Bantry’s rugby star enjoys a memorable World Cup down under

Posted on: 10th December, 2018

Category: Sports Life – Interviews

Contributor: John Bohane

Bantry rugby star Ellen O’Sullivan recently returned home after representing the Ireland tag rugby team at the World Cup which was held in Australia. The West Cork rugby ace played a key role in helping the Irish senior ladies team secure a bronze medal, which represented a great achievement for the heroines. John Bohane catches up with the rugby star who is determined to achieve more success in her tag rugby career.

The modest tag rugby player enjoyed a great few weeks in Australia. She is still coming to terms with the significance of their special achievements at the Rugby World Cup. “My time in Australia can definitely be called a trip of a lifetime. Most people do not get the opportunity to represent their country on the World Cup stage and I was definitely going out there to enjoy every single minute of it. Australia is an amazing country. I can see how it appeals to so many Irish people. We spent the first ten days of our trip in Sydney, where we took part in a training camp and from there we travelled down to the beautiful Coffs Harbour where the competition took place. It was a great achievement and honour to come third in the world. It is a special feeling and I will treasure the memories I made forever.”

Ellen is back home in college once again after her memorable few weeks in Australia. She loves being back home, but is still getting used to the cold climate in Ireland. “The flight from Dublin to Sydney was 22 hours long with a stopover in Abu Dhabi. Going over to Sydney I didn’t feel the jet lag too much, as I feel we were all so excited to get started and see the country, so we didn’t have time to feel tired. Coming home from Australia it was much harder especially as there was an 11 hour time difference to deal with. I have been back in college a few weeks now so the jet lag has worn off but I am really missing the warm weather!”

The West Cork tag rugby star, along with her international colleagues, lived and trained like professional athletes during their World Cup experience. Ellen relished and thrived in the professional environment. “We stayed in great accommodation both in Sydney and Coffs Harbour. We mostly trained in rugby or AFL pitches in Sydney, which were all in great condition. For the competition we played in Coffs international stadium where they managed to fit 26 tag rugby pitches in for the competition. Great credit is due to all of Team Ireland management who organised all our accommodation and training facilities while we were in Oz. It was a great and unforgettable experience.”

During their stay in Australia, Ellen and her teammates also got to sample and experience some of the famous tourist sights on their days off from training, which she loved. “We managed to fit a lot of sightseeing into our schedule while we were in Australia. We were fortunate to see and experience some of the great sights Australia has to offer. We had a tour of the Opera House, went kayaking at sunrise around the Opera House, and went to Bondi Beach. It also offered us some down time from our heavy training schedule and, as a result we became closer as a team. In Coffs Harbour there were good size crowds for the opening two days, but the third day it was so busy. For the finals all the seats in the stand were filled. It was great to see how popular tag rugby is in Coffs Harbour.”

Ellen was thrilled to play in front of capacity crowds during her World Cup experience. She was elated with the messages of support and encouragement she received from her proud family members, friends and neighbours during the World Cup. She was proud to represent her family in the green jersey. “I believe it is a great honour to play for your country and wear the green jersey. Unfortunately my family or my friends could not come out and support me, as it is so far away. However, I received so many messages of good luck and I just want to thank everyone who supported me in any way in the run up to the World Cup, during it and also when I arrived back home.”

The Ireland senior ladies tag team had a very tough World Cup schedule. They frequently played three games in one day. Ellen loved the whole experience. “We played nine games in total, three games a day. In our group on the first day we played NZ Samoa, China and Australia, the eventual world champions. We beat NZ Samoa, but lost to China and Australia, which put pressure on us for day two. On the second day, we played Indigenous Australia, the Philippines and the Cook Islands. We lost to Indigenous Australia, but beat the Philippines and the Cook Islands, which meant we qualified third in our group helped by a 10 point win over the Cook Islands. On the final day we played Vietnam in the quarter-final. We beat them after extra-time and that game was definitely one of the stand out moments of the tournament. We went on to lose narrowly against China in the semi-finals, but we managed to beat a strong Lebanon side in the third place play-off to finish third overall. We were delighted to come home with the bronze medal.”

Ellen was always confident going into the tournament that the Ireland Tag Rugby team would compete with great distinction on this, the biggest stage of them all. “I believed we had a strong squad going into the championships. Our aim was to reach the quarter-finals where anything could happen. We were so pleased to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup. However, there is no denying we would have loved to have played in the final against Australia and given them a run. We were more than happy to come away with a bronze medal after our gruelling campaign. After all the hard work during the year, we were so pleased all the work paid off.”

Ellen and her Ireland colleagues had to battle against physically stronger and technically superior teams, but they also had to contend with the very hot and sticky weather. The Ireland tag rugby team admirably showed great courage and heart, which propelled them to finish third in the world. “Although the standard of tag rugby in Ireland is relatively high, some of the opposition we came up against in Australia were in another league. The Australian, Chinese and Samoan teams were all very difficult opponents, but I felt we were up there with them. As a team we were very happy with most of our performances as we didn’t know how we would cope with the intensity of the matches that were being played in 30 degree heat. It was definitely different to playing tag in the pouring rain in Ireland, that’s for sure!”

Tag rugby is becoming more popular and is growing on an annual basis in Ireland. Ellen is delighted tag rugby is becoming more prominent throughout the country. “Tag is definitely growing in Ireland. Even in our college league, numbers have jumped since last semester. It is great to see and hopefully the interest will continue. It is a great game to play. It is very fast game with a lot of short sprinting and agility required to get past opponents.”

Twenty-year-old Ellen is currently a student in UL. She is in her second year of studying Sports and Exercise Science. She only took up playing tag rugby when she enrolled in college in Limerick. “Looking back now, I am so happy I signed up to tag rugby in my first year. It is only about a year ago since I started playing. I signed up thinking that I wanted to try something new. Nothing that would be so competitive. How wrong I was. Tag rugby is like any other ball sport. Competitive, fast and overall so enjoyable. It was definitely one of the best decisions I have made and I do not regret it for a single second.”

Ellen comes from a very sporting background. She was a key player with the Bantry ladies football team who captured All-Ireland Junior glory. Ellen has treasured memories of playing with her beloved Bantry Blues. “Sport has always been a huge part of my life. I started playing Gaelic football at a very young age and I still am a member of the senior ladies team. I have so many fantastic memories with the club from winning numerous West Cork titles at underage level, to competing in an All-Ireland junior football final in 2015. Pulling on the blue jersey is another special feeling. I am looking forward to the start of the new championship season next year, as tag rugby was the main focus last year with the World Cup approaching.”

The West Cork tag rugby star is looking forward to more competitive games with the senior Ireland team. “The British and Irish Cup is played every year in the late summer and other than this we have a bit of a break. The World Cup is played every three years so I believe we have a bit of time off before the trials and preparations starts for that again. It will be nice to have the time off, but I will miss the weekly and monthly meet ups with the girls, as we have all become close friends during our time away.”

The ambitious Bantry native has very specific short-term and long-term goals she hopes to achieve from a sporting perspective. “There is no doubt that I would love to represent Ireland again in tag rugby, as it is such a great honour and experience. In the meantime I will continue to enjoy playing tag and hopefully encourage others to take up the sport both here at home and also in college.”

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