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From failing floodlights to a record crowd in Leicester - Doyle sees big progression

The Limerick woman is set to come in on the wing against England on Sunday.

Aoife Doyle is set for a start on Sunday against England.
Aoife Doyle is set for a start on Sunday against England.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IT’S BEEN SEVEN years since Aoife Doyle made her Ireland debut on the right wing as an 18-year-old and things have changed quite a bit in that time.

Back then, Ireland were on their way to a Six Nations title, even if they lost to France that day in February 2015.

The game was played in front of just over 2,000 people at Ashbourne in County Meath and the floodlights went out three times during the game, causing very unwelcome delays.

After the match, which was played in tough weather conditions, family and friends’ cars got stuck in the mud of the nearby field that was serving as a temporary car park.

Those who hadn’t made it along to the game had to tune in via a livestream, rather than watching it on TV.

So it’s fair to say that things will be very different when Doyle wins her ninth Ireland cap against England on Sunday in front of a record crowd of more than 15,000 people at Welford Road in Leicester and with the game being shown live on Virgin Media at home.

“It’s funny to look back at the progressions since I first started,” says Limerick woman Doyle, who first played rugby with Shannon RFC.

Sadly for Ireland, their fortunes on the pitch have changed drastically during the same time.

The fear is that Sunday in England could be a dark day of a different kind for Irish women’s rugby, with this fully-professional English team firm favourites to rack up a big score. There are even worries that England could challenge their record 79-0 scoreline against Ireland.

aoife-doyle-and-her-family-celebrate-with-the-trophy-after-the-game Doyle celebrates the AIL title for Railway Union. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Doyle is honest in her assessment of where England are taking the game.

“I think it’s fairly obvious that England are sort of in a league of their own at the moment,” she says. “They’re definitely the best team in the world in my opinion and France are up there alongside them.”

The fact that England are professionals makes things all the more difficult for Ireland’s amateur squad – now shorn of its contracted 7s players – and Doyle is a case in point.

During the first three weeks of this Six Nations, she combined being part of the Ireland squad with three weeks of placement at a school in Limerick as part of her teaching studies through the Marino Institute of Education.

“An absolutely mental time,” is how Doyle describes it. She used her lunch breaks for recovery sessions and got through training, analysis, and any other extra rugby work in the evenings. 

“Because we love the game so much, we’re willing to do that as players but it’s definitely difficult,” says Doyle.

She’s in the second year of her Education degree, having put her studies on hold for several years while she was a full-time Ireland 7s player.

When Doyle made her 15s debut back in 2015, she had already been integrated into the Ireland 7s set-up and she ended up spending six years contracted to that squad.

“When I first started out, we hadn’t qualified for the World Series so we were called an ‘emerging’ sevens side.

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irelands-aoife-doyle Doyle spent six years with the Ireland 7s. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“For a couple of years, we fought to get core status on the Series and from there, it just sort of took off in a professional route and we were training every day.

“Back at the beginning, it was just weekends training in DCU then it turned into contracts. I started living in Dublin, we were training Monday to Friday, travelling the world playing rugby.

“It has progressed even more so now, with the girls training in the HPC and with their performances on the World Series recently too, it just shows how it has grown in this country as well.”

When the Ireland 7s failed to qualify for the most recent Olympics in Tokyo, Doyle decided to finish with the programme and initially thought she might be done with rugby altogether as she turned her attention to studying.

She only lasted three or four weeks before she was back playing with Railway Union RFC in Dublin. A chat with then-Ireland head coach Adam Griggs followed and Doyle was swiftly back in the 15s squad, returning to the green jersey for the 2020 Six Nations.

Doyle missed out on last year’s failed World Cup Qualifier campaign in Italy but has had an excellent All-Ireland League season with Railway and is set to come into Ireland’s back three this weekend after the departure of five of the starting backline for 7s duty.

Among those cheering her on will be the children she was teaching during her recent placement.

“I was in a very sporty school in Caherdavin in Limerick, so they were very, very excited to have me in!” 

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Murray Kinsella

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