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'I don't think I'd be the rugby player I am without those years playing basketball'

Ireland international Lauren Delany came through the IRFU’s IQ Rugby programme.

Ireland's Lauren Delany.
Ireland's Lauren Delany.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

LAUREN DELANY IMAGINED she was leaving any dreams of playing sport on the international stage behind when her studies pulled her across the Irish Sea to a new life in England.    

The Dubliner had completed an undergraduate degree and saw the most sensible next step as a Masters in the UK. That would mean calling time on a 15-year basketball career which started back in Stillorgan’s Coláiste Íasagáin and led all the way to international honours with Ireland.

Yet England was calling, and while Delany thoroughly enjoyed her basketball, decisions from the top helped push her away from the sport in this country. 

“When I got to U21s or U23, unfortunately all the funding for the women’s and men’s senior (basketball) teams got cut, so that avenue or that journey wasn’t there anymore,” Delany explains.

“Basketball became the lesser priority in my life in comparison to my nutrition career.

“It could have been a very different (sporting) career, but I don’t think I’d be the rugby player that I am here today without those years playing basketball.”

Lost by basketball, Delany was scooped up by Irish Rugby through the union’s IQ Rugby programme, established in 2017 to formally identify and develop Irish-qualified athletes from outside of Ireland.

Now an integral part of Adam Grigg’s squad, her path to the Ireland women’s set-up represented an efficient bit of recruitment by the IRFU. 

Delany started playing rugby six years ago at the age of 25, three years after she first moved to England to do her Masters, taking up the sport when she couldn’t find a basketball club after taking up a new job with British badminton in Milton Keynes. A later move to Manchester saw her try her hand at GAA – a sport she never actually played in Ireland – but rugby quickly became an obvious front-runner.

In 2018, she took part in a talent ID day where Ireland head coach Griggs was immediately impressed, with those basketball years laying the foundation for strong handling skills with the oval ball.

Based on the impression she made that day, Delany was selected for that year’s autumn internationals. She made her Ireland debut against the United States later that year and now has 13 caps to her name as a skillful, pacey option at either wing or fullback.

“I probably wouldn’t be where I am today without that IQ system, so I massively recognise the importance and the value that it brings,” Delany says.

“It brings an access to thousands of young girls and rugby players who could potentially qualify for the Irish system. It opens up a whole heap of opportunities and again, a lot of players over here (the UK) playing in such a high standard league as well.

beibhinn-parsons-celebrates-scoring-a-try-with-lauren-delany Beibhinn Parsons (left) and Lauren Delany both made their Ireland debuts against the USA in 2018. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It allows players to develop by playing in the Premier 15s while also still having that connection with the Irish set-up as well. So yeah, it’s massively valuable, and all credit to them for having that really good system. I definitely owe my international career to them.”

For a relative late-comer to the sport, Delany now finds herself constantly immersed in world class environments. She plays her club rugby for Sale Sharks in the Premier 15s, where the women’s team have the keys to all the top class facilities laid out for the men’s squad. It’s a similar situation in her professional life, where she works as a performance nutritionist for rugby union outfit Leeds Rhinos.

“At Sale Sharks we’re based in the same building and the same facility and Carrington that the lads are. It’s a phenomenal facility and it’s excellent to be a part of it,” she explains.

We have full access to all the gym facilities, the pitches, physios and everything there, so it’s excellent to be part of it. Fair play to the owners and to the set-up of the Sale Sharks Women’s side, they’ve really invested everything that they can into that women’s side to make it as professional as possible.

“In terms of Leeds Rhinos, I’m there a few days a week and involved with them as much as possible and they’ve got great facilities there as well, (although) with Covid restrictions I’m probably not there as often.”

As is the case with so many others in the squad, coronavirus has changed the way Delany’s working life looks. It’s also been a frustrating year on the sporting front, and while Ireland got their Six Nations campaign off to a strong start with that 45-0 win over Wales last Saturday, Delany is keen to make a greater impression against France this weekend.

The errors that crept into Ireland’s game in the second period against Wales took some of the gloss off the scoreline. Delany herself was frustrated to spill a close range pass from Lindsay Peat shortly after half-time, while throughout the game she didn’t see as much of the ball as fellow wing Parsons, the rising superstar of this Irish team.

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On the same day that Delany made her debut back in 2018, a 16-year-old Parsons became the youngest international in Irish Rugby history. Despite the age difference between the pair, Delany admits it’s hard not to look in awe at what the Ballinasloe flyer is doing on the pitch.

“It’s been great to watch her grow over the years and she has been an inspiration to me in terms of how she has developed,” Delany says.

“It has definitely spurned me at different points to look at a couple of different elements of my game as well. We’ve definitely grown in slightly different ways. We started off playing rugby in different situations as well.

“But I’d like to think we’ve both flourished on the pitch in recent years.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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