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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018

From Dublin GAA to the Six Nations in a year: Hannah Tyrrell's unique tale

The 24-year-old has broken into the Ireland Women’s set-up less than two years after taking up rugby.

Image: IRFU

PARNELL PARK MAY not be renowned as a breeding ground for international rugby players, but Hannah Tyrrell is setting a precedent.

The 24-year-old will make her third start for the Ireland Women’s rugby team this weekend in Wales, as the Tom Tierney-coached side look to continue their push for a Six Nations title following their historic win over England a fortnight ago.

This time last year, Tyrrell was an important part of the Dublin Ladies’ National Football League campaign, keeping goal as they drove all the way into the final of Division 1.

At that point in May, the talented 5ft 11ins Round Tower Clondalkin player was left with a big decision. Stay on and continue to play with her county or take up the offer of a full-time rugby sevens contract with the IRFU.

Tyrrell opted for the latter, travelling to Amsterdam for the Dutch leg of the IRB Women’s Sevens World Series circuit, and the rest has been history.

It’s probably a little bit of a different way of getting to be an Irish international,” smiles Tyrrell as we sit in Kildare’s Carton House to discuss her rugby career so far.

Her first foray into the sport came when she joined Old Belvedere following the prompting of friend Sharon Lynch, an Ireland rugby international [currently injured] who also has a GAA background.

“I said I’d give it a try as I was always interested to see how I’d get on,” says Tyrrell of her rugby bow in October of 2013. “I came down and I loved it. I played with the Belvo second team and then got noticed in the sevens, so it’s been great ever since.”

The Old Belvedere team huddle Tyrrell is an Old Belvedere player. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Tyrrell’s athleticism helped her to make an instant impact in the newly-discovered sport, particularly in sevens, where her footwork and ability to evade tackles marked her out as a player of real potential.

The shortened-numbers code allowed Tyrrell to fully utilise those physical gifts, as well as learn the skills of rugby in a highly pressurised and sometimes individualistic environment.

That stood her in good stead for being called into the 15-a-side training camp in December of last year, from where she earned Six Nations selection.

“It’s similar, but then it’s completely different,” says Tyrrell when asked to compare sevens to 15s. “Sevens is much more skillful and a quicker game. There’s a lot more emphasis on an individual in terms of making your one-on-one tackles, clearing a ruck all by yourself, that sort of thing.

Whereas 15s would be more team orientated in integrating your backs and forwards. Ball out is usually a bit slower so it’s about picking your lines or getting the set-piece right. Sevens has a bit more flair and pace about it.”

Tyrrell has been bringing a touch of those elements for Ireland in the current Six Nations, having made her debut on the wing in the opening day win over Italy, before missing the defeat to France due to a training-ground concussion.

Back in the side last time out, her winning start continued as Ireland recorded just their second-ever win against England.

“That was my home debut for Ireland and any time you beat England, it’s a fantastic occasion,” explains Tyrrell. “The girls were delighted and we were happy to keep our Six Nations alive.”

Source: IrishRugbyTVOfficial/YouTube

Tyrrell admits she had some “self doubt about being good enough” in her debut game, but the influence of captain Niamh Briggs at fullback and Old Belvedere teammates Jenny Murphy and Nora Stapleton alongside her in the backline was reassuring.

That it was her first rugby union game on the wing also underlines how impressive a first international display it was from Tyrrell, who has played most of her club rugby at fullback.

The next target is a win over Wales on Sunday in Swansea, where Tyrrell knows a fierce challenge awaits.

They’re a very dominant physical team and they won’t give up without a fight. They’re very, very strong at home and they have some nifty backs as well, a few tricky players. We’ll just go in with a good game plan, stick to it and hopefully come out with a win.”

A win over the Welsh and Ireland may well be playing for a Six Nations title in Cumbernauld a week later.

“A couple of my family are coming over for the Scotland game,” laughs Tyrrell. “They’re hoping to be celebrating a Six Nations win!”

Tyrrell will take it all in her stride should that prove the case.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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