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'There's a limited amount of time you can do this for, so we put in the effort'

Ireland out-half Nora Stapleton is putting in the hours to ensure rugby flourishes at root and branch in this country.

IT DOESN’T HAPPEN overnight.

NO FEE LUCOZADE Nora Stapleton kicks to officially announce Lucozade Sport Low Cal as an official supplier to Rugby World Cup 2017 and the Irish Women’s Rugby Squad.

Ireland out-half Nora Stapleton is one of a troop of players who give off the appearance of professionalism, without enjoying many of the perks.

That includes more than just some fetching IRFU training gear, twice daily training sessions and some necessary ‘if selected’ and one-training-session-at-a-time caveats that all good pros need on the tip of their tongue to keep themselves and the media grounded and focused on the job in hand.

For Stapleton, the job in hand is always rugby. But never make the mistake of thinking her role in the IRFU is some cushy number designed to set her up as a paid pro in all but name.

“Everything involved in the female game one way or another would involve me at some stage,” the Donegal woman says as a summary of her day job. And as with all of Ireland’s dedicated XVs stars, the training schedule must be tightly squeezed in around regular working days. Before, as well as after the daily slog.

“Alarm goes off at 05.10, that’s always tough,” Stapleton says with a wince despite the sunny backdrop on Sandymount beach.

She joins her fellow early-risers grouped off into regional training centres for a 6am gym session. By 07.30, it’s time to shovel in some food and then head off to work – wherever her role as the country’s women’s and girl’s development executive may take her on a given day.

“I’m lucky enough that I have a shower at work, plenty of girls don’t and they just have to go straight to work.

“I could be in the office all day, or I could be on the road to Cork or Belfast to visit the staff up there, visit clubs or anything like that.

“Then it’s about timing it to make sure I’m back in Dublin for about seven that evening, or I’ll be in the office until six, half-six, and then training again at seven.”

Nora Stapleton Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

That’s over 12 hours of wall-to-wall rugby, no professional would be consigned to that.

Stapleton though, is driven to make her third Women’s Rugby World Cup a memorable one for Ireland on home soil. The clock ticks at double time for every athlete.

“You just work around (the job). There’s not much time for doing anything else, but there’s only a limited amount of time you’re going to do this for, so we put in the effort.”

In time, the work Stapleton is doing to offer rugby to more girls may actually make it difficult for a woman to follow her own mazy path to the top. The Fahan native is a prime example of how quickly the right talent can be moulded to international standards. In the Ireland squad she is surrounded by women who took up the game for the first time in college, but Stapleton was a 24-year-old inter-county footballer working in a bank when she was invited along to play tag rugby for the first time.

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Nora Stapleton and Niamh Briggs Niamh Briggs moves to tackle Stapleton when they met in an Intermediate Gaelic Football Championship Final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I only went to play for the craic, the next thing one of the girls asked if I’d like to play for Old Belvedere,” she told Donegal News. Belvo led to Leinster, Leinster to Ireland and Ireland has led her to two Six Nations medals and a World Cup semi-final after a historic win over New Zealand.

To reach the same stage this time around, Stapleton must plot a way through 2016 Six Nations champions France, Japan and first and foremost Australia. On top of a full-on strength and conditioning workload, Tom Tierney’s side have also been exposed to much more time with skills coaches than previous seasons. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will suddenly try to play like Fiji, but the sharpened tools will most certainly be put to use.

“The way you play, you always look at the opposition, analyse your strengths and weaknesses and you base your moves around that. It doesn’t come down to any individual player, it’s very much a collective as a team.

“We’ve been very well prepared coming into this and we’ve done an awful lot of training, but so has every other team in the tournament, it’s about trusting that we’re ready and now it’s about putting a gameplan together and going out and doing it.”

We put it to Stapleton that out-halves, as primary playmakers, (often) goal-kickers and the focal point for defences as well as onlookers, always take an unwarranted amount of the pressure. She deftly sidesteps and casts an eye on her immediate challenge: making the team through heated competition from the returning Niamh Briggs, Sene Naoupu and even Nikki Caughey, whose quickly-recovering knee issue might just put her in with a chance of dramatic recall to the 28-woman squad.

“There’s always pressure. But you don’t really see it as that when you’re a player. You only think of yourself, and you think of what you’re going to do (to improve the team).

“I’m going to work now, I’ve been selected for the squad, but now the aim is to get selected for the XV. That’s another story: there are other players in the squad who can play 10…

NO FEE LUCOZADE 5 Stapleton, Niamh Briggs and Sophie Spence took part in Lucozade Sport’s ‘Made to Move’ session for an exclusive beach workout with author and entrepreneur Pat Divilly.

“You have to stop looking at everyone else and just think how can I be the best player I can possibly can for this world cup and how can I get selected for the starting XV.”

“We’ve plenty of training to do between now and the first game. It’s just about working hard for our final few training sessions.

“Breaking it down into various units, so as a backline we want to make sure everyone is pushing one another when it comes to selection. Not just the starting XV, but the players who come off the bench have to make an impact. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

That’s what will make all the sacrifices, all the dark early mornings and darker evenings, worth every second.

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Sean Farrell

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