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Gallagher High Performance Academy Provides ‘Stepping Stone’ For McKeown’s Coaching Ambitions

Gallagher High Performance Academy Provides ‘Stepping Stone’ For McKeown’s Coaching Ambitions

Leinster's Emily McKeown is one of the 10 female coaches to be accepted into the Gallagher High Performance Academy for 2024 ©SPORTSFILE/Piaras Ó Mídheach

Leinster Rugby Women’s Development Officer Emily McKeown is one of the latest participants in the Gallagher High Performance Academy, which was set up last year to increase the prominence of female coaches and other high performance roles at elite levels of rugby.

McKeown, well known in Women’s rugby circles as a winger with Leinster, hometown club Naas, and Suttonians, with whom she won the Energia All-Ireland League Conference title in 2022, is following in the footsteps of Larissa Muldoon who was part of the Gallagher High Performance Academy group in 2023.

In the last year, Muldoon has continued her coaching development with Railway Union, Dublin University, DCU, and both the Ireland Under-18 and Under-20 Women’s teams, as well as being appointed as a Women’s Provincial Talent Coach with Connacht.

The former two-time Six Nations-winning Ireland scrum half has used her participation in the High Performance Academy to ‘learn and grow as an attack/skills coach, and to build new relationships’.

Having been embedded with the squad during their successful WXV3 campaign in Dubai, Muldoon will continue as Ireland’s assistant backs and attack coach (World Rugby intern) for the upcoming Guinness Women’s Six Nations.

World Rugby and Gallagher, a global insurance brokerage, risk management and consulting services firm, have announced the extension of the Gallagher High Performance Academy for 2024.

The fully immersive global development and leadership programme was introduced for 15s coaches ahead of the inaugural WXV tournaments in 2023.

It forms part of World Rugby’s strategic plan to accelerate the development of Women’s rugby, and increase the competitiveness of the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025 in England.

With a focus on talent identification, professional support and championing the next generation of international coaches, the Gallagher High Performance Academy develops existing coaching talent and identifies opportunities for new coaches and other high performance roles.

Academy participant McKeown’s coaching and playing careers have always run alongside each other and been mutually beneficial. She began her coaching journey whilst studying at the Institute of Technology in Carlow.

“Sports coaching was a module there and I really found that I had a passion for it,” McKeown told World Rugby. “So, I coached before I played and I think both, for me, have gone hand in hand.

“I became a better player when I was coaching at provincial level with Leinster Under-18s, which led to me playing for Leinster. My experience from being coached in Leinster has then improved my coaching massively.

“I have gone full circle and if I didn’t have either of those experiences, I don’t think I would have been as successful in my playing or coaching career.”

As a Women’s Development Officer for Leinster in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, she works with six clubs, Blackrock College, Seapoint, De La Salle Palmertston, St. Brigid’s, Old Wesley, and Stillorgan-Rathfarnham, as well as supporting schools in the area.

The head coach of the Leinster Metro Under-18 girls team added: “I’m really excited and looking forward to this experience with the High Performance Academy, learning from great coaches and meeting everyone in the same position as myself.

“This is a huge stepping stone on a pathway I have been working towards, and am still. It’s important to start showing that high performance coaching is an option or a pathway for female coaches.”

As a result of the programme’s early success and impact, World Rugby has extended the Gallagher High Performance Academy to all formats of the Women’s game.

The 10 new participants, including McKeown, are Sevens coaches, fresh from completing their first in-person workshops and having been embedded with their respective nations for last week’s HSBC SVNS Series tournament in Los Angeles.

All 10 inaugurated coaches took part in a rugby coaching masterclass at LA’s Dignity Health Sports Park. The inductees staged a series of live coaching sessions, putting into practice the skills that they have been learning through the Academy and the in-game live experience they have gained from being embedded with their respective teams for the HSBC SVNS Series leg.

They were joined by players and coaches from grassroots clubs within the local community, who benefitted from being coached by some of the most inspirational women in world rugby.

Speaking at the LAX masterclass, World Rugby Chief of Women’s Rugby, Sally Horrox, said: “As we celebrate the second year of the Gallagher High Performance Academy by extending the reach of programme to encompass all formats of the Women’s game, we are not just shaping coaches, we are sculpting the future of Women’s rugby.

“Together with Gallagher, we continue to champion diversity, excellence, and inclusivity on and off the field.

“The Academy enables a clear pathway for aspiring female coaches and provides vitally important coaching opportunities as we strive towards our ambitious target of 40% female high performance coaching roles at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2025.

“We are already starting to see the fruits of our labour as coaches progress into full-time roles around the world.”

Chris Mead, Chief Marketing Officer for Gallagher, added; “We are proud of and excited for the extension of the Gallagher High Performance Academy into all formats of Women’s rugby.

“The growth of the programme is testament to its success and impact in its inaugural year, providing meaningful career development.

“Expanding the programme to make it more inclusive will further accelerate the growth of Women’s rugby around the world, and continue to raise opportunities for women both on and off the pitch.”