Always seen as a predominantly male sport, Maynooth University recently made a monumental decision in giving women’s rugby the recognition it has always wanted . On the 1st of April young women leaving school will be able to apply for a rugby scholarship at Maynooth University. The aim of the scholarship is to give excellent female athletes an opportunity to improve their rugby skills and align this with their academic work. The introduction of this scholarship will hopefully change the face of women’s rugby.
Yasmin Yau, captain of the team, has been playing rugby for the past four years and is delighted at the opportunity it presents, saying it is not only great for the college but for the team. Another person equally delighted is Kevin Shiel, coach of the MU Women’s rugby team. Kevin began coaching women’s rugby eleven years ago, working closely with the college and club in developing women’s rugby. He has also worked relentlessly with the Maynooth “Barnhall Babes” who have achieved a significant amount in the past year, reaching the final of the Leinster league and going on to take part in the All Ireland League.
Where did women’s rugby begin in Maynooth? For over ten years Maynooth University and the Barnhall female rugby section, with the help of Derek Carroll and former Maynoothians, Ciara Daly and Joanne Forde, has become one of the strongest in the country. According to Kevin Shiel, “The club is committed to ensuring that all players benefit from the same opportunities regardless of their gender”. The introduction of this rugby scholarship means that young female rugby players will have the same chance to nurture their talent as their male counterparts. It will also hopefully give talented young women the possibility to represent their province and make their mark in the sport.
With Maynooth University and Barnhall working closely together, young women can both play with the “Barnhall Babes” as well as the university, where they will receive the best coaching possible from Tom McKeon, head of the MU sports department, and his team. The scholarship will also benefit players from other clubs as they too will have access to top class coaching and facilities through the scholarship program. This means that women’s rugby in all clubs will become stronger, pushing the female stance in the sport out into the public arena. Grainne Carroll, the Leinster’s women’s manager will be one of the people searching for talent coming through the Maynooth University program this year.
This new rugby scholarship will not only provide all the positives of a team sport but is also ultimately empowering, enabling women to participate in a sport that was always considered a “mans game”.