Not Letting the World Go By

Not Letting the World Go By

It’s pretty hard to imagine the Sevens programme without someone like Emily Lane. Her boundless energy ensures she is never far from the action, on or off the pitch. Unyielding and relentless on the SVNS Series, she has become a thorn in the side of many opponents on the circuit.  

Her philosophy is simple: “if you sit back and let the world go by, what do you think is going to happen?” It’s a mantra that seems to echo through her life although she’ll admit that the one time it slipped, she nearly passed up the opportunity she craved.  

Having first surfaced on the Irish Rugby radar as a promising teenager, Lane initially declined an invitation to join up with the Irish Sevens in Dublin in favour of continuing her biochemistry studies in UCC. Hailing from Mallow, she didn’t feel ready for the hustle and bustle of the capital and besides, she wanted to embrace the college lifestyle.

However, Lane acknowledges that she overlooked the significance of an upbringing in a household that was immersed in sporting excellence. Indeed, achievement was very much part of her youth through the successes of Mourneabbey Ladies Football team and her selections for various Munster Rugby sides.

Matt Browne/Sportsfile

“When I moved to Cork I plugged the rugby gap for a while with UCC and Ballincollig but turning down the opportunity to link up with the Sevens played on my mind a little bit. I realised I had a very strong ambition to kick on and that I was standing in my own way just because I was a little daunted.

“Then one day my younger sister was playing in a rugby tournament in Dublin, and I decided to go along to watch. By chance Stan McDowell (former Irish Sevens Development Coach) saw me there and he asked, almost jokingly, “so, do you want to come back up to us?” Without any hesitation I just said ‘yeah!’… and then afterwards I freaked out a bit!”

And that was that.

Ahead of an impending move to Dublin, Nancy Chillingworth (then of Rugby Players Ireland) liaised with UCD and ensured Lane’s academic trajectory remained on track. Lane has since qualified as a biochemist. Incidentally, as Team Ireland’s Deputy Chef de Mission for the Paris Olympics, Lane’s path will cross with Chillingworth’s once again.

Transferring between universities was just one many aspects of Lane’s transition. She had never lived in Dublin before, while imposter syndrome began to take hold as she threw on her Irish tracksuit.  Thankfully, the magnitude of her first day as an Irish Rugby player was lessened by the presence of several other ‘newbies’ including Dorothy Wall, Megan Burns, Anna Doyle and Lucinda Kinghan.

“It was 2018 when we first landed in. I remember a few players were dropped after our first tournament in Kazan. It was all a bit overwhelming, and I think there was a sense of fear too. We were all young girls at the end of the day. I was 19 and some of the others were literally just out of school.

“Players used to come and go a lot more but there’s definitely a more settled feel to the squad these days. It’s probably the year that’s in it but there’s also greater definition around contractual commitments and an understanding of everyone’s role across the wider programme.

“That said, the nature of Sevens is that there’s always a bit of movement in every direction. We travel a lot; some players even move between programmes. Most people don’t care because they just want to play but it can actually be quite stressful not knowing where you might be from one week to the next.

“Thankfully there’s more help on offer. I think there’s a recognition that the demands on us as people are greater.”

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Martin Seras Lima

Despite leaning into her tender years, Lane is now a mainstay of the Sevens side. Closing on 50 caps, she’s not far behind the OGs (Lucy Mulhall, Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe and Stacey Flood) in terms of SVNS Series caps but still bows to their considerable experience and influence, which has encouraged her to develop a voice of her own.

“We’ve landed on a really special group,” Lane says. “I think in the past, different experiences and mindsets worked against us whereas now I feel everyone is more open – both to each other and to new ideas.

“It’s a bit of a culture shift. We’ve learned that everyone has something to add and we have each grown more confident in expressing our thoughts. When you’ve only ever been used to being told what to do, that cycle continues but people like Louise Galvin and Lucy [Mulhall] showed us that sometimes it’s OK to challenge things.”

Lane also speaks from her experiences of the XVs squad, for whom she won a few caps alongside the likes of Lindsay Peat, Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy and Sene Naoupu during the pandemic.

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

“There were girls in that squad who had been playing rugby for a long time and were well established in their own professional careers away from the game. They were very sure of themselves. I think that had a big impact on me and it empowered me to use my voice when it matters.

“I’m not saying you have to go to war about everything you don’t agree with but there are certainly times when you might need to stand your ground on something. We’re full-time, high-performing athletes now so we are bound to have own views and insights. It’s not like we’re pitching up every now and then.

“I think it’s great that our views are being respected and taken into account.”

Thankfully, both programmes now occupy a contented place. The XVs and Sevens players are often like passing ships in the HPC but there’s an awareness that both sides are there, working hard in pursuit of their respective goals: a World Cup on the one hand, the Paris Olympics on the other.

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tom Maher

“It’s just mad to think it’s happening,” Lane says of the Olympic Games in Paris. “The way we qualified was so exciting. We thought we’d be aiming at the European repechage and so to do it via the Series was a massive thing for us. The party wasn’t bad either!

“It’s all a bit scary too,” she admits. “Ultimately, we have set a new standard for ourselves, and it’s high. The added pressure of taking the next step is a bit terrifying, but we can use it to our advantage – to push even harder.

“If someone told me that in a few years we’d be going to an Olympic Games when I walked in on that first day, I would have told them where to go. Yet here we are. Going to the Olympics is a very real thing and we want to medal, which is important for people to know.

“Don’t ask me where I’m going to get my tattoo though,” she notes. “I don’t want to tempt fate. There’s a lot of rugby to come between now and then.”

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