Linda Djougang: ‘Six years ago, I didn’t even know there were two types of rugby’

‘The physicality of rugby is the beauty of the sport,’ says the Cameroon-born Ireland player

Linda Djougang. Photograph: Inpho/morgan Treacy

Linda Djougang. Photograph: Inpho/morgan Treacy

 

The Cameroon-born star player of the Women’s Six Nations Irish rugby team, Linda Djougang said that she’s forgotten what it feels like to have crowds at games. “It’s been weird playing without crowds. You come together as a team and are there for each other but you can hear every single thing. I’m dying to have crowds back and share special moments with family and friends,” Djougang told Irish Times sports columnist Joanne O’Riordan in the opening session of the third night of the Irish Times Summer Nights online festival.

Djougang who has 12 caps and five Six Nation points, started playing rugby only six years ago when doing an summer internship during her nursing studies at Trinity College Dublin. “I signed up for tag rugby, and I didn’t know what the game was. After the game, a manager from Wanderers [Rugby Club] asked me if I wanted to play physical rugby. I didn’t even know there were two types of rugby. Now, I’m at my most comfortable when I’m on the pitch,” she said.

 Her meteoric rise began when her team at Wanderers made it to the Leinster semi-finals. After that, Djougang made the Leinster squad and then the Ireland squad in 2018. When asked whether she thinks rugby is a tough game, she replied. “The physicality of rugby is the beauty of the sport. You can’t remove it.”  

A strong promoter of women in sport, Djougang said that it’s important to encourage girls to keep doing sports. “Surround yourself with people who play sport and make it fun. Whenever it’s fun, you’ll go back to it.”  

Growing up in Cameroon, football was the game everyone was obsessed with.  “Even my mum played football with her neighbours on the beach and the kids would be all be there. I still have that picture of my mum playing when I play,” said Djougang, who works as a nurse at Tallaght Hospital.

When she moved to Ireland at the age of nine, she couldn’t speak English. “I didn’t even know where I was coming to when my Dad picked me up at the airport.”

One of her first memories was the food. “I remember eating so much of what for us would have been Christmas food.”

She is still friends with some of the children from her primary school in Rush, Co Dublin.  

Unaware of her sports talent, Djougang was selected to play shot-put in track and field events when still in primary school. “I was standing there, waiting for my turn when the other girls were doing their stretching [exercises]. Then I took my turn and got the gold medal and that was my first ever gold medal,” she said.  

 Djougang said that she gets goosebumps even talking about her recent achievements, including when she got her Ireland cap against England. “I still pinch myself to this day. I never dreamt that I’d have this. I don’t have rugby in my background. I go home and I’m Linda and I got to Dublin 4 and I’m a rugby player.”

She said that she hasn’t experienced racism in Ireland but that it’s important to talk about it. “The most important thing is an understanding about different cultures and backgrounds. I love when people ask me about my culture and where I come from. I love to cook and for people to eat my food. That’s how change happens. It’s about educating people about the values of different cultures which enrich and expand countries.”

Looking to the future, she said that she wanted to continue to be “the best version of myself, appreciate every moment and be thankful for the people around me and the opportunities I have.”

The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival, sponsored by Peugeot, is a series of online talks featuring Irish Times journalists in conversation with local and international authorities. It runs until Thursday July 1st. Still to come in the festival are Roddy Doyle talking to Fintan O’Toole; Mona Eltahawy with Róisín Ingle; and Jo Spain in conversation with Bernice Harrison. A ticket covering all events costs €50, or €25 for Irish Times subscribers. Full schedule and tickets from irishtimes.com/summernights.

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