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From 'not ok' barriers to breaking down more and more for go-getter Cantwell

The former Ireland rugby star has been appointed chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport steering committee.

MANY WILL REMEMBER the highs of Lynne Cantwell’s Irish rugby career.

The 2013 Grand Slam, beating the Black Ferns and becoming the first-ever Ireland team to beat a New Zealand side at the 2014 World Cup, finishing fourth there. From her debut in 2001 to her farewell in 2014, the legendary 13 donned the green jersey with distinction.

Lynne Cantwell celebrates after the game Lynne Cantwell beating the Black Ferns in 2014. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There was much more to that than meets the eye though for Cantwell herself.

“Things weren’t ok for those 13 years,” she reminded the audience as she was unveiled in her new role as chair of Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport steering committee yesterday.

“There were lots and lots of locked doors, we felt suffocated by constant resistance and lots of decicions [were made] on our behalf as a women’s team that were not ok.”

She hopes that in five years’ time, we’re not talking about resistances and barriers. That we’re not talking about Women in Sport. That we’re talking about People in Sport.

Cantwell recognises that not every sports person has barriers. That was her experience back then, but it’s on to bigger and better now.

“Resistance is normal in sport and in any pathway and it’s what makes you better,” she told The42 after addressing the audience. “I think, on reflection, the barriers and blockers that we experienced were not ok.

“Definitely some of them were not how they should have been. I think if we were in a different time, they’d be exposed to being not ok. They’re not ok when other teams, just of different gender, are not being treated that way.”

There have been improvements across the board thankfully, she smiles. There’s more transparency, and people are tackling mindsets. There’s a culture shift underway.

Driving that on is top of the job spec of her new role, as she implements Sport Ireland’s first Women in Sport policy. 

A Performance Support Director, mother to 16-month-old baby Scarlet — and loving motherhood — and rugby pundit among much, much more; Cantwell is a busy woman.

Her new role was one she jumped at how and ever, her passion and belief in the policy, and enthusiasm with her committee shining through with every word.

“It’s exciting and it’s so worthwhile,” she smiles. “If you’ve been campaigning for this type of thing along with other Irish sportspeople and women for so many years… if you get an opportunity to be able to back it and push it forward at a strategic level, you’re going to bite the hand off. 

Lyne Cantwell Chair of Sport Ireland's new Women in Sport committee Cantwell at yesterday's launch. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“The steering committee is so, so strong. The policy is really strong. There are some great guys in Sport Ireland behind it as well. It’s in a really, really good place to make a big impact. We want to make sure that’s done.”

It’s fairly easy when you’re so passionate about it, so?

“It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? You just look up at that stage and you see the young people,” she continues after 15-year-old budding sailor Emily Riordan stole the show in the panel discussion.

“It takes so little for somebody to be inspired and go in a direction. If I think of who are my role models as a kid: Sonia O’Sullivan, Susan Smith, Mary Robinson. Those people that you see as a kid, you go, ‘Oh my God.’ It’s only now as I’m older, I realise, ‘Jesus Christ, Mary Robinson was out of this world amazing.’ That was 30 years ago.

“If we can get more people — women and men — that are visable to younger guys and girls then, ‘Jeez, God knows what we’re going to be able to achieve in the future.’”

She’s visable on television screens across the length and breadth of the country anyway, sharing her knowledge and expertise on the women’s — and men’s — rugby beat with RTÉ.

Cantwell is evidently enjoying her duties on that front and while it might be difficult to share more critical opinions of players from time to time considering she’s still involved in those circles, that doesn’t bother her too much.

“I’m very happy to continue to contribute once you’ve got expertise. I think it’s important on the line of visability for anybody new to a sport when they tune in, they want to see people of knowledge that are delivering the content. From that point of view, I have that and I’m very, very happy to contribute.

“What I want to see from a bigger picture point of view is better performances across the board. You’d love to be analysing that. The girls would love to be analysed at a really nitty-gritty level. We just need more in place in order for that to be possible.”

Since the pretty disastrous home Rugby World Cup in 2016 and the controversy and backlash that followed, and even since last year’s Six Nations, there have been improvements this year.

Lynne Cantwell In Six Nations action in 2014. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But there’s still a long, long way to go for Adam Griggs’ side.

“There’s so much change to the team from year to year, every year,” she nods, agreeing that there have been improvements.

“The group of players are trying to improve, they’re starting from the same point each time. They are improving with competition but then that changes with injury, with selection, people not being available; and as a result you start from the same base again.

“We’re on a little bit of a hamster wheel at the moment.”

The time to exit that is nearing thought, she feels.

But to the present first. France on Saturday evening at Donnybrook.

After a heavy opening round defeat to England, bouncing back to beat Scotland across the water, but losing out to Italy in Rome, a massive challenge awaits.

“It’ll be a big test this weekend,” she concludes. “I think there’s a huge awareness of the game. I think we’re going to get a really good attendance, which is great.

“Fingers crossed for the weather, ‘France don’t travel well’, all of those clichés; you never know what’s going to happen.”

You do never know.

Little did Lynne Cantwell know she’d be in this new role, with a world of opportunity at her feet.

Sport Ireland yesterday launched a new Women in Sport Policy which aims to achieve equal participation between males and females in sport. Coaching and Officiating, Active Participation, Leadership and Governance and Visibility are the four key target areas that will be addressed by Sport Ireland’s new Women in Sport Policy.


Andy Dunne joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey to discuss Joe Schmidt’s undroppables and how France might attack Ireland’s predictability in The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Emma Duffy

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