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Wicklow Keeping It In The Family

Wicklow Keeping It In The Family

Wicklow won three games during the regular Energia All-Ireland League season, beating Suttonians, Cooke and Galwegians ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Many rugby clubs across the country have lots of family links. Very few more so than Wicklow RFC, especially their Women’s senior squad where seven sets of sisters play for the team.

Having that many siblings in one squad is extremely rare in any sport. The seven sets of sisters are the Roberts (Ella and Beth), the McConnells (Erin and Megan), the Stones (Aoibhín and Roisin), the Schmidts (Jessica and Nicola), the Griffeys (Rachel and Caitlin), the O’Reillys (Saoirse and Naoise), and the Molloys (Caoimhe and Orla).

Five sets of the sisters lined out in one Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division game against UL Bohemians earlier in the season. It is something that obviously means a lot to all the players across the club.

Talented full-back Ella Roberts and Wicklow captain Erin McConnell, a versatile back who is best known as a scrum half, speak with great pride about being involved in this ever-improving young side with their sisters and good friends.

“I think it’s really interesting because every one of the sisters have lined out together at some stage this season,” said Roberts. “I think it’s absolutely brilliant and I don’t think you get that in any other club.

“I think it represents how family orientated Wicklow is as a club and how much value they place on being family orientated.”

The 21-year-old Ella has made quite the impression in the last 15 months or so since bursting onto the Leinster scene. She has been part of Ireland 15s and Sevens squads, but playing in the back-line with her younger sister Beth has been one of the highlights for her.

“It’s not something a lot of senior players get to do, there is always a bit of a drop off and people sometimes emigrate and that sort of thing.

“I think it’s really special to get to play with my younger sister Beth. We’re getting to play with each other week in, week out.

“Just between the sisters as well, I think because you’re so comfortable with your sister, you really do give that extra push to encourage her and you really want to do better for her.”

Like so many on the team, McConnell has also had the chance to play with her older sister Megan, explaining: “We’ve been fortunate enough to play a few games together. We tend to bicker on the pitch! But it’s incredibly fun to play alongside her.”

Jason Moreton’s charges finished the regular season in fifth place, narrowly missing out on a top four place, however, they will have home advantage against Ballincollig in Saturday’s Conference semi-final.

If they win that game, they move on to next week’s final against either Galwegians or reigning champions Suttonians, which will be held at Wicklow’s own fortress of Ashtown Lane.

They look to be a lot more settled in this just their second full AIL season. Rewind to last year and things were looking a whole lot bleaker after they shipped 268 unanswered points in their opening three games against Old Belvedere, Railway Union and Blackrock College.

If you compare that to the same fixtures this season, the margin is far less, at only 84-30. Clear improvements have been made. Roberts admitted:

To be honest with you, last season was our first proper season in the AIL without Covid hindering it. I don’t think we really realised how high the intensity of the AIL was, I think we underestimated it a little bit.

“Coming from Division 1 (in Leinster) where we were beating teams quite comfortably, we probably didn’t expect it, but we were humbled quick enough. I think we’ve got more of a belief in the squad this year too.”

McConnell, who was selected in Tania Rosser’s extended Leinster panel, mentioned that the buy-in from the entire Wicklow squad has been much better this time around and there is a real competition for places.

“The commitment of players to training has massively improved. Now we’re seeing numbers of 30-plus players up at training every session. It just drives the competition between the players and everyone is pushing so hard to work their way into the starting team.”

The togetherness and closeness of the team and the fact that many of the girls have grown up playing together has made them a stronger unit and a very hard team to beat.

“I definitely think the fact that the majority of us have grown up playing together has made us a stronger side as we know each other’s playing styles so well.

“Like, I could probably tell you what each player is going to do when they get the ball. It’s hard for teams to get inside our heads, it gives us that bit of an edge.”

Winning on Saturday with the potential to go on and contest the Conference decider at Ashtown Lane is a real achievable target for this group and it would be a great way for them to close out 2022.

There is a real buzz around the club and a real confidence that they can finish the year on a high. McConnell is certainly hoping for a couple of big weeks ahead.

I think if we keep level-headed and we don’t get to ahead of ourselves it’s definitely achievable.

“There will a couple of teams, looking to get one up on this, that have run us pretty close this season, so we need to keep that competitive edge on.”