Anna Doyle in Sevens heaven as she takes her game to next level

After winning her first senior Ireland cap, talented teenager is aiming to push on

Leinster’s Anna Doyle is tackled by Munster’s Ciara Scanlon during the women’s Interprovincial at  Irish Independent Park, Cork. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo

Leinster’s Anna Doyle is tackled by Munster’s Ciara Scanlon during the women’s Interprovincial at Irish Independent Park, Cork. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo

 

Anna Doyle didn’t have to look very far to source inspiration.

Lucy Mulhall, the captain of the Ireland women’s sevens team, is her cousin and someone to whom the 19-year-old teenager looked up from the moment that she decided her sporting future lay in rugby rather than Gaelic football.

Ireland’s Grand Slam victory in the 2013 Women’s Six Nations Championship and a victory over New Zealand in the 2014 Women’s World Cup didn’t register with a young girl barely into her teens and for whom the weekends at that point were dominated by playing Gaelic football, initially for a small club and, when there weren’t enough players, she switched club to Tinahely.

Her conversion to rugby was serendipitous in origin as several of her friends joined Tullow rugby club, where Doyle’s older brother, Seán, played in a team coached by her father, John. She developed an affinity for the sport and quickly excelled.

“It was great craic and I just kept on going with it,” she says.

“I played my first year in the club and then the following season there were Leinster South East trials and I went along and got picked. I played Sevens in the summer and then moved into the 15s. My family [ she also has an older sister, Jo, a nurse] would have been quite sporty and played Gaelic football.

“My brother [Seán] played rugby for a couple of years and my father [John] would have coached him. My dad never played himself but he is mad into the rugby now. He’d watch it from morning ’til night.”

Attending Tullow Community School also facilitated a shift to rugby.

“In secondary school there was a lot of tag rugby and Sevens blitzes. We won the shield and the league when I was in sixth year so Sevens was always around for me.”

The exploits of former Leinster, Ireland and Lions flanker Sean O’Brien, a Tullow native and a familiar presence in the rugby club where he assisted in coaching, were recognised by the local community.

“The town is very proud of him and all that he has achieved. It was inspiring to see someone from our club up at that level,” says Doyle.

Arguably the most meaningful influence in her rugby development was her cousin, Lucy Mulhall. Doyle continued: “In our family there would have been a lot of talk about Lucy. My mother [Bridget] and I went up to support her when they [the Ireland Women’s Sevens team] were trying to qualify for the Olympics in 2016. It [the rugby] was so fast, great to look at and I remember thinking I’d love to be out there.

“In my first year at Leinster, I was too young to go to the European Championships in Vichy but did get to go to Loughborough for a schools tournament with the Irish Under-18 Schools Sevens team. I played 15-a-side for the Leinster U-18s that year too.”

She has played both forms of the sport every year since, albeit with Sevens as the priority.

Course work

Doyle progressed to the Ireland U-18 Sevens team, which she captained in a Home Nations tournament, where they were unbeaten, and was co-captain with Dorothy Wall, when the national side finished third, narrowly missing out on qualification for the 2018 Youth Olympics.

She is in her third year of four, studying Environmental Science at Dublin City University (DCU). She made her Ireland senior Sevens debut in the European Grand Prix Series in Kazan during the summer and plays 15-a-side rugby with the women’s team in DCU.

There is precious little downtime as she juggles studying and rugby.

“It’s hectic enough. I go to whatever lectures I can around rugby. Monday and Tuesdays I try and get most of my course work done and attend the lectures.”

She jumps on a bus from DCU to the National Sports Centre in Abbotstown on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays to train with the Ireland Women’s Sevens squad, arriving at 2.0pm and rarely leaving before 7.0pm. On her day off, Wednesday, she catches up on course work. Living on campus in DCU makes life a little easier.

She made her debut for the victorious Leinster senior 15-a-side team in the recent Women’s Interprovincial series.

“I wasn’t able to play the first match against Connacht but I played against Ulster and then came off injured against Munster, ” she explained. “I did okay. I wasn’t allowed play in the final because it was only a few days before we left for Glendale, Colorado but I went along to watch.”

Earlier this month she was named in the Ireland squad for the Women’s Sevens World Series tournament in Colorado, winning a first cap in the elite international competition when coming on as a replacement in the second game, a defeat to the USA and then scoring a try in the third pool match, a victory over Brazil. The Irish team reached the quarter-finals, before finishing eighth.

Her time in America included a visit to the NFL team, the Denver Broncos training facility. She found the step-up in standard less intimidating because of the fact she regularly trained with and against the senior Irish squad.

So did Lucy look after you?

“Yes. It’s great to have her as a role model.”

Fledgling career

The next leg of the Women’s World Sevens Series takes place in Dubai in December. Ireland will send two squads, one to compete in the elite tournament, the other in an Invitational competition.

Doyle said: “Hopefully I will go regardless of whether it is on the senior or development squad. “There is Irish 15s training going on at the moment; a few girls are doing both but I am just focusing on Sevens. My immediate goal is to keep improving as a player.”

Based on the evidence of her fledgling career to date and her accelerated development it might not be too long until the wing cum fullback is also contending for a place on the national 15-a-side team.

Doyle is the latest to emerge from the IRFU’s women’s development program following in the footsteps of fellow teenager Meghan Burns, a new generation, whose exploits at a young age will hopefully inspire and perhaps encourage a shift as part of the 20x20 campaign in the cultural perception of women’s sport in Ireland, changing the message in the process to: ‘if they can see it, they can be it’.

Anna Doyle could and did.

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