On 14th February 2020, players from the UCD Women’s Rugby Squad assembled in Terminal One of Dublin Airport full of utter excitement.
We were travelling from Dublin with 35 players and 3 coaches to Madrid, Spain. This was a huge increase from our previous tour in 2018 to Edinburgh, and only fair given the astounding development of Women’s Rugby in UCD since then. On arrival in Dublin Airport bright and early (well, not so bright considering it was 4.30am) the squad came together fully once Hannah Woods and co. rocked up after taking an unexpected detour to Ballymun on the way. Some of the squad had been lucky to be part of the 2018 Tour to Edinburgh and their experiences both good and bad were shared with the first timers which only added to the anticipation. Nevertheless, the tour fleeces were distributed and the girls in blue were set to go. Due to baggage restrictions, the squad were split over 2 flights, 15 flew with Aer Lingus and 23 flew with Ryanair (unlucky). Thankfully, Alix Cunneen was travelling Aer Lingus and managed to unsurprisingly blackmail the check in desk to accept our 33kg (yes 10 kilos overweight) check in bag with the gear free of charge. Classic her really!
The jokes had only just begun as Niamh O’Dowd was appointed keeper of tour mascot. Poor Niamh encountered some difficulties going through security with said mascot – Barry the Troll. Must have been the pink hair! Unfortunately in her innocence Niamh took the airport worker quite literally when he said ‘no trolls allowed’ and shed a tear at the thought of giving up Barry so early but alas he was only joking. Once boarded, things were looking up when older sister O’Dowd – Alice who travelled home from Toulouse for the tour when she looked to have a clean sweep on the plane, yes folks, a full 5 free seats beside her, however, disaster struck when on walks a family of 5 with 3 screaming children. Shortly after, Alice woke up from her nap to find one of said children expelling his gastric contents into a sick bag, blissful at 7am but the show must go on.
Next stop: Madrid.
On arrival in Madrid, we boarded the Rolls Royce of team transport, a brand new Mercedes bus. A lot of authentic Spanish pop songs and about 40 minutes later we arrived at our hotel which was to become our home for the next 3 days. With everyone checked in we all gathered at reception. What came next was not only the biggest surprise of all time, but also the best. Blissfully unaware of what was just about to happen, everyone listened to head coach Alice as she ran through some rules and the plan for the evening when suddenly, out walks Sarah Glynn. There were immediate screams of shock, tears of delight and pure excitement bustling around the room, much to the confusion of the other hotel guests. For those who don’t know, Sarah Glynn was UCD Women’s 2018/19 Captain who is now working abroad in Qatar – United Arab Emirates. Most of the girls hadn’t seen her since the end of last season so for her to fly to Madrid for tour unbeknownst to any of the girls was amazing.
After settling down, it was decided that girls were free to do whatever they please before reconvening in the hotel at 6pm. Some took this opportunity to begin serious hydration, some decided to get some valuable sleep, and others took to the streets exploring. It wasn’t long before messages flooded into the group chat informing the squad how cheap McDonalds was – just the kind of nutritional advice coaches love to see. Another few discovered Spanish scooters, while others basked in the sunshine in the hot tub on the rooftop terrace of the hotel. The opportunity to visit the largest Primark in the world wasn’t dismissed as the theme of purchase was ‘the worst sunglasses you can find’. Inevitably the Irish bar was a port of call by others and this was not to be our only visit here for the weekend.
With dinner booked in the hotel for 7pm, gathering at 6 for pre meal hydration and judging of outfit competitions was essential. Before the tour, it was decided that on Friday night we would all attempt to look as ridiculous as possible while sporting our ‘Shit Shirts’ and they didn’t disappoint. After much debate and some awful, awful shirts, the two finalists came in the form of Aoife Friars (human banana) and Anna Potterton (leprechaun). Aoife nudged the win in the end as she had even managed to match her socks – impressive. The girls were in form with tour rules aplenty and the strange looks kept coming as they strutted around with playing cards on their foreheads. Not only did the girls enjoy the dinner, Barry the troll did too with his snapchat updates coming in thick and fast.
After the meal, we made our way back to our friends at ‘The Cavern Irish Bar’ where they had the Munster match on a projector in the back room. It was here that Maeve Moran had a secret admirer who in the end didn’t make himself so secret leaving her a glorious love note written on a napkin – after all, it was Valentines day. From here we met up with the rest at the town square and it was not long until there was a Yerawaddie blasted out around the Spanish streets, following on from this some stunning renditions of My Heart Will go On from the Titanic along with Irelands Call got everyone in the mood for the Pub Crawl that was to commence shortly. As the sangria kept flowing, the girls broke into English accents which was to be the theme of the night after that. It was a hugely enjoyable evening and no doubt one which everyone on tour will always remember. We were delighted to hear that Roisin Crowe found the Spanish equivalent of Coppers and accompanied by Anne ‘sugar daddy’ Spain, Aoife Shox and Siobhan they managed the crown of last ones standing for day one.
