IF you find yourself at Musgrave Park this week for the IMART International Mixed Ability Rugby World Cup and you hear the sharp blast of a referee’s whistle, followed by seeing a red card brandished, then the likelihood is that is being pointed in the direction of Ballincollig Trailblazers captain Marie Healy.
I jest, of course, as Marie’s Trailblazing teammate Ciara Ahern explained how, at a recent training day for the side up in the IRFU’s High Performance Centre in Dublin, that “it was giving Marie a chance to get used to not back talking to the ref.
"There’s a joke amongst the team that Marie is going to get the first red card.”
When asked whether she was a red card in waiting, Marie responded: “I’m hoping that won’t be the case, but apparently that is the case, especially for my high tackles.”
The Mixed Ability Rugby World Cup, which takes plays at Musgrave Park in Cork between the 5th and 10th of June, is a huge event, with 1,100 players from 14 different countries partaking, in what is third renewal of the event, with the Sunday’s Well RFC hosted event also comprising the first ever women’s event.
This is where the Ballincollig Trailblazers come in. They were set up in 2019 as Ireland’s first ever women’s mixed ability rugby team and three years later they get the honour of playing a World Cup on home soil.
Ciara Ahern described how the team were established: “When we started, we started off with six girls on a cold November evening, and here we are now with 29 players. It’s been a long two years, to finally get here is great.
"It’s really exciting. Can’t wait to get going now really. Obviously Covid happened, so that kind of put a handbrake on us, but in the last eight months we really hit the floor running and a lot of players joined from then.”
Initially games were hard to come by for the Trailblazers, as Ciara explains: “Because we were the first ladies team in Ireland we kind of were struggling to get games, but the whole point of mixed ability is that you don’t have to just play other mixed ability teams, it can be mainstream teams as well.
"So, our senior AIL ladies team in Ballincollig, Bantry Bay ladies team, they gave us a few games. So, once we got going other clubs recognised that it was possible. We have a lot of games under our belt now, but it took us a while.
“There’s a huge initiative at the moment trying to get women back into the sport and trying to keep girls in sport. I think this is just another massive promotion to encourage women and girls to any sport. It doesn’t have to be rugby, but I think mixed ability is great because it eases that fear of “oh I’m not strong enough”, “I’m not fit enough”, you know everyone is welcome no matter who you are, where you come from, ability, you know, it doesn’t matter.
“So, I think mixed ability is great that way. And obviously it promotes inclusion but in a real natural way. It just breaks down that barrier in a real natural way without people realising it.”
The Trailblazers have been busy putting in the preparation for this historic event, as captain Marie Healy pointed out: “We’re training hard two nights a week the last few weeks. We’ve been doing well. We’re prepared for it.
"Hopefully we’ll do very well now in the tournament. We have very good players, and experienced players as well.
“Before I took up rugby I never thought that I could take up sport, but now that I’ve got involved in rugby, the teammates, I get to call them friends.”
And she’s eagerly looking forward to meeting many new friends throughout the week at Musgrave Park.
“That will be very exciting. Making new friendships. I’m practicing Spanish.”
As to the Trailblazers chances of becoming the first ever women’s World Cup winners Marie was upbeat.
“I think we have a good chance. We are prepared. Like, we don’t know what the other teams will be like coming over, but we know ourselves, that we’re prepared for battle, and that’s the main thing.”
The expectancy is that this week will be one that will be remembered and cherished by all who attend.
It should even mean increased playing numbers at the Trailblazers, as long as Marie doesn’t scare them all away with her high tackles.