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'I wasn't ever going to buy an Irish jersey, I was going to earn an Irish jersey'

Ireland international Leah Lyons remembers how she was inspired as a youngster.

LEAH LYONS WAS 12 when she went to see a women’s rugby game for the first time, Ireland versus England.

She came away from the experience with plenty more than she had bargained for.

After the game, Lyons asked then-international Marie Barrett to sign the Ireland flag she had spent the preceding 80 minutes waving furiously.

Leah Lyons with Sara Barattin Leah Lyons in action for Ireland in this year's Six Nations. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Barrett told Lyons to wait where she was, disappeared into the changing room and returned with an Ireland jersey signed by the entire squad. 

Now an important part of the Ireland Women squad herself, Lyons says that simple act of kindness from Barrett helped inspire her to chase her dream of playing international rugby.

“I said from then on that I wasn’t ever going to buy myself an Irish jersey, I was going to earn an Irish jersey,” says 24-year-old Lyons.

“I have never owned an Irish jersey until I actually earned one for playing. That was my thing, ‘I’m going to earn that jersey.’”

Such has been her impact in achieving that goal, Lyons was announced as one of World Rugby’s ‘unstoppables’ in the new #TryAndStopUs campaign that the governing body launched in Dublin today. 

Lyons’ interaction with Barrett all those years ago was the start of a relationship that still exists, with the former Ireland international becoming a role model and mentor for Lyons.

Barrett coached Lyons at underage level with Munster and still calls her after every game to see how things have gone.

“That influence is massive,” says hooker/tighthead Lyons. “She has helped so much. She has told me what I needed to hear. It mightn’t be nice sometimes but it’s something that’s definitely helped me to develop in my sport.”

TASU Lyons is part of World Rugby's new campaign. Source: World Rugby

Lyons, who helped Harlequins into the final of the Tyrrell Premier 15s in England this season, started off playing rugby with boys because there was no girls’ teams near the family home in Ballyhooly, Cork.

Her first training session was with Fermoy at the age of seven, playing alongside her twin brother. 

Playing with the boys become the norm in the years that followed until Lyons’ father, Michael, eventually decided that something needed to change.

“At the time there were three of us girls playing rugby on a whole pitch of boys,” says Lyons.

“Dad was like, ‘We’ll set up a team’, and he set up Fermoy Lionesses. I played with them until they went up to senior level, then moved my way up through the stages.”

The support Lyons has got from her father, who coached her all the way through her underage rugby, and mother has been an important part of her journey in the game.

“Once I got to women’s rugby, my Dad felt, ‘I can take a step back and just be your dad now, not a coach.’ I suppose he found that hard too, he’d be at every game.

“My parents would travel absolutely everywhere for every game and this is the time where he can say, ‘OK, she’s there now, I can sit down and probably not relax, but watch a game and see what he’s created and developed.’” 

Leah Lyons Lyons wants to see more girls inspired to play rugby. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Lyons, aware of her role in inspiring girls to get into rugby, will be down in Old Belvedere RFC this evening for the ‘Give it a Try‘ programme, popping in to say hello and trying to share her message that the youngsters can achieve in rugby.

Having felt the impact that Barrett made on her, Lyons hopes she can carry that torch now.

“For these girls to come and see us in matches, to see us on TV, they get to see us on a bigger platform. Even media aside, every kid is on social media – if they can see us on that, being a positive influence, they get to have that idea, ‘Maybe I can do that someday, maybe I can achieve that.’

“Rugby is my go-to. It’s my thing that I want. For me to play at a high level, to get to where I wanted to be, I want to be the best I can, whether that’s for myself or for my country.”

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Murray Kinsella

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