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Lindsay Peat still testing sport’s boundaries and defying time

Former Dublin footballer and Ireland basketball star will win 34th rugby cap against Italy

Lindsay Peat celebrating a win over Scotland in the Women’s Six Nations Championship at Energia Park, Donnybrook last year. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

“There once was a girl called Lindsay...in 2009, she played a senior international basketball match for Ireland in the afternoon and was then flown by helicopter to play in an All-Ireland quarter-final against Kerry that evening!” – Girls Play Too, By Jacqui Hurley

Cousins at a family wedding. Correction: two sports-mad cousins, chatting at a family wedding, are responsible for tempting Lindsay Peat into a tilt at the elite end of a third sport.

“Fourth!” insists Mark Ingle, DCU Mercy’s founder and head coach.

“She played international soccer [U-18] as well.

“She was a very good soccer player before she was a basketballer, she was very good basketballer before she was a Gaelic footballer and she was a very good Gaelic footballer before she was a rugby player.”

But it was two northsiders, exiled on the southside, who got to talking at the wedding. Shirley Corcoran was always on the lookout for athletes to play rugby for Railway Union. Graham Byrne, when he wasn’t shifting from Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk to Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford hurlers, is DCU Mercy strength and conditioning coach.

“One time Lindsay was injured and wasn’t allowed on the court so we were doing some boxing work on the pads,” said Byrne.

“It would be commonplace in Dundalk to do the same with the injured [men] but Lindsay was hitting me at a rate that was just a joke – her footwork, her speed, her power; no one had hit me that hard before. I just thought, this girl has it all.

“She’s got that bit of northside street toughness that you can’t instil in some people. Mix that with a super intellect and I don’t really know where the chink is. She can coach any sport she wants whenever she stops playing.”

Imagine, just for a second, that a man did all of this. His mug would be splashed across Connolly Station Bridge so people marching on Croker could see him. His brand would amass seven-figure annual returns from a post-career media profile. He’d be a household name, loved or despised with everyone agreeing he’s an ‘athletic freak’.

“For about a year and a half after Graham told me about Lindsay at the wedding I was calling her saying ‘trust me on this, you will play for Ireland,’” said Corcoran. “‘The type of person you are, the skills you have from Gaelic football, they just go hand in hand with rugby’.”

“We spoke for months about Lindsay Peat, the great Dublin footballer, becoming Lindsay Peat the rugby player.”

Peat’s move across the Liffey to Dundrum, saying previously that her loyalty to the Parnells club in Coolock went too deep to wear rival GAA colours, prompted her to take a deep breath and dive into scrummaging.

Well, sort of.

“Initially she said ‘You are not going to put me in propping now are ya?’,” Corcoran laughed. “Johnny Cronin, Railway’s director of rugby, said ‘Not initially, but if you want to play for Ireland, if you have that aspiration, you have to prop. That’s where the opportunity will come. We’ll give you that pathway, we’ll train you as a loosehead’.”

“And Lindsay goes, ‘What’s a loosehead?’”

From that low base away they went.

Six seasons

Lindsay Peat ran the floor for DCU Mercy for 20 years. For the last six seasons she double- jobbed as a Dublin footballer, playing in three All-Ireland finals and winning a Celtic Cross in 2010. Then, aged 35, she switched to rugby. Cronin’s promise came through in her eighth game as a prop, as she came off the bench against England at Twickenham in 2015.

Think about that for a second. Think about playing point guard, half forward and loosehead to the highest possible standards without having to rely on reincarnation or a psychedelically induced dream-state.

“The point guard needs to be cool, calm, collected,” said Ingle, whose specialist coaching ensured that Jim Gavin’s Dublin utilised every inch of Croke Park. “That wouldn’t be Lindsay’s greatest strength. I learned that a long time ago. She was captain of our team and I would have disciplined her, but she kept coming back for more.

“Determination, grit, every quality that you can think of except calm and collective was in Lindsay’s make-up.”

There was a massive game against Glanmire when Ingle had a specific strategy. As tip-off neared, he spoke about staying focused, about starting well.

Lindsay Peat in action for DCU Mercy: She ran the floor as a point guard for the club for 20 years. For the last six seasons she double- jobbed as a Dublin footballer,

“‘I don’t want people running into brick falls. One play at a time.’

“Now this was against our biggest rivals and I was setting the tone in the dressing room and Lindsay was our captain. As with every basketball team you put your hands in together to make sure everyone is feeling the same energy, that we’ve all got the same message, and Lindsay goes: ‘Let’s fucking rip their heads off.’

“That was right at the end of my speech. ‘Do you know what, we’ll go with ripping their heads off.’”

And break.

Ingle turned to the Wizard of Westwood for some wisdom.

John Wooden said: ‘If your leader is calm and collective go with that, but if your leader is Braveheart, go with that instead.’”

The nickname stuck for a while.

“Imagine if you had the wildest horse,” he laughed last Thursday night, “you pull the reins a little with the right hand, let them off with the left, knowing when they go out the gate at the start of the race they are not coming back.

