'You’re sore, but you get on with it' - Balancing bruising Six Nations games and teaching duties

Ireland’s Hannah O’Connor was back in the classroom after Ireland’s defeat to England last week.

Ireland's Hannah O'Connor in action against England.
Ireland's Hannah O'Connor in action against England.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

WHEREAS HER ENGLISH and French counterparts are fully embracing the lives of professional athletes ahead of their Grand Slam decider in Bayonne this weekend, Ireland women’s rugby back-row Hannah O’Connor hasn’t had the same luxury in the lead-up to her side’s final round clash with Scotland at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday evening.

Like the majority of her international colleagues, O’Connor was back in work on Monday – in her case teaching the sixth class students at Scoil Mhuire GNS in Lucan. Her day job also took priority on Tuesday, before she departed the IRFU High Performance Centre on Wednesday morning to set up camp in Belfast with the Ireland squad for the remainder of the week.

Between allowing her body to recover from physically gruelling international tests and asking for time off work from an accommodating employer, the Galway native is left with a lot to juggle during a Six Nations window. Nevertheless, it has done little to dim her appetite and a third consecutive start at No 8 this weekend will be more than enough to sustain her over the coming days.

“It’s the same after every game, you get up the next day and you feel that bit of soreness. The sore feeling rolls into excitement again, because you get to roll into this week and you know what is coming this week,” O’Connor said.

“The kids I teach are sixth class. They’re 11 and 12 so they’re not quite into the gory details. I try to cover up the bruises so as not to scare them! You’re sore enough, but you just get on with it at the moment. That’s where we’re at with it. It’s on to the next job in every sense, both rugby and ‘work’ work.”

Instead of the sole focus being on the fact Ireland were on the wrong side of a 69-0 final scoreline, a wider discussion has taken place in the days that have followed last Sunday’s fourth round game against England.

In addition to a debate over whether it is feasible for female players to be involved with both the 7s and 15s international squads, there has been plenty of talk surrounding the IRFU potentially introducing contracts for the latter code.

While not wishing to delve too much into these subjects with a big test match on the horizon, O’Connor is encouraged by the strong support the Ireland squad are receiving from the public at large.

“It’s not really our focus point during the week when we’re in here because it’s very much a bubble that you’re in and you’re focusing on the opposition. Whether it was England last week or Scotland this week.

“It’s not something that comes up as a genuine topic of conversation much, but the support that we’ve had on social media for all the games so far, from across the country, has been overwhelming. It has been absolutely brilliant to see.

“The IRFU are working behind the scenes at the various aspects of getting all the ducks in-a-row, but we kind of leave that in their hands. We try to sort out stuff on the pitch and make sure we finish on a high as best as we can this Saturday.”

Even though she is set to pick up her 12th Ireland cap – having made her international bow against Wales in a 2019 autumn international – Saturday’s game will see O’Connor coming face-to-face with Scotland for the very first time in a green jersey.

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She missed out on selection when Ireland defeated the Scots at Energia Park in the 2020 Six Nations and the two sides didn’t meet in the truncated 2021 Championship. A broken finger ruled her out of last summer’s World Cup qualification tournament in Parma and she watched on from afar as Ireland fell to a costly 20-18 reversal at the hands of Scotland.

Despite being idle for a game that ultimately ended their hopes of reaching this year’s global finals in New Zealand, O’Connor was every bit as heartbroken as those who took the field in northern Italy. That is why she sees Saturday’s game as such an ideal opportunity for this group to lay down a marker for future Championships.

“It was obviously incredibly disappointing. Whether you were there living it on the pitch or whether you were at home watching it. Same as everybody else who was a rugby supporter in the rest of the country. It was incredibly disappointing, but it’s great to be able to have another chance this weekend to go up against the same opposition,” O’Connor added.

“Obviously that will be in our minds as well, in terms of that was our last time that we’ve played this opposition. The same way we’ve gone out [every time] in this competition, it’s ‘yes we’re not going to the World Cup, but we have a point to prove in every game that we play in and the performances that we put on’. That’s what we’ll be hoping to do and finish in a good spot on Saturday night.”

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