Aisling Naughton and Elaine Ryan are both hoping they can earn a place at the 2016 Olympics Games as part of the Irish women’s Rugby Sevens team via one of the more unique routes.
Naughton previously was a non-travelling reserve with Ireland for the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010 as part of the Irish Under-17 hockey team and lined out for the country at Under-16, 18 and 21 level while Elaine Ryan is a club member with Old Alex and a teacher at Mount Temple. But they are now starting on the route to Rio de Janeiro following their selection to the Irish women’s rugby sevens squad which will travel to Atlanta next week.They are among a group of 12 women taking part in the Rugby Sevens World Series, which moves on to Sao Paulo and then on to Hong Kong, China, the Netherlands, France and finally Moscow in June.
Naughton and Ryan are among three new players who have been identified as part of the IRFU’s on-going talent identification programme. The programme is open to the wider athletic and team sport community and offers elite athletes the opportunity to join an Olympic programme in a new international female sport.
Ahead of her trip to Atlanta, Naughton said: “It is so exciting and such a privilege to represent your county and country. Taking part in the World Series is daunting but we know that by working together and working hard that we can take on anyone.”
The duo took part in trials in the autumn with a view to pursuing this new sporting opportunity. While it is a new departure for the two players, it is one that the IRFU are looking to pursue in a professional manner. The World Series features the US and Canada who run full-time, 40 hour a week programmes while New Zealand’s side are not far off that level.
To that end, Ireland have centralised their training group in Dublin in a manner similar to the Irish senior women’s hockey panel a couple of years ago. While there are newcomers to the sport in their number, captain Shannon Houston says that adapting should not be a huge problem for the likes of Naughton and Ryan.
“With the likes of Aisling Naughton, she is a really good athlete already; great fitness, really good feet and a knowledge of games in general,” she said. “Because of that, it is just about teaching them the skills, game sense and game-knowledge.
“A lot of that may not come until we play lots of games because that is where you learn most of it. Obviously, it is challenging but the players have come on a huge amount in terms of rugby in a short space of time. Now, it’s about getting game time.”
Previously, Naughton went on from the Youth Olympics to represent Irish hockey’s Under-21s in their successful 2012 European championships C division performance. The Goatstown native started the season with UCD before the volume of rugby training saw her step away from their panel. She comes from a strong sporting pedigree and is the grand-niece of former Irish champion jockey John Roe.