Saturday morning came around far too quickly for many and for a laugh we decided to book breakfast for 9am much to the delight of everyone. After breakfast, there was a team meeting in one of the rooms to watch Friday night’s episode of Love Island and prepare for the day ahead. We assembled once again in the hotel lobby at 12pm ready for a day of rugby. The sun was splitting the stones and the look of pure fear circulated the room as the gingers quickly dashed out to the shop to purchase some Factor 50. We set off in our Rolls Royce through the Spanish countryside to Yuncos, Spain – the location of Quijote Rugby Club. We had organised to play CAU Madrid, a University side similar to our own. On arrival, two local teams were finishing off their own match which served as great entertainment as the girls did some sunbathing while shouting encouragement to both playing teams. The atmosphere at the pitch although in a small area was second to none with many of the locals out in force supporting.
Next it was our turn, Alice O’Callaghan named a starting team and as we were touring with so many players, we decided to donate 3 players to play with the opposition. We were given rugby balls to warm up (thankfully) as we decided last minute we wouldn’t risk blowing up the plane having balls explode mid-air in the luggage compartment. We decided to play 3 x 20minute thirds to combat the sun. Next, the best news of all rang around the pitch, CAU’s referee had come down with a mysterious illness meaning it was now turn for Blackrock’s David Dunne to step up to the mark and take charge. Sporting a pair of stunning TIGHT white shorts and 3 sizes too small boots he strutted onto the pitch in a Nigel Owens like manner. His family, who have been recently linked to the Koh Samui Cup 2019 must have been so proud. With kick off looming, the 3 amigos (Anna Potterton, Emma Costello and Niamh O’Dowd) who had volunteered to play with CAU donned the purple and white stripes. We are sure there was definitely no communication issues and frankly nobody can understand how their brain works at the best of times. Laughs buckled the pitch as the whistle for kick off was blown and it sounded nothing different to an elderly steam train leaving the station for its final journey.
Not quite so surprisingly, centre Croisin (Roisin Crowe to others) got UCD on the scoreboard in the first 3 minutes after a fantastic link play with fullback Aoife O Shaughnessy who introduced herself to her Spanish opposite number with a stunning hand off to the face. UCD were dominating play for the next 5 minutes and with a period of sustained pressure in the 22, tighthead Clare Coombes quite literally ran over a few people and dotted down herself. She then attempted a drop kick to convert her own try however, equilibrium was a bit off and she ended up on the floor. CAU used the 3 UCD amigos well to carry the ball into contact. Anna Potterton showing no grace for her usual teammates and she was throwing elbows and the likes, you really do love to see it. In the closing 10 minutes of the first third, despite CAU’s 9 and 10 working extremely well, Croisin once again crossed the whitewash.
The 2nd 20 came with an even higher intensity, the 3 UCD amigos swapped in and the new amigos came in the form of first third try scorer Coombes, Eimear ‘I am not a D4’ Douglas and Anna Potterton remained in the purple as she refused to leave her new Spanish club. The increased aggression was finally a downfall as UCD’s Laura Carroll saw Yellow for a high tackle on Potts and she dived on the floor thinking the Spanish 5meter line was the try line – classic amigo behaviour. With a man down, UCD had to work hard to not let the CAU attack through. It proved difficult as at one stage CAU looked to be over however in fairness to the UCD defence, they held them up brilliantly over the line. Some excellent link play was seen from the UCD players, especially with new combinations – something very positive to take home for the cup games to come.
The 3rd third got underway and things were now in full swing for the UCD girls. The Spanish beginning to become fatigued, credit to UCD for their fast-paced game. Not long into the third, some brilliant carries by Orla Hanlo and Ev Fenlon got UCD on the front foot and then quick hands by the backs allowed Ali Coleman to score. Heather Cullen’s try for UCD came shortly after as one of her infamous chip over the top, regather and blitz everyone around her worked out. The usual dynamic 10, 12 duo of Ali Coleman and Christine ‘shoulders’ Coffey thought they could re-live a lifelong dream of being the new flanker dynamic duo. They quickly ran off the pitch, donned the 6 and 7 jerseys and then re-joined the girls. A defensive line out later, Christine ended up upside down after Ali dropped her mid lift, and that was when their forward careers for UCD ended. Nice try girls!
