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'I wouldn't change it for the world' - Persistence pays off for sporting and career all-rounder Keohane

The Cork star earned her first Ireland 15s cap last weekend.

PERSISTENCE AND PERSEVERANCE.

Two words that perhaps best sum up Claire Keohane’s journey to her first international 15s rugby cap. Her 66th-minute call to action at Donnybrook in Ireland’s Six Nations opener win over Scotland on Sunday was a result of years and years of hard work.

claire-keohane Claire Keohane speaking to the media yesterday. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

On and off the field.

The Cork woman, who is entering the final stages of her medicine studies after flirting with physiotherapy, earned her first Ireland Sevens cap as a teenager in 2013, but she’s had to wait quite some time for her 15s debut.

“I’ve been around a while, I suppose,” Keohane laughs, as she settles into her seat four days on. And three days until her next cap, it appears.

“Everyone has been saying that to me this week. I’m feeling particularly old! I would have got my first Sevens cap when I was 19. I’ve always had ambitions to play 15s for Ireland. I’m delighted with the way things have worked out, I probably wouldn’t change it for the world.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Sevens circuit and I’m still involved in it. Getting to train at that level on a regular basis is phenomenal.”

It’s a far cry from where she started out, and her largely Gaelic games background.

While many transfer from there to the oval ball game, Keohane had the best of both worlds from the get-go though.

“For me, I grew up playing rugby underage at home in Youghal,” the out-half recalls. “I played with the boys up until I was about 11, my brother was playing in there and I was dragged in too. I was exposed to rugby at a very young age and I absolutely loved it.

“It’s fantastic that now there’s pathways for girls to play right up through their teens and progress into adult rugby. That wasn’t there at the time for me, so the natural progression was to play camogie and football.”

Rugby was put on the back burner for some time as Keohane pursued Gaelic football and camogie with her club Inch Rovers — winning an All-Ireland football title in 2010 — and both with her beloved, and all-conquering Cork.

But third-level education took her to University of Limerick [UL] where she rekindled her love of rugby.

“When I went to college in UL, I always had it in the back of my head that I’d love to go back and play rugby again,” she smiles, reflecting on the transition and her second coming.

“The skillsets, from an athleticism point of view, all cross over — particularly Gaelic football into Sevens. It’s very much just learning the game, and that’s for me as well coming from predominantly playing Sevens over the last number of years into 15s.

“Getting comfortable in that position and learning the game, the girls make that easier for you too.”

cora-staunton-and-claire-keohane Facing Cora Staunton in 2007. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Keohane caught the eye with UL Bohemians back in college and from there, went further afield.

“That was around the time Sevens was becoming an Olympic sport,” she explains, mapping her journey to where she is now. “The opportunity came about to come to Dublin to be centralised as a contracted Sevens player.

“I did that while working a little as a physiotherapist in a locum setting. I always had the idea that I wanted to study medicine and it felt like a good time for me. Certainly being in the Sevens programme and studying is probably more compatible than having a full-time job.”

In March, she sits her final year medicine exams at the Royal College of Surgeons, while she’s predominantly working in Beaumont Hospital, and balancing life between there and the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Abbotstown.

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Her focus — aside from Six Nations, obviously — is on passing those exams, before thinking about her intern year, which starts in July.

“I’m not looking too far ahead at the moment,” she grins. “As you get a little older, you take every week as it comes, every game as it comes.

“I will do what I can in the Six Nations and, obviously, we have a huge year ahead of us come the World Cup qualifiers. It is very much Wales this weekend and I will worry about July when it rolls around.”

Rugby is number one, of course, though she can’t help but miss her Gaelic games roots from time to time. And that’s been highlighted even further in the week that’s been. 

“I still have great friends at home, really supportive friends who would all have been in touch with me this week congratulating me about my first cap,” she beams.

“You get very selfish, you don’t actually realise how important it is for your friends and family and people around you who have grown up with you or played with you. It’s as much a moment for them as it is for you.

“It was overwhelming to see that support from people I played football with years ago down to the girls I played Sevens with who were equally as happy for me, and sending me messages from Sydney.”

CLAIRE Keohane with friends after the match. Source: Emma Murphy Twitter.

“There were masks,” she adds with a giggle, when a certain picture from the weekend is brought to her attention. “Two of my best friends came up with those.

“I’m still getting a lot of abuse over it. As much as you joke about it, it’s fantastic to have that support there. Whether you play well or you play poorly, they’re the ones who will always have your back.”

Many indeed have through the years.

Persistence does indeed pay off, and perhaps ex-Ireland international Alison Miller said it best with her Twitter tribute to her pal.

“I suppose you could put it that way,” Keohane nods. “I’ve been knocking on the door a little while now. You just keep plugging away, you hope your opportunity will come.

“Thankfully I got mine at the weekend, and fingers crossed I can contribute against Wales and go from there.”

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to preview Ireland-Wales and England’s trip to Murrayfield


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Emma Duffy

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