Louise Galvin: from basketball and Gaelic football to rugby and a Covid ICU

Kerry native retired from Women’s Sevens circuit to work as a HSE physiotherapist

Louise Galvin has retired from the full-time Women’s Sevens circuit after an impressive multi-sport career. File photograph: Inpho

Louise Galvin has retired from the full-time Women’s Sevens circuit after an impressive multi-sport career. File photograph: Inpho

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The events of 2020 have led to Louise Galvin retiring from the full-time Women’s Sevens circuit, where she played full-time for five years. Instead, she’s taken up a new day job as a physiotherapist with the HSE, and that’s all fine by her.

Not having taken up rugby until she was 25, Galvin walks away grateful for memories aplenty, with few regrets, and with a rewarding new job in her work as a physiotherapist.

Like many, she couldn’t have envisaged how the year has panned out. After competing in a World Series event in Hamilton, the Irish squad moved on to Sydney in early February, when word came through that the Chinese team had been unable to compete due to the outbreak of Covid-19 there.

“All the other teams and ourselves were saying: ‘isn’t it terrible about that virus in China?’ Little did we realise how much it was going to affect us all worldwide. We still managed to get in a training camp in France in early March, but then everywhere gradually went into lockdown and we headed home.”

The players were given their GPS, weights and training programmes.

“I’m someone who likes to keep busy and I’ve always been ‘locuming’ anyway so I went back to the front line. I have ICU experience so I stepped into a Covid ICU in Tullamore in Offaly, which I commuted to from Dublin four days a week, and did my training outside of that.

“I don’t like to say I enjoyed it, because it sounds like your taking enjoyment out of other people’s pain or suffering, but as far as I was concerned I didn’t have any health issues and I was very happy that we were in full PPE. I have to say no-one in the ICU who worked there actually got sick, so I quite enjoyed the experience of working through the really early intense days of the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, maintaining her evening training regime was assisted by her husband, the three-time All-Ireland winning Kerry footballer Donnchadh Walsh, who is also a physiotherapist.

The Women’s World Series is provisionally due to re-start in Hong Kong next April, but as a member of the Rugby Player’s Ireland executive Galvin regularly sat in on World Rugby meetings and it was clear throughout them that the series wasn’t resuming any time soon.

“I was considering retiring this year anyway as I’m now old,” she says with a self-deprecating smile. “I’d immersed myself back into a professional life and although it’s never easy to step away, it just felt like the right time and the right decision for me. I got married last December as well so I had to start thinking of more than just running around the world after a ball.”

She steps away without any injuries and can return to playing club rugby and Gaelic football and, who knows, basketball again.

Multi-talented

Reared on a farm in Finuge in north Kerry, Gaelic football and basketball were her initial sports. She had to stop the former at 14 until the Finuge GAA club started a women’s team when she was 21. She made the Kerry senior team within a year, and played on one All-Ireland final losing team.

She also captained the Ireland Under-20s basketball team and won one senior cap before teams were disbanded due to a lack of funding in Basketball Ireland.

Louise Galvin during her time playing with the Kerry footballers. File photograph: Inpho
Louise Galvin during her time playing with the Kerry footballers. File photograph: Inpho

Working in Limerick as a physio, Galvin found time to take up Tag Rugby, and Ireland winning the Grand Slam in 2013 and beating New Zealand in 2014 prompted her to train with UL Bohemians.

On the back of five club games at ‘15s’ Anthony Eddy, the IRFU’s director of Women’s and Sevens rugby, and Stan McDowell, the Ireland Sevens coach, encouraged her to transfer sports. It meant moving to Dublin, giving up her job and taking a massive pay cut.

“But I knew I could work part-time, train as a professional athlete, and I thought ‘for one year, why not? Let’s take a career break. I’ve worked since I was 21.’ All I wanted to do all my life was run after a ball and play on a team. If I had to come back after a year with my tail between my legs, so be it.”

She travelled the world, often brought her family with her and her only regret is that the Irish squad didn’t qualify for the Rio Olympics.

“In womens’ sport sometimes we’re quick to look for pats on the back but we have to take the negatives as well. We didn’t perform well enough to qualify for the Olympics and that will always be my biggest regret. But I’m still glad I took that massive jump. Although I didn’t become an Olympian, I’ve gotten a whole lot more out of it than I put in, and I put in a damn lot as well.”

