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Nora answers Ireland’s call 11.02.10

Fahan woman wins first international rugby cap

by Damian Dowds, Inishowen Independent

WHILE all eyes may have been on Croke Park for Ireland’s Six Nations opener with Italy on Saturday, one local woman was writing her own little piece of rugby history. Fahan girl Nora Stapleton made her competitive debut for Ireland women’s team in their 22-5 demolition of Italy on Friday night, becoming the first Donegal woman to represent Ireland at international level.
Stapleton is better known locally as a Gaelic footballer, having lined out for the county for several years and picking up an Irish Independent/Lucozade Sport Ladies Player of the Month award in July 2008.
A recent convert to the oval ball game, Stapleton lined out on the wing (at number 14) for Ireland against Italy. It has been a rapid rise through the ranks for the Dublin-based Fahan woman who plays her club rugby with Old Belvedere in Division 2 of the All-Ireland League.
“I’ve always been into sport and three years ago took up rugby to keep myself fit when the Gaelic football season ended,” the 26 year-old said. “2009 was the first year that I really concentrated on it and I was called up to the Leinster squad in August. After that, I was invited to Ireland trials and kept making the cut.”
Friday night was, she admits,
Nora Stapleton
a massive step up in class.
“Italy kicked a lot of ball, especially to my wing,” the former St Mura’s NS student said. “It was a huge step up from interprovincial level, and even from our Ireland training sessions. The game was played at a much higher tempo and intensity than I’d previously experienced, but I got lots of encouragement from my teammates and acquitted myself quite well.”
After an injury afflicted 2008, Stapleton has undertaken intensive strength and conditioning training with the Leinster and now Ireland squads. “I’ve been doing three weights sessions per week and I’m really starting to see the benefit of it,” she says. “I picked up a rib injury in 2008 because I wasn’t strong enough but the training has helped me overcome that. It’s helped with recovery too. Even after Friday’s game I didn’t feel as sore as I used to from playing at club level.”
Ireland travel to Paris for their next game on Friday night. While Stapleton hasn’t been named in the First XV she is in the match 22 and hopes to get some game time in the Stade des Allees at Blois, south west of the French capital.
Scotland defeated France in their opener, while England opened the defence of their Six Nations title with a comprehensive win over Wales.
“To be honest, I don’t know much about our opponents and maybe there’s no harm in that as it allows me to concentrate on my own game,” Stapleton says.
Establishing herself in the Irish squad for the Six Nations is Nora’s immediate objective, but the big target for 2010 is securing a place in the squad for August’s Women’s World Cup which will be held in England.
“Ireland finished eighth last time and we’re hoping to improve on that,” she said. “But rugby is a very technical game and I’m learning all the time. Every training session is like a college lecture, I pick up so much from them.”
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