A step up for the high rollers who never quit


IRELAND HAS EXCELLED at some untraditional sports recently, from cricket to poker. We can’t yet add roller derby to the list, but as the members of the Irish roller-derby team recover from last weekend’s Roller Derby World Cup, in Toronto, they can reflect that they are likely to have a future in the sport. Ireland finished 10th out of 13 international teams, a fair achievement given that the team was put together only six months ago.

“We got on pretty well,” says the head coach, Christopher Goggins. “We went over and were probably among the underdogs, but we played five, won two and finished 10th in the world, so we’re pretty proud of how we got on.”

Roller derby is a team sport with five players on each team. A game is made up of bouts called jams, in which each team has an assigned jammer, a player who can score. The jammer scores points by lapping the opposing team around a track, so both teams try to assist their own jammer and block the opposing jammer.

The result is a competitive and very physical sport, with ice-hockey levels of bruising contact.

The sport’s roots are decades old, but the new wave of women’s roller-derby teams pride themselves on their do-it-yourself philosophy, team spirit and sense of community and solidarity, along with a strong feminist stance.

Since the modern revival of the sport, the 2009 film Whip It, directed by Drew Barrymore and starring the Oscar nominee Ellen Page, has garnered international publicity for roller derby. There’s plenty of theatre to it as well, with tongue-in-cheek nicknames and punkish kits.

There are two competitive leagues in Ireland, Dublin Roller Girls and Cork City Firebirds. There are also three training leagues, in Belfast, Limerick and Galway, and two “leagues in progress”, in Kilkenny and Carlow. Information on all of them is available on the Irish roller-derby Facebook page.

Goggins became involved in the sport after his fiancee attended the first Dublin Roller Girls meeting. “It became increasingly apparent that if I wanted to have anything to talk to her about, I would have to get involved,” he says.

He was appointed head coach in January this year, and the Irish team ran trials in early June. “The day we started, we said that even if we were a team going over to get beaten – because there was the potential we’d be playing teams like Canada and the US – our ethos was just to be the team that never quits,” Goggins says. “We wanted to be the hardest-working team.”

That attitude paid off. Aside from their two wins, the team’s contest against England was also praised as a hugely competitive game, although Ireland eventually lost, 64-119. “We went over to raise the bar for all of our leagues, and raise awareness of the sport in the country,” Goggins says.

While many of the roller-derby team have taken the opportunity to have a holiday in North America following the world cup, Goggins is back in Ireland reflecting on their achievements and the sport itself.

“What I love about the sport is that the women’s sport is leading it,” he says. “The purest form of it is the women’s sport. The men’s sport looks like a stag party gone wrong. It’s promoting a new kind of thinking in a women’s sport, because it’s a sport that celebrates femininity and feminism and is also incredibly powerful. It’s really moving to watch, and once you’re part of the community it becomes something that you never want to leave.”