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Hughes Excited About Combining With Caughey In Green Jersey

Hughes Excited About Combining With Caughey In Green Jersey

Although she was the Ireland Women’s first choice scrum half during the 2018 Six Nations with four starts, Ailsa Hughes admits it took a while for her to find her feet at international level.

After featuring in victories over Scotland and Italy during the 2017 Six Nations, Ailsa Hughes subsequently missed out on a place in the Women’s Rugby World Cup squad. With vocal performers like Larissa Muldoon and Nicole Cronin ahead of her in the pecking order, the Offaly native realised something had to change.

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“Larissa Muldoon was in there, Nicole (Cronin) is in there. They’re boisterous players, they’re boisterous people, admitted Hughes. “You’re trying to find your feet. A nine has to be loud anyway, but when you’re going into that set-up with them already in there, it’s hard enough to find your feet and find out what type of player you want to be. It took a little while.

“I suppose that’s where I had to go away after not being selected for the World Cup. To get away and actually work on things. That was a huge mental thing that I had to work on. Discover what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I suppose in the meantime then, it’s just a matter of trying to build yourself into it and find your feet.”

The 27-year-old half-back previously lined out for Tullamore before switching to Railway Union, who are currently top of the Women’s All-Ireland League. Having helped to set up the Women’s in her local club, the Tulliers remain very close to her heart.

“We had a huge Tag rugby base (in Tullamore). It was pretty simple just to try and get the lads on board to see if we could try and push Women’s rugby. See what we could do. Tullamore are after doing a fantastic job in the last couple of years. I think they’ve two Women’s teams now.

“They’ve a whole underage set-up for goals. It’s fantastic what they’re after doing. We’ve a couple of girls with the interprovincials. Tullamore have a load as well in there, so it’s good for them. They’re building nicely.”

For tomorrow afternoon’s November Test against the USA at Energia Park (kick-off 1pm), she will be joined at half-back by her Railway Union club-mate Nikki Caughey, whose last start for Ireland was against Canada in November 2016.

The Railway triumvirate of Lindsay Peat, Ciara Cooney and Aoife McDermott are also part of an experienced set of forwards, with Hughes noting: “I’m really lucky that we’ve Nikki. I’ve played with Nikki the last couple of years. It’s nice to have your nine and ten being able to not only work on stuff at club level, but then be able to try and put it into international and interprovincial this year (with Leinster).”

Hughes’ past sporting glory brought her to the hallowed turf of Croke Park. She appeared as a second half substitute for Offaly in their All-Ireland Intermediate Camogie Championship success of 2010. She dreamt of playing at Croker from a very early age, but starring in front of a passionate crowd at the Ireland Women’s Donnybrook home has also proven to be a thrill for the dynamic number 9.

“They’re very similar. In my head at the time, and it still is, playing intermediate camogie, then being able to play at senior level. That’s something you dream of as a kid. That’s what I grew up dreaming of. To be able to turn around and do the same then with rugby is unreal. You can’t describe it. You can’t compare them, you can’t describe it either.”

Having progressed to the national team after taking up rugby as an adult, Hughes is now introducing a younger generation to the game. Newly employed by Leinster as a Club Community Rugby Officer (CCRO) in the Westmanstown area, she has noticed a passion for the sport amongst young girls.

“That only started there in September. It’s really nice. It’s different. Basically, I’m in and out to schools pretty much. I’m into primary schools and secondary schools. It’s fantastic. With a name like Ailsa, everyone thinks I’m from ‘Frozen’! That’s a good way to get the kids starting! Then you introduce them to the rugby.

“It’s really good and even from a selfish point of view, I’m in with boys and girls, but from that level you can see those girls who are good and never picked up a rugby ball before. But you can see that they can play. It’s nice to be able to instill that in them and hopefully get them into clubs and get playing from a younger age.”

Indeed, the presence of development players Beibhinn Parsons, Aoibheann Reilly and Daisy Earle in the Ireland Women’s November squad suggests a new era is being heralded by head coach Adam Griggs and his fellow coaches.

As Hughes readily points out, she is actually a relative novice in comparison to some of these players, which provides her with great hope for the future of Irish Women’s rugby.

“It’s mad. I’m only playing six years, but some of those girls are playing longer and they’re younger. Beibhinn and Aoibheann, they’re playing a hell of a lot longer than I am. Their experience is huge. Again, it’s like that. They just need to find their feet. Once they do that, they’re going to be unbelievable players,” she added.