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‘You Have To Grab The Opportunity With Both Hands’ – Clovers’ O’Driscoll

‘You Have To Grab The Opportunity With Both Hands’ – Clovers’ O’Driscoll

Michelle O'Driscoll, pictured training with the Clovers squad, hails from Leap in west Cork ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

A relative latecomer to rugby, Michelle O’Driscoll has been one the leading lights for Ballincollig in the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division so far this season.

She has scored five tries for the Cork club, with her consistently strong performances earned her a place in the Clovers squad for the expanded 2024 Celtic Challenge tournament.

The 25-year-old is eager to use this platform to progress her rugby development. She was part of the Munster squad for the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship earlier in the season, but is yet to make her debut for her province.

The Celtic Challenge sees her playing with and against experienced provincial and international players – she had made two starts to date at outside centre – and it is an opportunity she is not taking for granted.

“I never really expected that I would get to this point. To be involved in a squad and competition like this is something I could have only dreamed of,” she told IrishRugby.ie, ahead of Sunday’s encounter with table toppers Gwalia Lightning in Cork (click here to buy tickets).

“It’s a privilege, so when you get the opportunity, you have to grab it with both hands. I suppose I’m an underdog, in the sense that I have no Interprovincial caps.

“But getting to play with players of this calibre, it can only drag up your standards. You can see improvements in yourself from each training session you do. It is a big jump, but that gap is getting smaller each week.”

It was during her four years in college at the University of Limerick, between 2017 and 2021, that the Leap native gave the sport a go. It was not long after she first picked up the oval ball that people noticed her natural ability.

She impressed whilst playing for the UL Wolves. It was Sana Govender, her third-year rugby coach. He was also involved as coach of the Skibbereen Women’s team and convinced her to join the club where she played up until the end of last season.

“I always loved the game, the want to play was always there. The closest rugby team to me at the time was at least 30 minutes away, so it wasn’t really feasible to do that journey every week.

“When I started studying in UL, I had the opportunity to play rugby in a great club. It’s still considered the home for student rugby. It was just on my doorstep then, I loved it.”

From there she played in ‘Skibb’, learning her trade in the junior rugby ranks before going dual status and joining Ballincollig at the start of the 2022/23 season. She has since joined the All-Ireland League outfit on a permanent transfer.

O’Driscoll has really made her mark in this AIL campaign. She is currently Ballincollig’s top try scorer, putting in solid showings week in and week out. She credits coaches Helen Brosnan, the former Ireland international, and Mike Pettman for helping her reach new levels.

“They’ve really put time into me, trying to get me as far as I can go. They are in constant contact with me, even during this Celtic Challenge period.

“They’re always keeping tabs on me, giving me advice on where I can improve from each game.”

She went on to say that being involved in the Munster set-up, which is led by Niamh Briggs and includes Fiona Hayes, O’Driscoll’s former Ballincollig head coach, has given her an extra hunger to succeed.

She commented: “I’m much more focused since being in that Munster set-up, being in that environment you become more exposed to what you need to do to earn selection.

“It’s clear how you have to structure your week through sleeping, eating, and recovery. You can bring all those things back to your club as you push to get up to that standard.”

Coached by Denis Fogarty, the Clovers squad has plenty of talent at its disposal. O’Driscoll mentions the likes of captain Dorothy Wall, Méabh Deely, and Kayla Waldron, who have all given her invaluable advice.

After losing their opening fixture to the Wolfhounds, the Clovers bounced back to beat Wales’ Brython Thunder 20-5 at Energia Park last weekend. O’Driscoll started both matches at outside centre, alongside Waldron, and feels the best is yet to come from both her and the team.

“For me personally, it’s been tough. I haven’t been involved in an interpro game, so you’re coming into a system you’re not used to. But, I’ve been proud of my performances.

I’ve given a good account of myself, but I have lots to work on. You only really notice what you need to work on in the analysis afterwards.

“As a team, I think we got caught on the hop a little bit against the Wolfhounds, especially in that last quarter.

“We were good last week, but there were still some missed opportunities. I think once we start to click, we have no fear for the games to come.”

The versatile athlete has represented her country in Tag rugby, playing for both the Ireland Women’s and Mixed Open teams.

She was involved with the Irish squad that won a bronze medal at the Tag Rugby World Cup which was held in UL last summer. She believes the non-contact version of the sport can help improve certain skills and aspects of your game.

“I was vice-captain for the World Cup just gone, we were fortunate to win a bronze. It was cool to play the two codes side-by-side. Tag helps with your footwork and your quick passing skills,” she added.