After many awaited months, the trip of a lifetime for Neumann University Women’s Rugby team had finally arrived. The club headed off to Ireland for spring break to play internationally! Accompanied by three men from the men’s rugby team, we embarked on a seven-hour flight to our first stop in Dublin, Ireland.
Upon arrival, a quick breakfast and hostel stop, we were led to our first training session with Tony Smeeth. During this session, we learned important skills regarding ball handling and creating space. Afterwards, we would head off to watch our first international men’s rugby game: Landsdowne R.F.C. vs. Galwegians R.F.C. During this time we also watched 6 nations in Lansdownes’ club house before heading back to the hostel for a well-needed shower and rest.
The next day was an early start. We began the day by visiting Aviva stadium, followed by getting ready for our first match in Ireland! The match took place against Trinity College and was held on the grounds of the historic and internationally renowned institution. NUWR started off the match well, matching Trinity’s defense before we would falter and allow Trinity to take the lead. However, NUWR did not count ourselves out. Becky Burns and Brittney Ferguson would come back and score their first international tries! In the end, the NUWR team fell to Trinity, but we were able to learn important skills from them and bond with them after the match.
Neumann’s time in Dublin seemed too short, but prior to departing Dublin the team enjoyed visits to iconic Dublin landmarks. We scanned the Dublin skyline while walking on the roof of Croke Park stadium (the national home of Irish hurling and Irish football). Next stop was historic Dublin Castle. The Castle offered glimpses into Dublin’s past as well as the splendor of English wealth. Many members of the team grabbed some fish and chips from the famous Dublin landmark, Burdock’s. With a delicious meal consumed, we headed to perhaps the most famous of all Dublin attractions, the Guinness factory. The multi-level, interactive, and self-paced tour provided great insight into this most famous of Irish exports.
We then headed to our next location of Galway, Ireland. After a much needed good night’s sleep, we departed for our next training session with an international rugby coach. This coach made it his priority to get to know us, possibly starting a trending hashtag of #belikekim. During this training session, we were able to learn how to set up on defense and communicate with each other more effectively. The offense also got lessons on how to pass the ball and move it more quickly down the line. Once the training session was done, we returned to the hostel to clean up before heading out to lunch. The lunch included a bonding session in which players were randomly assigned a teammate and they had to say something that they liked about this teammate, as well as the high and low of the tour for them thus far. Lunch was followed by a guided tour of Galway with Brendan Hynes. The tour included many historical sites, such as different churches, the Lynch family mansion, and information about Thomas Dillion, and many other historical figures!
The drive to Limerick was a long but scenic affair. The vibrant greens of Ireland’s countryside and small towns spread out on all sides of the bus. The rugged seaside of Ireland’s coast, along with a rainbow, made the drive an unforgettable occasion. We were anticipating experiencing the Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most spectacular natural features. Unfortunately, the winds were extremely high and to go on the cliffs would have endangered everyone. To replace it, we were able to visit Lehinch beach. The view there was absolutely breathtaking and many appreciated the time off the bus to experience something so wonderful. However, Limerick was still awaiting and we arrived at our hotel shortly before having to go to our next training session with Shannon R.F.C. Here, the team was able to learn how to communicate more effectively with one another, matching opposing players, and we worked on moving the ball more easily. The evening involved a team dinner, replete with a three course meal. This gave everyone a chance to bond and relax over what was pretty much universally considered the best food of the tour.
On essentially our last day in Ireland, we started our day by visiting Thomond Park Stadium, home of Munster rugby. We were able to walk through a small museum and learn about the evolution of rugby, the rugby player, and the Munster rugby team. Afterwards, the team explored Bunratty castle and learned about the history behind it, while also becoming close with some chickens, donkeys, and other assorted wildlife there. Before our last match, we were able to test out the Irish game of hurling and try it for ourselves. Victoria Mellon was named the best hurler on the team and received a hurling stick and a ball from the hurling players.
Finally, it was time for our last match against Nenagh W.R.F.C. After having rained the entire day, the field was extremely muddy. However, this would not stop NUWR from playing our hardest. We fought back the entire match, but Nenagh’s superior offense and flawless defense would hold back the lady Knights. Once the game was over, the two teams met in Nenagh’s clubhouse where we shared food and swapped stories. However, this time would be short lived as we had to head back to the hotel to pack up and finish off the tour with a rookie show. Since everyone on the tour was a tour rookie, everyone, including the coaches, participated. There were skits, songs, re-enactments, and dances. A fun and fitting way to end a tour where we experienced Irish culture and, perhaps most importantly, deepened bonds that will last a lifetime.
Overall, it was an absolutely amazing experience for the rugby teams. Not only did we get to learn about rugby and play it, we also got to learn about the history of Ireland and its people. We grew closer with one another and generated memories that will never be forgotten. During this trip the team became a family. NUWR and NUMR would like to thank Geoff Karabin for having the idea of going to Ireland and doing everything in his power to allow the team to travel over there. We would also like to thank President Mirenda, Chuck Sack, and David Deal for supporting us and our efforts to get to Ireland. We will never be able to fully thank Eileen McDonnell for her incredible generosity that helped to make the tour a reality for the entire team. We would like to thank everyone at Neumann University, especially the staff, for helping to make this trip possible and allowing us to experience something as amazing as Ireland.