Fresh from the Womens’ Rugby World Cup which took place recently in England we catch up with Eliza Downey who was Ulster’s sole representative on the Ireland Squad after her Ulster colleague Lauren Day was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Ireland finished a credible 7th in the competition, one place better than the previous tournament which was held in Edmonton, Canada in 2006.
Having played three pool matches against England (lost 27-0), USA (won 22-12) and Kazakhastan (won 37-3) Ireland just missed out on a semi-final spot when it all came down to points difference.
Eliza made her first start for Ireland against Kazakhastan and was also involved in the 5/6th play off match against the USA when the Americans exacted their revenge for their earlier pool defeat, winning 40-3. Ireland’s final match of the tournament was the 7/8th place play off against Scotland, resulting in an emphatic 32-8 win for Ireland and double delight for Eliza as she scored two tries.
Eliza, you were recently part of Ireland’s World Cup Squad, the pinnacle of your career so far, but where did it all begin? When did you first begin playing rugby?
“Sport has always been a huge part of my life having played Ladies Gaelic Football for over 14 years but previously I had only ever enjoyed watching rugby on TV! During my first year of Uni I helped out a class mate who was low in numbers for her 7 aside rugby game. Despite having never played before I really enjoyed it, but due to other sporting commitments I never pursued it until my final semester were I represented UUJ in various games and played in the Carrick 10s.”
You now play your club rugby for Cooke who have produced a number of very talented female players, what is it that they doing right?
“I have been lucky enough to play two seasons at Cooke RFC now, the constant support, direction and encouragement given week in and week out is phenomenal, the players and coaches commitment to the club and the sport in general is inspiring, being given the chance to train and compete with some of the most experienced players in the country, has definitely encouraged me to keep sharpening my skills and pushing myself.”
You mentioned that you also play Ladies Gaelic Football – do you have any other sporting interests?
“I’ve played Ladies Gaelic Football for 15 years and Senior County Football for Down for 10 years. I was also a member of the Northern Ireland U17 Football Dev Squad and member of the Ulster U19 Basketball Squad and I have a green belt in Judo and all Ireland medals in Junior Athletics”
With all the sport you play, is there time for a day job?
“Well, my day job also involves sport as I’m an Urban Programme Officer, Ladies Gaelic Football Association”
How did you feel upon hearing that you were to be part of the Ireland Womens RWC Squad?
“I know its cliché but it was completely unexpected, the competition was immense in the pre World Cup selection camps, the training, commitment and mental attitude was intense throughout and I really didn’t know if I had done enough so there was no one more shocked, excited and nervous than me when we eventually found out”
How did the squad prepare in the lead up to the tournament especially as all the girls have day jobs or are studying?
“Weekend training camps was our major prep time in the lead up to the World Cup, they were fast, sharp and intense, mentally, physically and emotionally draining and then you were straight back to work on the Monday morning… The commitment the girls show is inspiring, the majority of the team have full time jobs or are full time students, but through sheer organisation they find the balance to do both successfully.”
How disappointed were you when you found out that your Ulster colleague Lauren Day would have to withdraw from the squad due to injury?
“Lauren’s a great team mate and friend and personally for me and the team as a whole her injury was a massive blow, the training, focus and commitment she had put in in the months leading up to her injury was staggering, she had been sharpening her fitness and skills and it was devastating for her not to be able to showcase her progress on the world stage… But I have no doubt she will come back more determined and a better player from the whole experience.”
How did you feel winning your first starting cap against Kazakhstan?
“I had two international caps beforethe world cup campaign against Italy and Scotland in the 2010 Six Nations but the Kazakhstan game was very special as it was my first time in the starting XV and during the game I also scored my first international try.”
Ireland narrowly missed out on a semi-final spot when it all came down to points difference, was that a disappointment?
“The final pool game against Kazakhastan was a complete mix of emotions, an overwhelming win for us, my first start and try but we knew at the final whistle that we hadn’t racked up enough points to get through to the semi finals, so close but yet so far”
What are your best memories of the World Cup campaign (on and off the pitch)?
“The whole competition was an emotional rollercoaster, ups, downs, highs and lows, but my two tries in our last game against Scotland was personall, a great way for me to end the tournament.
Off the pitch, the craic in general was immense, full credit to the girls no matter how early we had to get up, after a killer training session or even stuck in the ice baths there was always someone making you laugh or smile, there was never a dull moment when the Irish were in town.”
So what’s next?
“Well, a couple of years ago when I began playing I wanted to gain as much experience and knowledge as I could and nothing has changed. I am still on a steep learning curve and loving every minute of it and hope I can utilise any knowledge or skill that I picked up during my World Cup experience to benefit my club/province in the season ahead.”
(This article also appeared in the Ulster v Edinburgh match programme.)