After ditching his boots mid game due to blisters, referee Dunner blew the full-time whistle while sporting striped red socks. A tunnel was formed as each team clapped one another off before a final Yerrawaddie was sung. After this, we all enjoyed traditional Paella although its contents were questionable as a few unusual looking bones emerged on the plates. Tour first timers then took to the stage as they had to sing for their audience. Girl bands were formed and there was some atrotious singing with even worse dance moves on show. Barry the troll stole the show with an unbelievable Cardi B rap that would give
Nikki Minaj a run for her money. With the sun still shining and everyone in good spirits we eventually departed back to Madrid city centre, overjoyed after a wonderful day.
We arrived back to the hotel at 7pm, showers were paramount after the sweat levels endured that day. Girls took the opportunity to fill the rooftop hot tub with as many people as possible, 15 was the limit and with that, most of the water was gone. Off we went again meeting in a bar in town. This couldn’t have been more suited to us as it could only be described as an underground Irish dungeon. The night continued from there to ‘Moondance’ where players danced the night away in immense fashion. The last women standing on Saturday were Rachel ‘munster’ Whitten, Saz ‘I have 2 wallets’ Glynn and Alix Cunneen with a sweeping brush, who arrived home to greet their teammates having breakfast.
Sunday morning saw everyone pile the cases into one room before taking to the streets once again in glorious weather conditions. Barry the troll enjoyed a chilled-out boat ride on the lake while others enjoyed some tapas and some sight-seeing. All that remained was for us to let the squad to prepare for the mandatory court session, scheduled for 2pm that afternoon. The Jager train commenced on arrival to the court location, much to the amusement of the barmen. Unfortunately, owing the requirements of the UCD RFC Official Secrets Act, no reporting of the court session was permitted. All that can be said is that infractions of tour rules were prosecuted and sentences handed down.
Once the court session was adjourned, we gathered for food outside, making the most of the weather. At 5.30pm the Aer Lingus group departed for the airport in a jolly state, with the Ryanair group following at 7pm. Reports of Storm Dennis in Ireland were announced as we boarded. Thankfully, the flight wasn’t full, so we were appointed the back of the plane and with many rows free, we were able to lie down and relax. Relaxation was cut short however with about half an hour to go as Dennis decided the plane shouldn’t glide safely in the sky but instead mimic a rollercoaster and do loop the loops. After what seemed like a lifetime, we eventually touched down on the runway, much to everyone’s delight. Shortly after the Ryanair flight also touched down and everyone was back on home soil, Mission Accomplished.
The coaches took the opportunity to thank players for their cooperation, enthusiasm and for making this tour so successful. They also reminded the girls that training was on Monday ahead of a cup match Wednesday. Hopefully the girls have their voices back by then.
The experiences had and friendships made will last forever in the memories of those who travelled. The players led by Christine Coffey represented the club and university with distinction and pride and the club can be safe in the knowledge that many of those who toured with UCD in 2020 will become in time, the next generation of leaders of this great club and hopefully support a similar group of players in years to come in achieving all that they achieved on this tour.
A sincere and special thanks to the UCD RFC Chairman, Colm Condon, the UCD RFC Executive Committee, the Women’s Tour Committee (Alix Cunneen & Claire Farrell), the members of the Club and all those who contributed to the Tour, including those who made donations and contributions.
I would like to express a heartfelt thank you on behalf of the Players to the Coaches and the Management (Alice O Callaghan, David Dunne and Kate Hegarty) for all of the support to making the Tour such an incredible and memorable experience. To CAU Madrid for being such good hosts, to Capture Travel for making our life so much easier and organising everything so well. Finally, a special thank you to John Hammond for looking after the preparation of all of the team equipment and kit before we left Dublin and again getting it to the laundry to rid it of the bodily odour ahead of our cup game Wednesday.
The Players: Eimear Douglas, Orla Hanlon, Anna Potterton, Clare Coombes, Christine Coffey, Claire Farrell, Aine Keogh, Heather Cullen, Maeve Moran, Anne Spain, Ciara Byers, Evelyn Fenlon, Alison Norman, Sinead Gallagher, Laura Carroll, Rachel Whitten, Jessica Bauer, Aoife O Shaughnessy, Rachael Lawless, Emma Costello, Ruth Sherlock, Anna Kavanagh, Alannah Boyle, Alix Cunneen, Niamh O’Dowd, Aoife Friars, Sadhbh McDonnell, Aiveen Treacy, Hannah Woods, Aoife Byrne, Alison Coleman, Siobhan Tangney, Roisin Crowe, Sarah Wood-martin, Alice O’Dowd.
The Coaches: Alice O Callaghan (Head Coach), David Dunne (Coach), Kate Hegarty (Coach)
The Surprise Guest: Sarah Glynn