Monaghan makes a carry against Spain. Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

Meath's Monaghan eager for another shot after Ireland debut

The second row started playing rugby in Brighton.

WHEN SHE LEFT Ireland to move to England five years ago, Sam Monaghan had barely played rugby but now she’s part of the Ireland Women squad preparing for their biggest game in years.

Adam Griggs’ side face hosts Italy on Sunday in the 2021 World Cup Qualifier tournament as they look to bounce back from Monday’s disappointing defeat to Spain, a game in which second row Monaghan made her Test debut.

Her first involvement in an Ireland training camp came as recently as July, meaning it has been a whirlwind time for the Navan woman.

She’s honest in saying her debut was far from ideal – Monaghan was sin-binned for collapsing a maul before Spain scored the winning try – but she’s eager to push on over the coming weekends against Italy and Scotland.

“It was a bit surreal, to be honest,” says Monaghan. “I really enjoyed the build-up and all the excitement around the first game. Look, no one wants a yellow card on their debut but it happened.

“We’ve learned from it. There were a lot of mistakes and this week we’ve really put our hand up and there’s been a lot of accountability.”

Monaghan’s sporting background is in Meath football. She was part of the U16 side that won an All-Ireland under Eamonn Murray, who led the Meath senior team to All-Ireland glory in the final against Dublin earlier this month.

“I think they actually got better after I left, to be honest!” jokes Monaghan, who also played basketball, camogie, and soccer when she was younger.

“I’m so delighted for them, they’re all such a great bunch and really deserve it.”

Monaghan had been to one rugby training session at Navan RFC around seven years ago but she was deeply focused on Gaelic football at the time so the oval ball didn’t catch on.

sam-monaghan-dejected-after-the-game Monaghan shows her dejection on Monday. Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO Matteo Ciambelli / INPHO / INPHO

However, when she moved to Brighton five years ago, there was no football team in the area so she joined Lewes RFC simply to make friends. Within a year, Monaghan was taking rugby seriously and that led to a trial with top English team Wasps.

Last year, highly-rated Wasps director of rugby Giselle Mather brought her on board permanently with the Premier 15s club. A full season at that level saw Monaghan making huge strides of improvement.

Steve McGinnis, who is the Ireland Women’s forwards coach and also works with the IRFU’s IQ Rugby department in the UK, was soon in touch.

“That was around November time [last year] and we stayed in contact, reviewed my games, got on Zoom, and worked towards my strong points and my weaknesses, and then they had been keeping an eye on me and said they were interested in getting me into [Ireland] camp.”

Monaghan clearly impressed Griggs, McGinnis, and co. in camp as she was selected for this crucial Qualifier competition and was sent on in the second half against the Spaniards.

If Monaghan is involved again this weekend against an Italian side who had an impressive win over Scotland on Monday, she is hoping to be part of a much-improved Irish performance.

“We were all very disappointed, it was a hard pill to swallow but we came together as a team. It’s not how we normally perform. Even in the Six Nations last year, you could see we’re better as a team.

“We’re playing for the pride of the jersey, we want to go to that World Cup. That’s our first goal. It’s going to be a tough game against Italy but I think we can definitely get the better of them.”

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