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From competing against Leona Maguire to winning a first Test start for Ireland

Hannah O’Connor has taken an interesting path to international rugby.

Ireland number eight Hannah O'Connor.
Ireland number eight Hannah O'Connor.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

SIX CAPS INTO her international rugby career, Hannah O’Connor ticks a big one off the bucket list this weekend when she starts for Ireland for the first time, lining out at number eight for tomorrow’s meeting with Japan at the RDS.

It’s one of those moments where a player can stop to reflect on the journey they’ve been on, and also think about what could have been if life had played out a little differently.

“Golf was probably my first sport,” explains O’Connor.

“I played that for a good few years at underage with Connacht and was lucky enough to get representative at underage level there. Then when I moved back up to work in Dublin I kind of got stuck into tag rugby and then moved up into the rugby and focused my time on that, so the golf is still there but not quite as to the fore as everything else.”

For O’Connor, golf was much more than just a pastime.

I got down to single figures at one point in terms of handicap. I was always strong enough in terms of distance, distance was never a problem. It was always finding the ball at the end of the distance that was a problem… But, as my Mam and Dad would probably agree, I lacked the patience for it.

“I preferred a quick speed game and rugby suited that in terms of physicality and a team game, as well. It is still there, and will go back to it at some stage.

“But I was serious enough about it up until about 16 or 17 and then fell away from it.”

It also brought O’Connor into direct competition with some future stars of the sport, having found herself sharing a fairway with a young Leona Maguire on more than one occasion.

“I remember distinctly getting hockeyed every single time. Both twins, Lisa as well, they were only about 12 at the time too, so they were tiny. Tiny to look at on the tee box and then they would absolutely wipe the floor with most people, adults or teenagers or anyone that stepped up to the plate.

“It is definitely something I look back on (fondly) but there is definitely no victories for me over Leona.”

Now the Leinster player is purely focused on rugby, and the task of breaking into a competitive back row. Having missed the World Cup qualifiers in September due to a broken finger that ended up requiring surgery, O’Connor is looking to take the next step in her development as an international 15s player at what is a transitional period for this Ireland squad.

Captain Ciara Griffin is set to retire following the Japan game, others may follow, and Greg McWilliams will step into the position of head coach as Adam Griggs bows out.

“I came to it late, I was mid-20s before I actually started playing,” O’Connor continues.

“But for me, you just focus on the now and what you are doing right now, and how you can improve as a player. We are lucky that we have great competition within the squad, across the whole squad – not just back row – and we drive each other on in training. You get the opportunity to put your hand up, you are very much trying to take it as best you can and build on that.

“But coming to it late, I am trying to make the most of it, for sure.”

This November window has also brought fresh competition into the group, with the highly-rated Maeve Óg O’Leary debuting off the bench against the USA last week after her impressive showing in the inter-pros earlier this year.

“Yeah, not a bother on her, Maeve Óg plays with me at club level in Blackrock as well and she’s taken to it like a duck to water,” O’Connor says.

“You’ll struggle to meet a more positive and engaging person as Maeve Óg, she’s just soaking it all up. She wants to do her best and put her best foot forward. 


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“She’s been brilliant and she’s a great personality to have in the group, full of life, and she’s fit right in.

“I think her performances in the inter-pros showed that in terms of on the pitch stuff, she doesn’t need much help. She’s flying it. It’s more just showing her the ropes, helping her with plays and things like that, but as I said she doesn’t need much help really. 

“It’s a natural talent she has, and she’s definitely one for now and for the future, so it’s an exciting time for her, for our club and for the country as well to have her in the group.” 

This weekend represents a key moment in O’Connor’s journey from the golf course to the rugby pitch, but she still leans on some aspects from her old sporting life.

“Looking at a game before you go out, in golf, you have to look at the course and the lay-out and the different shots that you have to take – and in rugby, you look at the opposition and what you might encounter along the way. Patience is something that I have had to work on along the way and something I got better at. But definitely the planning aspect has helped.”

Bernard Jackman, Gavan Casey, and Murray Kinsella reflect on Ireland’s stunning win over the All Blacks, hail Ciara Griffin’s Ireland career, and chat about Rassie:

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Ciarán Kennedy

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