Highlights: October 2023

Highlights: October 2023

Looking on the Bright Side

In truth, we all felt Saturday’s Rugby World Cup final was missing its key player. Yet while Ireland may have lost its top ranking at the Rugby World Cup in France, both the team and its army of followers provided the competition with energy and many memorable moments.

There was Johnny Sexton‘s record breaking score against Tonga, or reverberations of ‘Zombie’ around the Stade de France following a titanic tussle with the eventual champions, or any one of Bundee Aki‘s five tries as the 33-year-old took each side he faced to task. All took place in front of what seemed like half the country, as thousands of Irish fans somehow squeezed their way into prized seats across France. 


Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

In addition to Sexton’s personal tally, there were several other individual achievements across the tournament. Peter O’Mahony earned his 100th cap in Ireland’s win over Scotland, while Bundee Aki‘s relentless drive earned him a nomination for the World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year, with a new IRFU contract tying down his services until 2025. Aki was joined in the World Rugby Men’s 15s Team of the Year by Dan Sheehan, Tadhg Furlong, Caelan Doris and Garry Ringrose

While the predominant Irish interest quickly flagged there remained a celtic flavour to the Springboks’ ultimate triumph with Felix Jones claiming his second Rugby World Cup winners medal, while Killarney native Paddy Sullivan – on secondment for the tournament from Montpellier – was the side’s senior performance analyst. The squad also featured two current Rugby Players Ireland members in Jean Kleyn and RG Snyman

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan


WXV3 Champions

In Dubai, an Irish side jointly led by Edel McMahon and Sam Monaghan went all the way as they claimed the WXV3 title at their first time of asking. Wins over Kazakhstan and Colombia racked up 173 points before it took a spirited second-half comeback against the Spanish, with tries from Grace Moore and Neve Jones, for the side to clinch the title and promotion to WX2.

Stronger opposition awaits in the 2024 TikTok Women’s Six Nations, but the squad can be encouraged by a number of positive steps including five new caps – Clara Barrett, Megan Collis, Eimear Corri, Sarah Delaney and Fiona Tuite – and Ireland’s first international silverware in nine years.

The WXV3 tournament also marks the end to the first year of the IRFU’s professional Women’s Rugby programme. Before she headed for Dubai, we asked Maeve Óg O’Leary what her typical day as a professional athlete looks like (click image).


Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ben Brady


World Rugby Calendar Reform

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Following World Rugby’s announcement of a revamped season structure, Rugby Players Ireland and the IRFU reaffirmed their dedication to play welfare with Simon Keogh saying that the overhaul will challenge players. While welcoming a set calendar in the women’s game, Keogh also indicated that the support of the Irish players’ association is “conditional on the proposition being kept under close and regular review, and any concerns regarding player welfare being quickly and satisfactorily addressed.”


Don’t Get in Your Own Way

On World Mental Health Day, Tackle Your Feelings released the final episode of a mini-series in which Tadhg Furlong returns to his former school at Good Counsel in New Ross. Thanks to Tadhg’s help, many more schools have registered their interest in empowering their students through the Tackle Your Feelings Schools Programme.

The Tackle Your Feelings team were also present at the recent One Young World Summit in Belfast. An annual conference, One Young World convenes the brightest young leaders from 190+ countries and 250+ organisations, working to accelerate social impact. 

Over four transformative days, delegates participate in a range of workshops and networking events with several influential political, business, and humanitarian leaders such as President Mary Robinson, Didier Drogba and Professor Muhammad Yunus. Legendary All Black Sir John Kirwan was also in attendance and spent some time with TYF discussing his own mental health journey and his life mission, embodied by MITEY – an organisation that seeks to help children mentally thrive in New Zealand.  


Hall of Fame

In November we will induct two more illustrious figures into the prestigious Rugby Players Ireland Hall of Fame. Taking place on Friday, November 10th, the lunch event promises an afternoon of celebration and reminiscing as the rugby community pays homage to the outstanding careers of Shane Horgan and Alison Miller.

The Rugby Players Ireland Hall of Fame boasts a distinguished lineage of inductees, including iconic names such as Brian O’Driscoll, Ronan O’Gara, Fiona Coghlan and Tommy Bowe. These luminaries represent the epitome of excellence in Irish rugby, and their contributions have played a pivotal role in transforming Ireland into a global powerhouse of the sport. 