“So, we – in inverted commas – ‘worked together’.”

In 2011 Peat captained Mercy to a Superleague and National Cup double but Dublin, it could be said, felt the peak of her athletic prowess.

Strongest female

“She is outrageously competitive,” said Cliodhna O’Connor, current coach of the Dublin (male) hurlers and the goalkeeper on Peat’s footballers.

“When she first came to us from basketball she used to get so frustrated because her skills weren’t up to standard. We’d tell her to relax, ‘how can your solo be perfect when you’ve been playing basketball for months and months?’

“She always wanted the ball. Lindsay would always run for kick-outs when it wasn’t going well. I can still picture her on the pitch. She would do this big bounce, hold the ball high in the air, with her distinctive way of getting around a player.

“She did some great things in the 2009 final – just her aggressiveness, really going at Cork. In the last 15 minutes she was still showing for ball, which says a lot about her as it was capitulating around us.”

O’Connor, as a coach, is well placed to explain how it is even possible for an athlete to play four sports at the highest level.

Lindsay Peat in action for Dublin during the 2014 All-Ireland final against Cork. She played in three finals for her county and won a winner’s medal in 2010. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

“Pound for pound she is the strongest female athlete I’ve come across. It is just sheer force of personality as well. If we were practising high catching she’d go ‘Right, we are practicing together’. Mainly because nobody else wanted an elbow in the gob but also she knew I worked a lot of the high catch ‘You practice it all the time and you are the tallest so I want to practice with you ‘cause you’ll be the hardest to beat.’

“I’ve never come across anyone like her. I think it goes back to the essence of Lindsay as a sports person. She just makes it happen. In her DNA, she is a sports woman.”

And a mother. And a coach. And a public speaker. And a PE teacher. And a clerical officer for the HSE.

And an international rugby player.

Definitely unique

Peat, at 40 years young, wins her 34th cap against Italy in Donnybrook today. By the time you see this article the game will probably have started.

Peat, though, keeps breaking the mould for an athlete produced on this island. What she is doing should not be possible. Imagine the hullabaloo that would be made about her, if she was a he.

“There has been no athlete like her,” said Ingle. “Katie Taylor has done two sports to a high level – international soccer and obviously boxing world champion.

“It is definitely unique. Like, if someone asked me about coaching Brian Fenton or Bernard Brogan or Damien Sealy in basketball, I’d say Lindsay is definitely out there on her own, like them.

“But there is no character like her, that’s really what sets her apart.

“When she was deciding to go play rugby there was no doubt that the whole international aspect was what lit her fires. Obviously, the basketball international thing had taken a downturn through the economic situation.

God help the Italian prop, that's all I'm saying. She is in for a rough time.

“I know Lindsay loved playing for Ireland so I think she just said – ‘I’ve probably done as much as I can in basketball so I’ll go to rugby’.”

Ingle read The Sunday Independent article about 21-year-old French tighthead prop Rose Bernadou taking Peat and the Irish scrum to the cleaners.

“I imagine the French girl has been scrummaging since she was three years of age. But here is what I will say, Lindsay will be hurting this week, big time, more so than any athlete or basketballer I have coached, she will be hurting.

“God help the Italian prop, that’s all I am saying. She is in for a rough time. That would be my experience of Lindsay whenever she lost – it would be all or nothing the next week.”

Mark Ingle – DCU Mercy head coach

“Our biggest problem when Lindsay left our club was finding a new captain. A lot of players didn’t want to do it. ‘I’m not taking that job, after her! Are ya mad!

“Is she 40 now? When I was 32 I couldn’t walk after playing basketball or soccer. She is not made of the same stuff as the rest of us. If I forearmed her in a practice I’d be the one that was sore. She has a different make-up. I wouldn’t be surprised if she goes another two years, if they need her or until they train someone else into the position. She won’t let people down if there isn’t someone to fill her spot.”

Cliodhna O’Connor – Dublin hurling athletic development coach

“Well, I’ve never come across anyone like her. Never come across a female athlete with her strength. From a psychological point of view I’ve never come across someone who has made it work for so long.

“Rugby is so well suited to her because it is technical. She has good game sense. She is a student of the game. She loves mastering new skills. The power over five, ten metres in rugby, I mean, that is right up her alley. So in some ways it is the perfect sport. If she could play sport until she is 90 she will. It’s what she loves doing the most.”

Graham Byrne – Wexford hurlers’ strength and conditioning coach

“If she goes on to be a manager or a coach she will be world class at that as well, just because of her mentality. She puts pressure on everyone around her to perform. She is a Type A personality. She trains harder than everyone so it is up to you, as a coach or a teammate, to go with her.

“That she picked up rugby so late and just jumped into it shows the intelligence she has for spatial awareness and what I always say is you look at Diarmuid Connolly or Lee Chin they were going to be elite or world class athletes no matter what they did. Lindsay is the same. I bring it back to the fundamental skills and athleticism she has had since she was a kid.”

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