It was a trip that was years in the making and Ireland definitely lived up to the Alberni District Secondary School (ADSS) senior girls rugby team’s expectations.
“We’ve been fundraising for two-and-a-half, almost three years for this trip, so the girls have worked really hard towards it,” coach Ryan Hall said.
The girls’ Ireland trip spanned just under two weeks but the memories of their experience will last a lifetime.
“It was one of those once in a lifetime opportunities,” Hall said.
“We took 29 athletes and we had 54 people in total,” including parents and members of the community.
“The parents were very supportive, it was awesome. We had a nice big cheering session.”
The tour, which ran from March 5-18, had the girls staying in Dublin, Galway and Limerick.
“We started out in Dublin and had a fantastic time just getting used to the differences between Ireland and Canada, understanding their accents and just the way they do things.”
One of the highlights of the trip was two training sessions with Trinity University’s rugby coach.
“That was an amazing training session where I learned a lot and the girls learned a lot,” Hall said. “We actually got to watch his team play in a local match and they were just amazing.”
The girls were given a tour of Ireland’s national rugby stadium, Aviva Stadium.
“We got an inside tour of their media centre and all that kind of stuff.”
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After their tour, the girls got to get their hands dirty.
“We played a local team, Portlaoise,” Hall said. “They were a very good team, actually the Irish champions last year and they proved to be very, very good.”
The different style and tempo of the Irish team’s play left Hall a little worried at first.
“Our girls showed a little bit of jet lag issues and just a new country, they were tired… we ended up losing in that game by quite a bit. But it was a great little learning experience.”
For Ciara Looker, 16, the rugby was the highlight of the trip.
“It was fun, we learned a lot of new techniques and new plays.”
The different style of play in Ireland was apparent, however.
“They kick the ball during the game. They played rough, a little dirty.”
According to Hall, the actual rules in rugby are guidelines “and there’s grey on each side so the way that referees were reffing plays over there was a little different than how our referees do it here.”
The girls then headed to Galway.
“Galway’s a great little city, it’s the size of Nanaimo,” he said.
While the trip was rugby-focused, the girls had plenty of time to sightsee.
“Nice little town and shops, the girls loved shopping there.”
The trip took the girls to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. Inhabited by approximately 1,200 people, the team loved exploring the islands.
“It was amazing. We rented bikes for the day and got to go to the Cliffs of Moher. Some of us got to go to Glenlo Abbey which is one of the main castles there.”
For Erica Senger, 15, cycling around the Aran Islands was an unbelievable experience.
“It was one big team bonding trip, I feel like we grew from it a lot.”
Then it was back to rugby. They split their team into two in order to play two games at the same time against the Galwegians Rugby Club.
“Our rookie team lost to their rookie team by about five points and our senior team lost by 10, which is actually a very significant increase in our abilities. Our girls showed a huge increase in skill level just in a couple days, which was amazing. It was a really good experience,” Hall said.
The team’s final few days were spent in Limerick where the girls got to parade in the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
“It was one of those once in a lifetime things that you can tick off your bucket lists,” he said.
But prior to parading, the girls played their fourth and fifth matches of the trip.
“We played the Cashel Girls’ Rugby Football Club as well as another team that came from out of town to play us.”
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Though the girls didn’t win the games, Hall was proud of their performance.
“A long tour, six rugby games in total. Our girls showed a little bit of fatigue and we ended up losing both of those games by about five points, which is amazing.”
While the tour was phenomenal, the trip home was a little less so.
“It was not fun. Our flights were delayed and it ended up being a 31-hour trip home.”
Hall was proud of how the girls represented Port Alberni and Canada overall.
“The girls were amazing. Great representatives of Canada, they made us very proud. Everywhere we went we were told how nice and polite our girls were. We hope to do another tour in the near future.”
The benefits for the girls weren’t just rugby related, Hall said.
“As a coach, it’s awesome to see girls grow. Many of our girls had never flown before, some of them had been off of Vancouver Island maybe a dozen times. Even myself, I’d never been to Europe.”
The team went with Irish Rugby Tours and were well taken care of the whole trip.
“We got a tour guide and a bus driver from the moment we got off the plane and they were with us 24/7 till we got back on the plane so it was just fantastic.”