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Capped 65 times by his country, Shane Horgan enjoyed a remarkable 13-year career that coincided with the transformative journey of the Irish Rugby landscape. A towering figure on the wing, Horgan scored 21 tries as Ireland claimed three Triple Crowns and finally began to discard the label of perennial also-rans. On the domestic stage, Horgan was the first Leinster player to reach a landmark 200 caps. Since making his debut in 1998, he went on to win a brace of Celtic League and Heineken Cup honours. He was also a British & Irish Lions tourist in 2005. 

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

A key member of the 2013 Grand Slam winning team, Alison Miller’s place in the annals of women’s rugby has long been secure owing to her record breaking 10-year career. With 24 tries in 47 appearances, Miller was a feared presence in the both the XVs, while her prowess in the 7s games was similarly noteworthy and undoubtedly paved the way for future generations of female rugby players. A Six Nations winner once again in 2015, the Ballickmoyler native will always be fondly remembered for her contribution to Ireland’s historic pool triumph over New Zealand in the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup. 


Individual Milestones

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Matteo Ciambelli

With the URC kicking into gear, a number of our members stepped into the spotlight. Our congratulations to Andrew Conway who won his 150th Munster Rugby cap on his first competitive appearance in almost 18months. Another returning from injury was Will Addison who has reclaimed the Ulster Rugby No.15 shirt having been absent for two years.

Meanwhile, Tom Farrell and Max Deegan marked a century of caps for Connacht Rugby and Leinster Rugby respectively. Dylan Donnellan, a stalwart of Clontarf, made his Leinster Rugby debut having been drafted into the squad’s preparations leading into the province’s game against the Sharks. 

It was confirmed that Nick McCarthy and Dave Kearney are to link up with the Chicago Hounds in the MLR in the coming weeks. Adam Byrne was set to join the Irish contingent in the Windy City before a job opportunity with Output Sports arose. 

Find out more about Adam’s new role here.

Elsewhere, Alex McHenry has managed to make his way out of the Jersey Reds debacle by linking up with US Dax in the Pro D2. McHenry’s former Jersey teammate Greg McGrath also had the opportunity to line out for Ulster.


Dual Career

Our congratulations to Ryan Baird, Joe McCarthy, Kathryn Dane, Megan Collis and Paddy McCarthy who have all been named as recipients of the prestigious Trinity Sport Scholarship for 2023/24. 

This month, Dane was also in Bordeaux to present at the World Rugby Science Network about the landscape of tackle research in the women’s game. Also in attendance was Will Connors. Ahead of the same event it was also announced that World Rugby will integrate smart mouthguard technology into the HIA protocol, beginning with the inaugural WXV tournament. 

John Hodnett graduated from University College Cork with a degree in Sports Studies & Physical Education. 

Harry McNulty hosted his first photography exhibition in Fade Street Studios. 


High Performance Coaching Pathway

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

The IRFU in conjunction with Leinster Rugby, Connacht Rugby and Rugby Players Ireland have launched a pilot scheme called PathFinder to identify and support High Performance coaching talent. The programme recognises the need to create greater levels of transparency and accessibility with regard to High Performance coaching career opportunities.

PathFinder is a future focused talent initiative designed to identify, confirm and integrate new coaching talent within and across the IRFU’s High Performance structure.


Player Development Programme

For two days in October, Finola Roache and Pamela Gilpin were in Cologne to meet up with HERFORM project partners. Led by Rugby Players Ireland, HERFORM is focused on the personal and professional development of female athletes entering the high-performance environment. 

In other collaborations with sports associations across Europe, we continue our Protect Integrity Online work with the release of a guideline on sports betting for our members. 



In a written statement that followed his final game for Ireland, Johnny Sexton acknowledged that “retirement is never an easy next step for any professional athlete,” before remarking that the past few weeks in France have made the process even harder to 

After a stellar career that encompassed 119 caps for Ireland, more than 1,000 points, six Lions caps, two Grand Slam campaigns, four Six Nations titles and four Champions Cup titles for Leinster, the World Rugby Player of the Year in 2018 bows out as one of the greatest players to have graced the game. 

Keith Earls also hangs up his boots with the much loved Munster and Irish winger bringing the curtain down on an inspirational career that spanned 16 seasons at the highest level upon Ireland’s exit from the World Cup. 

The Limerick native finishes with 36 Test tries to his name, leaving him second only behind Brian O’Driscoll on Ireland’s all-time top try scorers list, while he scored 64 tries in 202 appearances for Munster.

In an unforgettable moment, Earls won his 100th cap against England at the Aviva Stadium in August, marking the occasion with a memorable try.

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