped me feel real confident in the role.

“The game of Sevens, it really tests your core skills, your catch pass. There is that excess space. You also have to be more dominant in your collision. It definitely has improved my core skills. I’m really looking forward to showing that off on Saturday.”

Reilly was previously in the squad as a development player during her Leaving Cert year of 2018, where she crossed paths with the likes of now-captain Nichola Fryday, Nicole Cronin and Edel McMahon.

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aoibheann-reilly-is-tackled-by-katie-odwyer In action for Blackrock College. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

She looked up to them back then, but now she’ll line out alongside them — and no longer a Leaving Cert student, now in her Final Year of Health and Performance Science in UCD.

Cronin, in particular, who’ll be never be too far away from her at 10.

“Nicole is a class player. Her skills are just amazing,” she beams.

“She is one of the best out there. It helps that she was also a nine. She can play off me well. She knows what I’m thinking as well. I’m looking forward to playing with her on Saturday. 

“I’m buzzing.”

- Originally published at 7:45am


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Emma Duffy

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