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'I’d say it’ll hit me in a few more weeks how amazing it was'

Ireland fullback Molly Scuffil-McCabe first took up the game at the encouragement of an Irish rugby legend.

Ireland fullback Molly Scuffil-McCabe.
Ireland fullback Molly Scuffil-McCabe.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

THERE WEREN’T TOO many positives to be taken from last weekend’s hammering at the hands of England in the Women’s Six Nations, but Ireland could be encouraged by 24-year-old Molly Scuffil-McCabe’s debut at fullback.

The Railway Union woman made some errors, as would have been expected on debut against the best team in the world, but also had several impressive involvements that underlined her potential as a Test player.

There were plenty of new experiences involved as she won her first Ireland cap.

“I signed my first autograph at the weekend which was pretty cool,” says Scuffil-McCabe. “I realised I need to practise it!”

One person Irish rugby has to thank for Scuffil-McCabe’s rise is former Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan.

Coghlan was Scuffil-McCabe’s maths and PE teacher at Lucan Community College and was crucial in encouraging her to give rugby a go.

It has led all the way to Test level for Scuffil-McCabe.

“That’s who pushed me into rugby,” she explains. “I was playing hockey at the time. Every maths lesson, it’d be, ‘Go on, down to the pitch, go join your local club’ which was Westmanstown.

“There was an underage open trial at the time and I went to it at 15, still not knowing many of the laws of rugby.

“I remember a schools blitz back then, which was all we had at the time. I was maybe second year at the time and there were fourth years involved. I remember getting to the tryline and then thinking I could throw the ball at the tryline.

“That’s the level I was at. I distinctly remember Fiona with a backpack on her back going, ‘No! What are you doing?’ pulling me over and telling me that wasn’t a touchdown.”

molly-scuffil-mccabe-after-receiving-her-cap Scuffil-McCabe sings after getting her first Ireland cap. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Scuffil-McCabe clearly took to it quickly because she was soon marking herself out as one of the best young prospects in the country, playing for the Ireland U18 7s team for two years in a row in 2014 and 2015.

Those exploits earned Scuffil-McCabe a 7s contract with the IRFU but she struggled for balance during her spell in that programme.

“I was trying to balance it with a law degree and now, having finished my degree and left the 7s programme, I have a much better understanding of the balance you need to strike,” she says.

“I enjoyed my time in the 7s and saw parts of the world I’d never have seen without it. It gave me better skills to bring back to my club when I went back to the AIL.”

After a year of playing dual-status with Westmanstown and St Mary’s, Scuffil-McCabe moved to her current club, the powerhouse that is Railway.

“A good transition, particularly as we have even upped our amount of training and have a gym now in the club which is great.

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“You get that hit of professionalism, there’s 45 women all training on Tuesdays and Thursdays and playing in the AIL on Saturday and Leinster Division on Sunday, and there’s still a club feeling there too which is nice.”

Having worked in legal services for two years, Scuffil-McCabe lost her job when Covid first hit and went through a moment of realisation that she wanted something different. She’s now working in a veterinary practice and striving to get onto a college course in that field as soon as possible.

molly-scuffil-mccabe-and-niamh-byrne-with-their-first-caps Scuffil-McCabe and fellow debutant Niamh Byrne. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

As for the unique surname, she and her family reckon the ‘Scuffil’ part comes from either France or Bavaria and find it amusing hearing people’s different efforts at the pronunciation.

We’re likely to hear plenty more of her name this weekend as Ireland host Scotland in Belfast in their final Six Nations game, with Scuffil-McCabe keen to add a second cap after last weekend’s debut.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” she says of her first cap. “I originally came from 7s and didn’t get the opportunity to do it there and that’s something I was very aware of.

“I had moments where I let the enjoyment of getting my first cap come into it but, for the most part, I was focused. I’d say it’ll hit me in a few more weeks how amazing it was. Playing in front of a record crowd, I don’t think it gets better than that.”

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