Emerald Warriors moving to next level ahead of Union Cup
Biennial LGBT+ tournament takes place this weekend at Dublin City University
Irish rugby captain, Rory Best, takes the Emerald Warriors through their final training session ahead of Europe’s biggest LGBT+ inclusive rugby tournament which takes place in Dublin this weekend. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
The Union Cup takes place at Dublin City University (DCU) campus this weekend, a biennial rugby tournament that will attract the 45 rugby teams across 15 countries from the European LBGT+ community.
The teams will compete for four main trophies, the Union Cup, Union Bowl and Union Plate for men and for the first time in its history, there will be a women’s event, a 10-a-side tournament – the men’s events are 15-a-side – with eight clubs taking part, seven from Ireland and a Stockholm & Barbarians side.
Emerald Warriors are tournament hosts having won the right to do so in 2017, 11 years after the Dublin club successfully staged the Bingham Cup, basically the equivalent of the World Cup, at this weekend’s venue. Founded in 2003 with just five members, they now boast over 150 including players and supporters, fielding two teams every weekend.
They are affiliated to the to the Leinster Branch, play and train out of Templeville Road, home to St Mary’s College and compete in Divisions nine and 11 in the Metropolitan league. Richie Fagan fulfils a number of roles within the club from president to player and also found time to be the chairman of the Union Cup organising committee.
The Emerald Warriors have always strived to overcome prejudice on and off the pitch and a huge moment in that crusade was provided by the result of the marriage referendum in Ireland four years ago last month. Fagan explained: “There is no doubt that the confidence levels within the club has transformed since the marriage referendum.
“The older guys who would have been in the club at the very start, they were phenomenal, they did put their heads above the parapet to start the club up from five people to within three years having a team in the league. That was phenomenal work in 2003. After the marriage referendum it just brought on a huge confidence within the club.
“We are respected, look at what our country has done for us. Let’s bring it to the next level. I am seeing in what’s happening with the Union Cup the increase in confidence levels in the club.”
Fagan also explained that while the overwhelming experiences on the pitch were positive the club had encountered homophobia in matches. “We’re very well respected within the Leinster League. There’s no doubt that, when things get competitive and things fly off the handle there is slurring, but after the game we’re all shaking hands and there’s hardly any issue.
“We have had bizarre situations and incidents but we don’t delve on them. We just make sure that we’re building the lads up, we have come up against some difficult situations and homophobia but we’ve definitely come out the other side.”
Guinness sponsorship and support has been pivotal in being able to host the Union Cup, including painting the iconic Brewery Gates on James Street – they had previously only ever been blue or black – in the colours of the rainbow pride flag, bearing the tournament slogan and hashtag, ‘try with pride.’
Fagan said: “I was just thinking that this is this phenomenal piece of Irish heritage making a very strong statement – ‘Look at where we are’. There is so much more work to be done and this is just another massive milestone in a really great direction in particular with having Guinness involved with us and taking what we do so seriously, as we do. It’s bringing us to a whole new level.
“We are the first to engage with brands like Guinness, who have serious credentials in diversity and inclusion with a passion for rugby; never before had there been a tournament to do that.
“We still have a job to do. Why is there an inclusive tournament? Because the stats are frightening and they don’t lie. Sport England has produced research; why is only 17 per cent of the LGBTQ community involved in competitive sport? That says an awful lot.
“Why do over 50 per cent over the same community have dire health stats compared to the general population? There is a job to be done and we’re doing that. We’ve grown from 30-40 members in 2014 to 153 now.”
The IRFU supported the Emerald Warriors when the club bid to host the Union Cup by guaranteeing that they would supply all the officials and framework required to underpin the running of the tournament down to the referees.
For a tournament that started in Montpellier with seven teams in 2005 it demonstrates an impressive progression and the manner in which it will be staged this year will provide a template going forward.
Secondrow John Noone joined the Warriors in 2017. “I had participated in the sport for multiple years but you kind of feel you’re not really included, you can’t really be yourself, can’t really be open in the environments you played in before.
“I heard about the Warriors and the fantastic things they do and went down and joined them in St Annes Park. I haven’t looked back since. You can be yourself, you can be open, there are people who are highly competitive to people who are just interested in making friends and playing a bit of rugby on the side.
“But you have a really competitive side of things. Our first players finished second in their division, it’s really good to see that. It’s not just about making friends but playing rugby and being competitive. I’m so happy I did it.
Fullback Oran Sweeney’s background was in GAA, playing club football and Minor for Derry. He moved to Dublin for work purposes and wanted to try rugby. “I joined initially to make friends, get to know some like-minded people but also to participate in a sport I’d never played in before. As you become a member of the club, you realise it’s not just a rugby club, it’s much bigger than a rugby club.
“You have a shared experience with your teammates of what their experiences were growing up and understanding how difficult they had it participating in sport. Why are there inclusive rugby teams? I feel that’s because sport in general is inclusive but however there still needs to be avenues for people to participate in mainstream sport, such as the Emerald Warriors.
“People have had tough experiences and may not necessarily have the confidence to approach a club rugby team. We provide an avenue for safe and inclusive. Rugby and sport in general can be quite intimidating if you haven’t come from sporting background.
“We’ve people who wouldn’t have participated in PE in school, who’ve had really, really tough times growing up and we’re giving them an avenue to participate in sport. And some of those are the best players we’ve got.”
The Emerald Warriors are playing for more than Pride in the elite competition, having won a bronze medal in Madrid and in the last Bingham Cup finished seventh. Sweeney summed it up succinctly. “We will be pushing to be in the final.”