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IRFU announce first professional contracts for women's 15s players

Gillian McDarby has also been appointed as the IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways.

The IRFU will offer pro contracts to women's 15s players for the first time.
The IRFU will offer pro contracts to women's 15s players for the first time.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

THE IRFU HAS confirmed that it will be providing a total of 43 centralised, paid contracts to elite women’s players next season, a development which will see the Union offer professional contracts to women’s 15s players for the first time. 

The 43 contracts – which includes contracts already in operation for the women’s Sevens programme – will range up to €30,000 plus match fees and bonuses.  

The IRFU have also appointed Gillian McDarby as Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, a newly-created role which stems from the independent review into the Ireland 15s squad’s failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup. 

As Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, McDarby will be responsible for “the development, delivery and implementation of the approved strategic and operational direction of the women’s rugby performance programme for both the Sevens and 15s squads.”

She will also work with the Domestic Rugby department to grow the playing base across women’s rugby in Ireland.

McDarby joined the IRFU as Women’s Rugby National Teams Program Manager in 2014. She held the position of Business Intelligence Analyst (Performance Department) & Project Management at the IRFU between 2019 and 2020, before moving into the role of Facilities & Operations Manager at the IRFU’s high performance centre.

gillian-mcdarby Gillian McDarby. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

She previously represented Ireland in cycling and was a member of Cycling Ireland’s Board of Directors from 2017-2021. 

“It is a great privilege to be appointed as the IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways,” McDarby said.

“I have worked across several important areas in the game and believe there is a huge growth opportunity for the women’s game in Ireland and I am looking forward to working with all stakeholders to bring the women’s game to the next level. It is also pleasing that my appointment coincides with the formal announcement of contracts for up to 43 female players. This is a major step forward for women’s rugby in Ireland.

Success in the women’s game will be based on sustainability: creating sustainable pathways within the competition structures, getting meaningful competition structures in place for both women and girls to access the game of rugby at the right entry points and continuing to develop competitive international teams in 15s and Sevens. That, to me, is success.

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“This is an exciting time for the game and while much work has been done, there is always more to do. There are no overnight successes in sport, but I know that by working collectively with clubs, players, coaches, staff, and volunteers we can build an ever-evolving environment where young women and girls are supported to be the best they can be.

“We’re looking at player contracts now for over 40 players, both with the Sevens and the women’s 15s programmes, so that’s going to be excellent. We’re going to be able to sit down with players, structure what they (contracts) should look like, make sure that we get the right balance for the players and for the coaching structures as well, and this will give huge opportunity for coaches to work with these players at such a high level.” 

The IRFU have not revealed the players set to be offered contracts, and state that they will be discussing the details of the contracts with the players before making any further details public. 

The Ireland 15s squad head to Japan next week for a two-Test tour, while the Sevens are preparing for the Sevens World Cup in September.

IRFU Chief Executive Kevin Potts added: “We wish Gillian well in this vitally important role and will ensure that she has the full support of the NPGB [National Professional Game Board] and the IRFU to successfully bring women’s rugby in Ireland to the next level.

“Today’s announcement of the creation of up to 43 IRFU contracts for women’s players is a further strong signal of our intent to foster and grow the women’s game over the coming years and to ensure that our women’s players are provided with the best opportunities to compete at the highest levels of the game in the future.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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