Competition is the key to success for womens’ club rugby

Former Munster star Kate Sheehan spoke to the Limerick Voice about life after rugby and how she hopes the game will progress.

By James Roulston Mooney

Speaking to Limerick Voice just weeks after hanging her boots on a hugely successful interprovincial season the former UL Bohs and Munster front row Kate Sheehan said: 

“If you’ve Blackrock playing Railway and you’ve Amee-Leigh [Murphy-Crowe] in a Railway jersey and Beibhinn Parsons in a Blackrock jersey up against each other, you know, who doesn’t want to see that?” 

Sheehan wants to see the best club players playing against each other. She believes this would be the perfect advertisement for the game scheduling issues can be resolved. 

The 34-year-old retired from the sport in January after Munster picked up their third Women’s Interprovincial Championship in a row. 

While she misses certain aspects of the sport and the people that are connected to her experience of it, Sheehan is comfortable with her decision. 

“I’m not missing the waking up on a Sunday morning absolutely broken up,” Sheehan laughed. “And just even your weekdays coming home from work – you don’t have to be anywhere.” 

Sheehan has spent the last few weeks celebrating the interprovincial win with her former teammates and coaches and falling into her new routine.  

The sacrifices needed to play rugby at such a level that she did are no longer a part of her schedule, and while that brings relief, retirement also brought sadness for Sheehan. 

“I was so excited about finishing up – I couldn’t wait – and then the last week, week-and-a-half beforehand, I actually started to get really emotional when I thought about it.” 

On paper, Sheehan’s retirement signalled the end of her playing career, but it meant a lot more than that to her – a chapter in her life was ending. 

The former Munster hooker reminisced on the craic she had in WhatsApp group chats with teammates and the slagging they would give each other, but also the understanding they all had of each other. 

“You’ve, d’you know, 20 or 30 girls that will go to battle with you in the morning, that will have your back, that might pick up that you might have stuff going on then you have a chat about it and a laugh and a joke and then you feel great then coming home.” 

Some of the people she ended her career alongside were there from the start – namely incumbent Munster head coach Niamh Briggs and backroom member Fiona Hayes. 

The Munster boss was also there as a player when Sheehan made her debut for the senior team in the 2007 Celtic Cup. 

Knowing how much the tournament triumph in January meant to two close friends in Briggs and Hayes made it an even sweeter crescendo for the Limerick native. 

“Especially for my last year, it was nice that they were a part of that.” 

“I’m not missing the waking up on a Sunday morning absolutely broken up!”

For the Women’s Interprovincial Championship, it was Sheehan’s turn to be one of the veterans in a Munster senior squad filled with youthful talent. 

She also touched on the versatility that Ronan Kelleher and Dan Sheehan provide the Men’s teams of Leinster and Ireland.  

The ex-hooker’s role description was much more like her position description, although she did find herself out wide in certain attacking phases during the InterPros. 

She puts down such positioning to her trying to get a small break, rather than fly up the channel with the ball-in-hand like others she mentioned. 

Such change for a position, or role, can be expected in such a long career, an 18-year ride that may have never come to fruition if then-UL Bohemians coach Jason Enright did not get her involved in the sport again. 

Sheehan spent time away from the rugby pitch for several years, until Enright came knocking when she was 16. 

The then-Bohs coach got in touch with Sheehan through her uncle and made sure she got back on the pitch. 

“He even collected me at my house and drove me out. I was delighted he pushed my uncle on it.  

“If that didn’t ever happen, I don’t know if I would have gone back. It shaped me and the person I am.” 

Rugby has given Sheehan some sleepless nights questioning mistakes or possible scenarios that may have happened had a pass been made quicker among other things. 

“I’ve vivid memories of games that we lost. If you asked me about the AIL final in 2008 that we won, I couldn’t give you any information on that game.  

“But if you asked me about the one we lost to Railway, I’d be able to tell you minute-by-minute, clip-by-clip!” 

The growth of the sport has been huge in that time period and Sheehan has got to experience it all in the best spot you can, right at the heart of it. 

More eyes are on the game – TG4 have been putting it front-and-centre in recent years – leading to the former hooker getting lots of phone calls that follow this pattern: “Oh my God, you’re playing for Munster!…Yeah, since 2007!” 

Sheehan, unsure what to do with herself for the moment, is clearly excited for the future of the game that she was a part of for eighteen years. 

However, there may be more to come from Kate in the sport in a different capacity. 

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