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'In Beibhinn, Ireland have someone who can do things that other people can't do'

19-year-old Ballinasloe RFC product Beibhinn Parsons is a rising star of Irish rugby.

Updated Apr 10th 2021, 9:19 AM

Parsons

IT WAS A moment that made you sit up in your seat, hit by that searing sense of seeing a particularly gifted athlete in full flow. There was a sudden and thrilling rise of excitement among the crowd at Donnybrook, with a warm hum of appreciation following.

That’s how it felt when Beibhinn Parsons got her first touch in Test rugby for Ireland at the age of just 16.

Having been brought off the bench against the US to become the youngest Ireland international ever, the Ballinasloe flyer took a pass and scythed past a couple of stunned American defenders with a mixture of speed, balance, and power. Though she was just held up and denied a debut try, Parsons had signalled her potential in a flash.

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She has barely looked back since, with the 19-year-old coming into today’s Six Nations clash against Wales in Cardiff [KO 5pm, RTÉ 2] as a first-choice starter on the left wing and an undoubted new star of Irish rugby.

Parsons has scored three tries in her eight Ireland caps so far, with two particularly memorable efforts against Scotland and Wales last year, and the best is very much still ahead of the Connacht woman.

“In Beibhinn, Ireland have got someone who can do things that other people can’t do,” says former Ireland wing Alison Miller, who was a great herself in the number 11 jersey.

“Those tries she scored last year were individualistic, she made something happen. That’s how dangerous she is.”

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Already, Parsons is an inspiration for younger players getting into the game. Back home in Ballinasloe RFC, there were 120 girls registered with the club before the pandemic hit.

“Beibhinn is why we have so many players in our club,” says Ann Conlon, who is part of the committee in Ballinasloe.

“I’d say I have had her head wrecked asking her to come up to the club to help us out but she always did it. She has great pride in the club.”

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Girls rugby wasn’t a thing in Ballinasloe until the summer of 2013 when Declan Murphy and a small band of volunteers convinced a bunch of mainly football-playing youngsters to come down to their grounds in Graigueawoneen and give the oval ball a go. A month later, the new minis team was travelling to Athlone for a blitz.

Conlon, whose daughter Meabh Deely is another high achiever from Ballinasloe, recalls someone breaking their collarbone at the blitz, leaving the coaches and parents concerned that the kids would be turned off their new sport.

“I remember on the way home I asked the girls, ‘Do ye like it?’” says Conlon.

“They all said they just loved it and would never give up. That was the beginning of it.”

B Parsons [front row, centre] with her Ballinasloe team-mates.

Ballinasloe took off, soon setting up girls teams up through the age grades, as well as providing players to the Connacht U18 provincial team and the Ireland U18 7s side.

Parsons didn’t come from a rugby-playing family. Her father, Mayo man Vincent, was her football coach. Her cousin, Tom Parsons, was a stalwart midfielder for Mayo until his inter-country retirement this year. Beibhinn and her family lived in County Galway, but they’d cheer Mayo on every year.

Parsons, who had also done athletics, took to rugby with glee and the progress of older Ballinasloe girls gave her aspirations to chase.

“At around U16s, she started to really stand out,” says Conlon. “It was her speed. That team never lost a Cup final. If you had Beibhinn, you always knew you were going to score.”

It helped that Parsons’ school, Ardscoil Mhuire, also took to rugby under the guidance of Connacht community rugby officer Dermot Tierney, winning an All-Ireland 7s title in 2018.

That year, Parsons was one of 11 Ballinasloe players in the Connacht U18 squad that won the inter-pros for the first time ever.

Herself, Meabh Deely, and Aoibheann Reilly went on to play for the Ireland U18s 7s together and Parsons and Reilly were then selected to train with the senior Ireland Women squad for the 2018 November Tests.

12 days before she turned 17, Parsons came off the bench against the US, with a busload of team-mates, friends, and family travelling from Ballinasloe to Dublin to see it live. There was plenty of emotion as they watched her play the closing minutes.

