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'I'd been imagining pulling on that green jersey since I was nine'

19-year-old Eve Higgins is a rising star of Irish rugby, having shone on the sevens circuit last season.

THOSE IN THE know in Irish women’s rugby have been flagging the talent of Eve Higgins for some time now.

The 19-year-old was nominated for Rookie of the Year at the World Sevens Series awards last season and as Ireland get their new campaign underway at the Glendale 7s in Colorado today, she is likely to be a key figure.

There were many moments across the course of last season that underlined how exciting a prospect Higgins is – with her 23 appearances for Ireland on the series allowing the Railway Union club woman to show off her skills.

The season was capped off by an impressive World Cup Sevens for Ireland in San Francisco, with Higgins helping them to a best-ever sixth-place finish.

Higgins’ score in the fifth/sixth-place play-off was a fine example of her prodigious and fluid ability on the ball as she danced past two Spanish defenders to score Ireland’s only try in a 12-7 defeat.

Higgins Source: World Rugby

Click here if you cannot view the clip above 

“We set up quite early so I felt like I had a good bit of time and you’re just seeing if that first defender has turned their hips, say, or if they are over-tracking a bit and then you probably utilise a dummy or something like that,” says Higgins when asked for her memories of the score.

“I do like looking up and seeing what the defender is doing in front of me. Sometimes you have space out wide and just catch-and-give, but other times you have that time to look up. Hips turned, or something like that, and you go for it.”

Higgins’ success last season was not of the overnight variety, rather a culmination of years of dedication since taking up rugby at the age of eight.

Growing up in Lucan, Higgins first played the game with the nearby MU Barnhall RFC, based just outside Leixlip.

Following in her brother’s footsteps by representing Barnhall, Higgins played with the boys’ teams all the way up to U13 level.

“I was a massive tomboy and just wanted to play,” recalls Higgins. “It didn’t bother me to play against boys at all.

“But when you go into U13s, it becomes a lot more difficult for a girl to play with the boys’ team.

“You’d have to ask the other team are they ok with a girl playing, stuff like that. There’s that separation and after a year or two there weren’t many girls left playing in Barnhall.”

Higgins’ father emailed around clubs in Dublin and his enquiries led to the rugby-mad Eve joining Railway Union, where she’s been ever since.

Ireland's Eve Higgins runs in to score a try Higgins also scored against Russia at the World Cup. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

From the beginning, Higgins was smitten with rugby and spent hours alone working on her kicking and passing. As she was initially a scrum-half, Peter Stringer was an early role model.

“We left Lucan when I was 11 but just on the green out the front in the estate, there were two trees that were probably the width of three goalposts and I’d try to kick for those and get height on the ball,” says Higgins.

“We’re living in Kilcock now and we have a bigger garden, and the swing set became the posts. Myself and my brother, he went on to play in Castleknock College, we’d have one-v-one rugby matches out the back.

“How it worked was that we would just tackle each other, get back up and run again. I loved every minute of rugby from the start.”

Higgins’ potential was clear for all to see and though injuries forced her to wait longer than would have been the case to play for Ireland at U18 Girls Sevens level, international rugby was the obvious next stepping stone.

“My main goal has always been to play for Leinster but also to pull on a green jersey,” says Higgins. “I’d been imagining pulling on that green jersey since I was nine.

“I missed the first two years of underage with Leinster and Ireland because of injury, never having been injured before, so I was devastated with that.

“When I finally got to put on the green jersey in my last year of underage, I was 17 going on 18 and it was just an unreal experience. I loved it and it was something that I had waited nearly 10 years to do.

“It was a great experience for me and for my parents because they’d been bringing me to training sessions, matches, blitzes, then to see those injuries, it was great to finally go out and play for Ireland.”

Ireland’s Eve Higgins Higgins was nominated for Rookie of the Year last season. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

When Higgins helped the Ireland U18 Girls Sevens to a UK School Games Rugby 7s title in September 2017, she had already been involved with the senior national team programme in a developmental capacity.

Ireland were keeping a close eye on Higgins for the 15s game too – she’s an out-half now – and she was named in the extended World Cup squad in May 2017, before doing her Leaving Certificate in June. Though Higgins wasn’t included in the final World Cup squad, involvement in the wider group was a further symbol of her potential.

It all meant she wasn’t quite thrown in at the deep end when she won her first senior Ireland Sevens cap at the Dubai 7s just two months after being on the U18 side that won the UK School Games.

“It was very surreal,” says Higgins of what turned out to be a remarkable first season on the circuit. “Obviously, I’d been watching the girls play a lot and even playing with Stacey Flood, who I played underage with in Railway, it was surreal.

“My parents came over to Dubai for that first cap and then every tournament just became about learning and growing. It was something that I’d waited so long for and it was finally becoming a reality.”

Higgins’ development as a rugby player continued soon after the World Cup in July, as she jetted off to Australia for a two-month development placement with Bond University alongside fellow Ireland Sevens player Kathy Baker.

The placement allowed the Irish pair to star in the Aon University 7s, which proved to be a valuable experience – particularly given the speed and skill level of the competition in Australia.

“Stacey, Claire Boles and Katie Heffernan had done it last year and were saying how amazing it was,” says Higgins, who is a second-year student of History and Sociology at UCD.

“They have a good few Australian development girls playing and the standard of rugby was very good.

Eve Bond 2 Higgins played for Bond University in Australia.

“I got a lot of minutes that I maybe wouldn’t be as used to, especially coming off my first season playing for Ireland.

“They play heads-up rugby and I learned about game management, stuff like that. It was nice to experience that, and also my kicking – just having more opportunities to kick and hopefully I can bring that into the Ireland team if needs be.”

Fresh from her two-month stay in Australia, Higgins has signed a full-time contract with Ireland’s Sevens programme and is excited to get stuck back into the circuit this weekend at altitude in Glendale.

She has ambitions in the 15s game too but for now, her focus is on helping Ireland get off to a good start on the series as they face tough pool opposition in France, Canada and Fiji today.

“Every pool is tough on the World Series but we’re looking to set a marker in the first tournament of the year,” says Higgins.

“We’re a tight squad and we want to do it not only for the girls here, but the girls at home, the whole squad in general. We’re feeling confident about it.”

Ireland fixtures at Glendale 7s:

All games streamed live on Facebook and Youtube

Saturday 20 October, Pool C

France v Ireland, 5:52pm [Irish time]
Canada v Ireland, 8:14pm [Irish time]
Ireland v Fiji, 10:58pm [Irish time]

Sunday 21 October

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Murray Kinsella

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