My God I had a great time travelling the world, playing sport and training as a full-time athlete. It wasn’t even a dream I had growing up because I wouldn’t have thought it was even possible

After looking for work closer to home, Galvin now has a full-time job with the HSE doing home visits to elderly patients in south Dublin, seeking to provide them with the independence and skills to remain at home rather than go into nursing homes.

“I’ve gone from working directly in a UCI to now seeing the collateral damage of this horrible pandemic. I just see a lot of very lonely people, who are just missing their family and friends, and simple things like going to mass or to the coffee shop.

“I’m a massive advocate of exercise for all demographics, whether it be a top-level athlete to a 95-year-old, who can still do exercise, because it has huge mental benefits.

“I’m obviously wearing PPE but it’s nice to know you might be brightening up someone’s day by just having a chat with them. I might be the only person they’ll see in that day. Sometimes they’d say: ‘I’d love to see your face fully.’ And I’ll go outside the window and take it off so that they’ll know who’s calling to their door. It is quite rewarding, and it’s sad as well, but overall I guess we’re trying to do good.

“I’ve been an athlete for long enough and I used to think I always wanted to work with athletes as a physio, but we’re not the most appreciative. We’re very selfish people, by nature, and I am one of them. But older people are so appreciative and you’re made to feel like you’re giving them your right arm sometimes and that’s a lovely part of the job when actually you’re just giving them your time.”

It’s also helped put the last five years further into perspective. She reflects and thinks: “My God I had a great time travelling the world, playing sport and training as a full-time athlete. It wasn’t even a dream I had growing up because I wouldn’t have thought it was even possible.”

Louise Galvin’s only sporting regret is that the Irish squad didn’t qualify for the Rio Olympics. File photograph: Inpho
Louise Galvin’s only sporting regret is that the Irish squad didn’t qualify for the Rio Olympics. File photograph: Inpho

Galvin was part of the first Irish team to reach a semi-final, in Sydney, and competed in the World Cup in San Francisco, when Ireland beat England, lost to New Zealand and beat Russia before losing 12-7 to Spain.

“The memories go on and go. Just the environment as well. You’re living and training with the other teams which can be really interesting. Never before had I been so close to my competitors in the build-up.

“It was huge getting to that semi-final in Sydney. It was a little bittersweet because I’d lost my dad a month beforehand and I’d rushed back over. I think I played every minute of every game and part of that was because the squad were so good to me.

“We were due back training on January 3rd and instead the whole squad were down in Kerry at a funeral. I really wanted to repay them. I wouldn’t say I had some brilliant performances in that tournament but I did my bit to get us into that semi-final.”

The 2018 World Cup in San Francisco was all the better for hosting both the men’s and women’s tournaments. “We came sixth, and probably could have come higher, but there was a massive Irish contingent, a lot of family and friends over, and the whole event was pretty phenomenal.”

Future planning

Ireland have improved but, but so too has everyone else. In truth, she doesn’t want womens rugby in Ireland looking for, as she puts it, “the likes of a Louise Galvin transferring over at 26/27, because if the sport is going to progress you need people coming up from under-age, and we do have that now.”

She cites the example of the other two players shortlisted for the Women’s Sevens player of the year (the winners of the Zurich RPI awards will be revealed next Saturday night on Virgin Media TV) Kathy Baker and Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe.

Galvin says she’s “embarrassed” by being among the shortlist, given a consistent rather than spectacular year, as if it’s a substitute for not being able to say a proper goodbye to her.

She started as a centre, moved to the forwards, “maybe with increasing age and reduced speed,” she adds humbly. But she replaced the speed of her initial years with playmaking skills to remain a key player.

“Amee-Leigh is just a phenomenon. To think that she isn’t better known in this country actually really annoys me. What she did last season when she was on the dream team and top try scorer, much like Jordan (Conroy) with the men’s, is phenomenal because she’s targeted in every game. She’s won this three or four times, and there’s a reason for that.

“Kathy came in at 18/19 and she’s 22 now, and has steadily improved. She is the reason, and players like her, that we are going to be a successful Sevens nation.

“We need to get them younger again, so that we’re not trying to get an athlete and mould them into a Sevens player. I think that would definitely be something which would allow us to qualify for an Olympics - and compete.”

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