A native of Riverstown, County Sligo, Aoife McDermott is the latest in a line of Irish rugby players to make a smooth transition from the world of basketball.
Although they are also known for their prowess in Ladies Gaelic football, Lindsay Peat and Louise Galvin both represented their country in basketball before switching their focus to rugby in recent years. Now a team-mate of Peat’s at Railway Union, Aoife McDermott enjoyed a great deal of success as an underage basketball star.
When the towering lock found herself at a crossroads in her sporting career, she looked to the likes of Peat and Galvin for inspiration.
“I’ve played basketball since I was 12 and played international since Under-16s. I suppose I’ve been very lucky in my basketball career. I had a lot of success. Won numerous All-Irelands throughout the years and represented Ireland at every level. I’ve been lucky enough to have a European silver medal as well,” said McDermott.
“I kinda felt like I had achieved as much and gone as far as I could with basketball. I had seen other players make the transition from basketball, Lindsay Peat and Louise Galvin. Kinda wanted a new challenge and wanted to see if I could take up a new sport and see how far I could go with it.
“The idea of trying to make an Irish team with rugby, and the professionalism and elitism that comes with being a rugby player, all kinda attracted me to the game.”
For this evening’s Women’s Six Nations finale against England at the Ricoh Arena (kick-off 5.30pm), McDermott will be joined in the matchday squad by a number of her Railway colleagues. The aforementioned Peat is included in the front row alongside Cliodhna Moloney, while Ailsa Hughes, Kim Flood and the fit-again Ciara Cooney will feature among the replacements.
The former UL student acknowledged it is a big advantage having some many of her international team-mates at club level, where the quality of training under Railway director of rugby John Cronin has prepared her for the step-up to the Ireland ranks.
“It’s brilliant. Club training, it’s a huge standard. At every club training, we push ourselves and we love to get better. When you have that number of internationals in a club side, it helps to bring the rest of us along. I think that’s really helped me excel as quickly as I have in the sport.
“We’ve six in the (Ireland) squad for this weekend and we’ve 10 in the squad in total. Not all of us have been selected to play, but we’ve a lot of Sevens players and are producing a lot of 15s players. It’s brilliant to have that environment at club level.”
After missing out on selection for the opening two rounds of the Six Nations, McDermott was initially named on the bench for the 35-12 bonus point victory over Wales. This was until Nichola Fryday fell ill on the night before the game, leading to the new cap’s subsequent promotion to the starting XV.
Although McDermott, who currently works in the Mater Hospital as a clinical research nurse, was essentially thrown in at the deep end, head coach Adam Griggs put her at ease with some shrewd pre-match advice before her Ireland debut.
“I got the phone call on the Monday night before the Sunday game about my inclusion in the squad. Then I was named on the bench. Unfortunately, Nichola Fryday fell ill over Saturday night and Sunday morning. I was told about two or three hours before the match started that I was going to be starting, so not a huge amount of time to get too nervous about it.
“Adam was brilliant, he was just like, ‘go in, do your job, don’t worry about calling lineouts. Don’t worry about anything else, just get in and be physical and do what we want you to do’. Didn’t have too much time to think about it, just got in and got stuck in.”
Still learning and developing as a relative newcomer to the sport – she took it up roughly 18 months ago – McDermott is growing in confidence with each game she plays. Tonight’s tussle with England provides a stern test of an Irish team that are in transition, but McDermott, whose entry into international rugby has come at just the right time following second row star Marie Louise Reilly’s retirement in August, feels they are capable of upsetting the odds.
“I think we’re under no illusions. It’s going to be a tough day at the office, but if we can just get back to putting in a solid performance and do what we can do well…try to show the style of rugby that we’re able to play and work hard. Just go through our phases and you never know what might happen,” she added.