‘I love the lineouts… it’s nice to have that added challenge of calling’

HAVING COME TO rugby from basketball, the lineout was always likely to be Aoife McDermott’s favourite part of the game.

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There is a degree of transferrable skill at play – catching overhead, the footwork, the structured movement to create space, the fast-paced nature of the strategy.

McDermott starts in the second row for Ireland on Sunday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

An Ireland international in basketball as recently as 2016 – when she won a silver medal at the European Championships for Small Countries – second row McDermott is now a central part of the Ireland Women rugby team that faces the US in Donnybrook on Sunday [KO 1pm].

She will be calling the lineouts for the first time at Test level against the Americans, ensuring she has a large share of the responsibility in a team that includes two new caps, with a further two possible debutants off the bench.

“It’s definitely my favourite part, I love the lineouts,” says McDermott. “The systems of the movement and things like that, my handling is at a good level from basketball so I’ve enjoyed the lineouts.

“Coming in last year in the way that I did, [head coach Adam] Griggs was very kind in that he took that pressure of calling lineouts off me. I just had to worry about playing my own game last year. This year, it’s nice to have that added challenge of calling the lineouts.

“It’s great that the US have had two games [this November] so we can scout them and watch them, see their movements and what their patterns are, things they like to do.

“We can have an idea about how to attack that and we definitely will be looking to attack their lineouts and trying to rob a few and disrupt it, while securing our own ones at the same time.”

Two years ago, McDermott wasn’t even playing rugby.

McDermott in action during the Six Nations earlier this year. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Having shone for the UL Huskies and DCU Mercy, as well as representing her country at several levels in basketball, the Sligo native hadn’t been a rugby fan and only gave the oval ball game a go at the behest of Ireland international Jenny Murphy.

“I used to work with Sky Sports Living for Sport with Jenny and we were at a team day, just chatting and she said, ‘Would you ever give rugby a go?’” explains McDermott.

“I said I’d love to, I’d give anything a go, and next thing she said she would get her coach to give me a call.

“Anthony Eddy [the IRFU’s director of women’s rugby] rang me and invited me down to a sevens training session. I literally thought it was going to be a club coach so I got some shock when the phone rang.

“I went down to the sevens but I hadn’t a clue. The girls were like, ‘We ruck over’ and I was thinking, ‘A ruck? What’s that?’

“They were talking about working in pods of three but I literally hadn’t a clue. So Anthony very kindly suggested that I maybe go to a club and learn the basics, the rules, things like that. I went down to Railway Union and it went from there.”

McDermott’s first involvement with Ireland was during this year’s Six Nations, meaning she returns for the upcoming November Test against the US and England feeling a little more comfortable in the set-up.

McDermott plays her club rugby with Railway Union. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The experience of playing for Ireland in that Six Nations campaign has left McDermott keen for more Test rugby.

“I suppose it was a huge experience for me. I had never played rugby at that level before or at that intensity. It felt like it was a massive step up physically, especially the English game. The hits were so much harder and stuff.

“It was brilliant to see where other players at international level were at and where to be striving towards. And then just the more matches you play at that level. You always gain a few bits of knowledge and things like that.

“Definitely that English game, I found it very physical. I came off after 50 minutes and felt like the tank had been emptied. It was probably the one and only time I was happy to come off.

“Then I have been training hard all summer and I think our fitness has improved as well as our strength and physicality. I’m excited to see that and how we match up.”

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