Aoife McDermott has been a key cog in the Ireland engine room for a number of seasons now, leading from the front through her totemic performances in green, but now the international second row has answered the call to fulfill what she believes is one of her most important roles in rugby.
As part of the IRFU’s Return To Rugby Guidelines, clubs in all four provinces are appointing a COVID-19 Club Safety Officer as they plan and work through the Roadmap, with Thursday’s addition of the ‘Competition Stage’ representing another welcome step towards a return to rugby activity.
Having worked alongside COVID-19 in her day job as a Clinical Research Nurse at St Michael’s Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, McDermott had no hesitation in stepping up and taking on the role of COVID-19 Club Safety Officer at Railway Union RFC, where she will work closely with the club’s appointed Compliance Officers and Committee.
Currently in the COVID-19 Safety Planning Stage, clubs are in the process of carrying out IRFU Education training and completing their COVID-19 Club Health & Safety Plan, all of which must be submitted to their Province before a return to any rugby activity is permitted.
As of today, 86% of the 217 clubs in Ireland have appointed COVID-19 Club Safety Officers, including Ireland international McDermott at Railway Union, Peter Kerr at Boyne RFC in Drogheda and Sean Madigan of Old Crescent RFC in Limerick.
“The first task of the Club Safety Officer is to work alongside other officers to carry out a COVID-19 Club Risk Assessment,” McDermott explains to IrishRugby.ie. “Once we have that in place, we can work through the different steps of the Club Safety Plan and I think it’s really important to be as stringent and diligent as we can to ensure we as a club do everything to the best of our ability on this.
“We need to make each club member feel safe on their return to rugby and for them to know as a club we are doing the best we can to protect them and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in every way possible. Ultimately we need to make people aware of their responsibilities and what’s expected of them when we do return to rugby.”
As part of the Education and Training process, Club Safety Officers participated in an hour-long IRFU Webinar on Tuesday evening, and McDermott says it was a hugely beneficial session as clubs, the Provinces and IRFU work together behind-the-scenes to navigate their way through the Guidelines.
“It was a hugely informative and reassuring Webinar,” the second row continues. “I certainly came off the call reassured that we are taking all the necessary steps to protect the safety of all club members and that there is light at the end of the tunnel in terms of a return to rugby activity.
“The big takeaway for me was the absolute reassurance that the IRFU will support us, the Provincial officers will support us and we’re all in this together. By no means is the Club Safety Officer on their own in working through all the Guidelines, rather this is very much a team effort, both in your club and nationally.
“All 217 clubs in Ireland are in it together, we’re all working through the same processes and at the end of the day we’re all taking every measure to ensure we get back playing rugby safely.”
McDermott adds: “I think the overall feeling now is excitement because we have a clear Roadmap ahead of us. We as a club and certainly all the other Club Safety Officers are under no illusions of the body of work ahead of us if we want to be back out on the pitch, but all of this is now very achievable.
“There has been so much uncertainty around COVID-19 to this point but now we have the steps and people in place to get back to what we all love doing. The absence of rugby – playing, training and watching – has left a huge void for so many people around the country and I’m confident and inspired that with everyone working together for the good of Irish Rugby, we are doing everything in our power to keep each other safe.”