“She was only 16 then but you could see the raw potential,” recalls Miller. “There is an explosiveness, a power element to her game, her leg drive, her footwork… that all sets her apart.”

beibhinn-parsons-after-the-game-with-her-mother-evelyn Parsons with her mother, Evelyn, after her Ireland debut. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Parsons was part of Ireland’s 2019 Six Nations squad, winning two further caps against France and Wales, as well as picking up her first Test try with a straightforward finish against the Welsh.

That summer, she was with the senior Connacht squad and Miller, who was player-coaching, got to see close up just how exciting a prospect Parsons is. A hat-trick in the semi-final against Munster was a clear marker for everyone else.

“For me, that was the day she kind of announced herself,” says Miller, who scored a classy winning try in that semi-final. “I remember saying to her before that game, ‘If you get the ball, just go for it – you can do things other people can’t.’”

Parsons’ rise for Ireland continued with a start against Wales in November 2019 before she scored superb tries in the opening two games of their 2020 Six Nations campaign.

First, there was the intercept score against Scotland that showed her decision-making, reading of the game, and pure pace.

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Then came her remarkable solo effort against Wales, featuring skillful handling to gather the bouncing ball close to the touchline, acceleration, footwork, and another pacy finish.

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“She has a genuine athletic profile,” says Miller. “She’s powerful, has speed and strength, she always breaks tackles. Even if she doesn’t manage to finish, she’s putting people on the ground or sucking people in.

“You often come across wings who are fast but not physical, but she seems to have the blend of elasticity in her jumping and bounding – things sprinters can do – as well as the power in her leg drive, and the footwork.

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“Some wings just have speed and no endurance but she seems to have that as well. She could probably compete in athletics and be successful.”

Connacht Meabh Deely, Alison Miller, Beibhinn Parsons, and Aoibheann Reilly after an inter-pro in 2019.

Parsons’ hand-off is another weapon that Miller highlights, having only learned that skill herself midway through her playing days. 

Remarkably enough, Parsons was sitting an exam in her Leaving Cert mocks the day after her try against Wales last year, having made a decision to only play the first two games of the 2020 Six Nations before focusing on her school work. It turned out she got the Italy clash in too given it was delayed until last October, Ireland’s most recent game.

Her dad is a doctor and her mum, Evelyn, also works in healthcare, and Parsons – now a student of Biomedical, Health and Life Sciences at UCD – is mature, level-headed, and driven. Those attributes are important to her rugby as well as her academic success.

“You often see people with the ability who don’t have the work ethic,” says Miller.

Parsons is a popular team-mate and a “gas ticket,” according to Conlon, who stresses how much she and everyone else in Ballinasloe are delighting in Parsons’ journey in the game.

The last year has been tough for the club but they have done their best to stay connected and Conlon hopes to see girls flocking back to the game when restrictions lift. Parsons’ love of the game is “contagious” and she serves as a role model for those following behind.

Of course, these are still early days. Parsons has focused on 15s rugby so far at senior level but links in with the Ireland 7s programme – which also includes fellow Ballinasloe products Meabh Deely and Aoibheann Reilly – in between camps with Adam Griggs’ side.

beibhinn-parsons-celebrates-scoring-the-opening-try Parsons celebrates her try against Wales last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There is little doubt Parsons’ qualities will be harnessed when Ireland 7s look to reach the 2024 Olympics in Paris, but there is a 15s World Cup in New Zealand to come next year, with Ireland yet to qualify for it.

Miller stresses that making mistakes is all part of the process of becoming a better player, particularly at Test level, but it’s difficult not to be excited about what lies ahead for Parsons.

“She needs quality ball – any wing has to have space and ball – but she’ll also learn how to get off her wing and get herself involved in the game too,” says Miller.

“She’s known now, she will be watched more. I’m sure Wales are targeting her as a player they need to stop, whereas last year they probably weren’t as aware of her.

“She’s good enough to excel even when she’s being marked.”

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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