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The French woman who made Irish sporting history after just two weeks here

West Dublin Rhinos player Morane Senyarich became the first-ever woman to play tackle American football in Ireland.

SHE’S ONLY BEEN living in the country for two weeks, but French native Morane Senyarich has already made a lasting impression on the Irish sporting landscape.

On Sunday last, she became the first-ever woman to play tackle American football in Ireland. The West Dublin Rhinos player was the first to take to the field in a kitted competitive fixture against the Belfast Trojans — and while her side lost, it was a historic occasion for all involved.

Screen Shot 2019-04-19 at 00.59.25 Morane Senyarich (24) with her West Dublin Rhinos team-mates. Source: Ian Humes Photography.

“It’s nice,” Senyarich told The42 as she explained the ins and outs how she got to where she is today.

“I’m just happy that someone did it. Someone had to be the first, it’s not important it’s me, it’s important that someone finally did it. I really hope that it gives visibility to the sport.

“Other girls, like I did, will probably want to join if they see that there’s a woman. I’m sure some people would just give up because it’s scary. Now that they see that there is one girl, they’ll think, ‘Ah’ and we can increase the numbers.”

Interestingly, Senyarich picked up the sport just last February while living in Prague.

Before that, she had played rugby in university in France but following her introduction to contact sport, decided that she’d like a change while living abroad.

“It was pure curiosity,” she smiles, explaining how a friend in Czech Republic first mentioned American football. “I figured I’d give it a try because I had always been very curious about it. I fell in love with it. I loved it so much — much more than rugby. 

“I really like the tactical aspect. I’m not saying rugby is boring but I find American football more stimulating because the play periods are so short.

“It’s very dynamic and you have the strategy aspect, this connection with the other players on your team where everyone has to do their job perfectly and then it all works out… I really like that.”

Her partner finding a job in Ireland ultimately brought Senyarich to these shores over the past few weeks, and it’s a case of so far, so good thankfully.

When the move first came on her radar, looking into American football was top of her list of priorities.

“Although Ireland is a big rugby nation, I looked for an American football team. That’s when I realised that there was no women’s league, only the male one.

“I wrote to the Irish American Football Association [IAFA] and they told me that I could mix. I was a little scared at first but I figured it was my only option if I wanted to play.”

Until recently, women were unable to compete in kitted competitive football, as the IAFA detail on their website. After recently seeking clarification from the International Federation of American Football [IFAF], that has fortunately now changed. 

The utter male dominance of the sport here has surprised her, and the fact that girls just don’t play despite the popularity of contact sports.

“I am surprised in Ireland that there is still that prejudice. In Czech Republic there is a league for women with three big teams and a second league for smaller teams.”

All of that aside, back to the original fear and nerves before her first training session with the Rhinos. Was she scared?

“Definitely, because it’s not normal. I was a weird player I would say. You’re joining a team where everyone else is of the opposite gender, you feel like an outsider, you’re a rookie. You’re not the regular gender. 

“I was nervous but the guys are very, very friendly. They’re adorable. I felt comfortable after the first game,” she adds, telling how she went along on a trip to Limerick but didn’t play.

morane Senyarich making a tackle on Sunday. Source: West Dublin Rhinos Facebook.

That was more of a mixing-in experience, a way to get to know everybody. Last weekend was different though. She trained Saturday, and played Sunday.

There were some pre-match nerves, but for reasons different to her gender.

“I was nervous because I had never played with my team. I didn’t know exactly how each player was behaving, I didn’t know how we’d work as a team.

“Also, the position I was put in — corner, I have never played it before. That’s more the reason why.”

She adds: “I played the end of the last quarter, maybe 10 minutes.

“It’s really not much, but it’s something. I’m glad I got to play. I got a bit scared that day because we were losing and I thought the coach wouldn’t take the risk to put a rookie in. But I’m very happy and grateful that he gave me my chance.

“There was not much difference to when I played against girls. I was a bit scared that the opponents would be stronger because they are men.

“I mean, I’m sure they are but at least for the position of corner it didn’t make too much of a difference for that little time. Of course they are better than the girls I played against, but I don’t know, I didn’t feel like I was under performing.”

With the season here starting in March and finishing in July, Senyarich and the Rhinos have five games ahead to build on their one win and two losses thus far in this campaign.

“I’m looking forward to playing more,” she concludes. “I think the first game was about proving I can do it to the coach. I hope to play more in the next games.”

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella are joined by Andy Dunne to preview the Champions Cup semi-finals and all the week’s news on the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly:


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Emma Duffy

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