It may not have ended the way she wanted it to, but Ireland second row Sam Monaghan is glad to have picked up her first cap in Monday’s Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifier defeat to Spain.
Currently playing with Wasps in the Allianz Premier 15s, Monaghan was handed a debut off the bench as Adam Griggs’ side launched their bid to qualify for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand.
Unfortunately, she found herself in the sin bin – for collapsing an advancing maul – when the Spanish score what proved to be the decisive try from replacement Lea Ducher, with nine minutes remaining.
Nonetheless, from both an individual and collective perspective, Monaghan and her team-mates are determined to right the wrongs as they prepare to face Italy at the same Parma venue on Sunday.
Speaking during a media call from Italy, she said of her debut: “It was a bit surreal, to be honest. I really enjoyed the build-up and all the excitement around the first game.
“No one wants a yellow card on their debut, but it happened. We’ve learned from it. There were a lot of mistakes and this week we’ve really put our hand up and there’s been a lot of accountability.
“We’ve worked on it. Training yesterday was very honest, open and positive. So we’re really looking forward to getting training done this evening and the rest of this week.”
Following an impressive 38-13 bonus point victory over Scotland on Monday afternoon, Italy currently occupy top spot in the table of this four-team round-robing tournament.
Yet, despite the contrasting fortunes experienced by both sides in the opening round, Monaghan insisted Ireland are more than capable of overcoming the challenge posed by the in-form Azzurre.
We were all very disappointed. It was a hard pill to swallow, but we came together as a team. It’s not how we normally perform. Even in the Six Nations last year, you could see we’re better as a team.
“We were honest about everything and we’ve built this week, gone through reviews and spoken about going back to our game-plan.
“We’re playing for the pride of the jersey, we want to go to that World Cup. That’s our first goal. It’s going to be a tough game against Italy, but I think we can definitely get the better of them.”
In a similar vein to someone like Jenny Murphy, a Grand Slam winner with Ireland in 2013, it was not until Monaghan left these shores that she took up rugby as her sport of choice.
One of many in the current Ireland set-up with a GAA background, the Navan native is a product of the IRFU’s IQ Rugby programme.
“I moved to the UK about five years ago now and joined a local club in Brighton, Lewes RFC, just to make some friends,” she explained.
“They didn’t have a Gaelic football team over there at the time so I just joined and really loved it. A year later, I really took it seriously and my coaches saw I had an ability.
“They got in contact with Giselle (Mather, director of rugby at Wasps) and they gave me a trial. Giselle took me on last year and I played a full season with Wasps.
“The progress I made in a year just stood to me. Steve (McGinnis, the Ireland forwards coach), got in contact with me around November time and we stayed in contact.
“Reviewed my games, got on Zoom and work towards my strong points or my weaknesses. Then they had been keeping an eye on me and said they were interested in getting me into camp. I went into camp at the end of July.”
Before moving to England, Monaghan had been lining out in goal for the Meath ladies footballers, even coming up against Republic of Ireland soccer international Amber Barrett in the 2015 National Football League.
Since her departure from the panel, the Royal County have been on an upward trajectory that culminated in them recently winning the All-Ireland Senior Championship title at the expense of a five in-a-row chasing Dublin at Croke Park.
Monaghan had previously featured under current Meath manager Eamonn Murray in the underage ranks of the LGFA but, in spite of their monumental achievements in recent years, she has no regrets about the subsequent path she has taken.
“No, I think they actually got better after I left, to be honest! But we played together Under-16s and won an All-Ireland with Eamonn. We beat Donegal and it has been such a strong group there.
“They’ve had so many players coming through and the heart was always there. I think they made a very good decision. We were senior and struggling a bit so they moved down to intermediate and I think that’s the best decision they’ve made.
“They came up, won the intermediate and went on. You can see the passion and fire is still there. I’m so delighted for them, they’re all such a great bunch and really deserve it,” she added.