Taking lineout inspiration from Toner and Ryan, and gunning for Six Nations upset against England

WHEN IT COMES TO Ireland’s lineout calls, Railway Union’s Aoife McDermott has the final say.

Aoife McDermott and Ireland head coach Adam Griggs. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There’s a collective input into how the play will go. Players can make suggestions, which she’s always open to exploring, but the Sligo-born second-row will make the decisive call.

She’s still technically a newcomer to the sport, but McDermott has certainly established herself as a leader in the Ireland team.

She made her Six Nations debut last year and has five caps to her name with a sixth hopefully on the way this week. But those single digits don’t seem to be fazing her.

Ireland head coach Adam Griggs has given a more authoritative role in the lineouts and there’s an assured tone in her voice when McDermott describes how she gets the job done.

“I think I’ve got a huge amount of experience over the last year and like that, with the lineouts and stuff, I have more responsibility and leadership within the team.

“In most lineouts, we’ll have two or three options so as we’re walking in, we’re seeing where the space is and calling the correct call to allow us have an uncontested lineout.

“Generally it’s down to me but I’m very open to their input as well. Before the lineout happens, Claire Molloy has so much experience [and] if she feels that such and such a lineout or maul or an off-the-top needs to happen… We also communicate with Nicole Fowley, our 10, to see what the backs want as well.

McDermott’s job in the lineouts isn’t just confined to the pitch sessions. She puts in the hours off the field too by studying clips of the opposition’s lineouts to look for ways to disrupt them.

And with England making the trip to Donnybrook for Ireland’s opening Six Nations tie on Friday, McDermott has some homework to do before the 5pm kick-off.

McDermott’s lineout work in action against England in their 2018 Six Nations clash. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It took some to adjust to it, but McDermott has come to enjoy this aspect of her game and she draws inspiration for lineout ideas wherever she can.

“You’d always be keeping an eye out,” she says.

“I was over at the Dubai Sevens and I was watching some of the New Zealand lineouts. I thought they were brilliant and I’ve taken one or two into the squad this year.

“You don’t want to be changing it too often, you want to perfect what you have so it’s a bit of a balance.

 ”It’s definitely something I’ve improved on over the last year. I wasn’t too aware of the prep that needed to go in before coming into the Irish set-up.

McDermott looks to players like James Ryan inspiration on lineouts. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“When I was playing club and stuff, I would have just winged it almost in a game. Whereas now there definitely is much more preparation into it. I do enjoy it.

“You have your notebook and you’re sketching the players and seeing the other team. For the Wales [warm-up] game, I knew what players jumped the most often, who was their trigger and different things like that.

“I like watching it and getting those little details down.”

McDermott has no regrets about her decision to switch from basketball to rugby. Her development in such a short space of time with the oval ball has been remarkable, and she credits her teammates and coaches for bringing her up to speed.

But occasions like the Cup finals at the National Basketball arena last weekend still hold a special place in her heart.

She played on the Ireland team with some of the players who featured in the decider between Liffey Celtics and Singleton SuperValu Brunell, and had a full house in her hotel room for the men’s final.

“It’s the biggest weekend on the basketball calendar.

“We were in camp on Saturday night so a lot of the girls came to my hotel room and there must have been about 15 of us in the room watching the men’s final. They all couldn’t believe how exciting it was because it was quite close.

“The women’s final was on Sunday night when we got home from camp so I tuned into that one. It was nice to see Liffey Celtics get their first cup.”

Ireland travelled to France for their opening Six Nations fixture last year, with the eventual Grand Slam champions holding them scoreless in Toulouse.

Griggs’ charges have been handed an equally tough assignment this time around as they prepare for England’s impending arrival in Dublin.

France came out emphatic winners against Ireland in last year’s Six Nations. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Despite failing to capture the Six Nations title in 2018, England are still the second best team in the world and are further bolstered by the 28 players who recently signed professional contracts.

McDermott will be packing down in the scrum without injured prop Lindsay Peat on Friday, but a chance to topple a rival nation on home soil is all the incentive she needs.

“This is what you train for, games like this and occasions like this. We’re really excited that we’ve England first and maybe cause a bit of an upset.

“You always love playing England, so there’s that bit of extra rivalry between us and having them at home will be hugely exciting.

“Hopefully we’ll have a full Energia Park and the crowd will get out to support us. Hopefully we’ll get a bit of a performance in and who knows what will happen after that.”


Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.

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