Rugby takes Cork's Gemma Crowley around the world with the Lions tour

Former Ballincollig player is gearing up for trip to South Africa
Rugby takes Cork's Gemma Crowley around the world with the Lions tour

Gemma Crowley didn't have an interest in rugby as a child but once she fell into a role with Munster has progressed to a position with the Lions. Picture: Larry Cummins

GEMMA Crowley continues to climb the ladder in a sporting administrative career which has seen her progress and develop hugely.

The former international women’s rugby manager, from Grange in Douglas, has succeeded with a positive outlook and strong personality. Crowley took up a position as Team Operations Manager for the British and Irish Lions late last year and is looking forward to putting her own stamp on that role.

“Having previously worked on the last British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand, I was approached in 2019 to again work on the 2021 tour. Having returned from Japan after RWC2019, myself and Alan Phillips (Director of Operations) went to South Africa for the first recce. 

"I have been working on the tour since then on a consultancy basis but started full time in October last year and I am loving the experience.” 

Soccer and hockey were always Crowley’s main sports as a child and into her teens. Her interest in rugby came about by chance, but she was been hooked on the game ever since.

“While I was studying in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa on the Cork City Soccer Academy, one of the lecturers John Barry approached me to tell me that there was a part role available in Munster Rugby in the coaching and development office. Being totally honest, when he first said it to me I thought he was half-mad as I didn't know whether the rugby ball was pumped or stuffed!

Bandon's Emer Holland and Douglas Hall's Gemma Crowley in action in 2004. Picture: Neil Danton 
Bandon's Emer Holland and Douglas Hall's Gemma Crowley in action in 2004. Picture: Neil Danton 

“After another conversation, I applied and interviewed for the role low and behold I started a few weeks later. The role was administrative but because I had a strong sporting background both playing, coaching and having studied recreation and leisure management I was soon tutoring more generic modules on coaching courses. I made a call that if I wanted to progress in the sport, then the only way to really get to understand it was to play.

“Wendy Keenan, the current chairperson for Munster Rugby women's committee was one of my lecturers in CSN at the time and got me on board to go out and play with Ballincollig Women's Rugby Team. To be honest, from the first training session I was hooked." 

The friendships formed with players, the level of respect both on and off the field and the culture that was associated with the sport was something she loved. Crowley hasn't looked back since.

“During my time with Munster Rugby, I progressed to manage the Summer Camps, Youth Development Officer Scheme and after plying my trade for many years I became Women's Development Officer for a number of years.

“Having returned from a year’s travels in 2010, I was approached by the IRFU and asked to manage the Irish Women's Rugby Team and did so until after the 2014 Women's Rugby World Cup with a short break in 2012 when I went to London for the Olympics and managed one of the soccer training venues for the games. I then moved to London again to work for the men's Rugby World Cup in 2015. 

"I managed all of the planning and logistics for five of the men's national teams (including by chance Ireland) for the tournament. It was back to soccer again for me when I went to work for Manchester City Academy looking at their player welfare programme before starting with The British and Irish Lions in 2016 ahead of the tour to NZ 2017.” 

Gemma Crowley at Musgrave Park. Picture: Larry Cummins
Gemma Crowley at Musgrave Park. Picture: Larry Cummins

The 37-year-old’s father is a sports fanatic while her mum was a huge support in whatever she played as a child. Crowley was always very grateful for their love and support, and through this, she felt it motivated her to progress through the ranks of her career.

“Sport has had a huge impact on all aspects of my life - both personally and professionally. Dad was and is a big sports fan and in particular soccer but I have added rugby to that portfolio now. It was great to have him come to Paris for the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2014 and to New Zealand for the Lions Tour in 2017. 

"Growing up my mum was absolutely brilliant to both my brother David and myself - you name the activity and we tried it - there was no such thing as no and mum was constantly on the road driving us to training and matches or whatever activity we had on. Looking back I don't know how she did it but I certainly count my blessings every day at how lucky we are to have had the opportunities we did have.

“Throughout my years of playing, coaches and working in sports admin I have learned so many key attributes that are so valuable in all walks of life such as respect, hard work, leadership, accountability and resilience. 

I have also made some of the best friends through playing and working in sport.

“I have been lucky to have had some great roles and experience with some super sporting organisations to date. It is most certainly an exciting industry to work in but also has its challenges. I have always been somebody who doesn't worry too much about what the future holds in terms of work so although it’s hard to predict anything for the future right now, I’m enjoying my role immensely and let's just see what unfolds.”

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