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Westport RFC’s ‘first lady’

Sport

THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD Westport RFC President Liz Brady is pictured with John Ryan(left, incoming Vice President) and Andrew Maxwell (outgoing President) after the club’s recent AGM. 
Pic: Conor McKeown

Liz Brady is the first female president in the history of Westport Rugby Club

Feature
Oisín McGovern

IT’S hard to find a sporting venue in Ireland with a more beautiful setting than Westport Rugby Club.
The majestic Croagh Patrick humbles everyone as she overlooks every tackle and carry made on this field.
There are few more humbled than Liz Brady, who recently made history by becoming the first female president in the club’s 98-year history.
Liz carries all the grace and humility championed by those who love the game of rugby.
“The first time I was asked [to take on the role of president] I just didn’t feel confident enough to step into the role. I didn’t feel that I had earned my stripes at it,” she tells The Mayo News over tea in the clubhouse recently.
Although a self-confessed sports lover, Liz doesn’t come from a traditional rugby background.
Like many other women, her involvement with her local club began through her children, who joined Westport’s ‘minis’ many years ago.
After seeing her own kids making friends and having fun, Liz gladly obliged when she was asked to help out as a mentor.
“I just love the way the kids were treated and how the coaches spoke to them,” she says.
“As a parent I was so impressed by how happy my kids were, and how much they loved it, and how they took to it straight away.”
Having started out ‘carrying a bit of water’, the lack of a rugby background proved no hindrance to her later becoming a coach.
“I was very conscious of that at the beginning, because I thought you had to have a little bit of a pedigree, but I really was totally wrong about that,” she explains.
“There are lots of men and women in the club that don’t come necessarily from a rugby club, a rugby background or from a playing history.”
After serving on club and provincial committees for years, Liz didn’t hesitate when asked for a second time to serve as president, which is the equivalent of the chairperson’s role in the GAA.
Brady is not the first female president in Connacht — Deirdre White held the top role in Ballina last year while Fiona Shanahan wore the blazer for Connemara RFC.
And she probably won’t be the last either.
“I think a lot of men looked around and said, ‘This is our history, but we need to move with the times, and we need to look at how we can bring more women into the club’. That definitely was done here in Westport,” she says.
Liz is keen to emphasise that the club was already in a very good place before she received the blue blazer from outgoing president Andy Maxwell.
Located at the mouth of Clew Bay, Westport RFC knows all about life along the Wild Atlantic Way.
Indeed, few in the entire country get drenched as often as the men and women who give their spare time coaching on the dark evenings and wet mornings in Carrowholly.
Despite this, the club thrives both on and off the field.
Their junior men’s team regularly mix it with the best in Connacht while their underage section boasted over 210 minis and 181 youth players last season.
Similarly, their recent IRFU-backed ‘Give It A Try’ camp for eight-to-14-year-old girls was their best-attended yet.
“It’s not one person, it’s not even just the committee,” explains Liz, who is an employee of Western Care.
“If kids have a good experience, word spreads. The parents talk, the kids talk. That’s really important to us here, is to provide that sort of experience, that they are happy to bring a friend down.”
She says creating that kind of experience is particularly important in nurturing and maintaining female participation in rugby, which falls off a cliff around the age of 14.
By 2023, the IRFU aims to grow the number of female youth players to 6,500, more than double the 2,500 it had in 2018.
Through initiatives like ‘Give It A Try’, Westport is actively working to attract and retain female players.
“This year we will have a full pathway from minis and youths to adult rugby, to committee member to presidency. That’s a huge achievement,” says the president.
Looking ahead to her stint at the helm, Liz Brady insists she will be a president for both men and women.
Before her two-year term is up, she wants to explore the idea of constructing a 4G pitch, as well as making their existing facilities more accessible to people with decreased mobility.
She also wants the clubhouse to become even more of a social hub, where young and old are free to study, mix and mingle at their ease.
“Everyone would love a bit of silverware. I would definitely be remiss not to mention that,” she adds.
“We have a number of teams that are just on the cusp of silverware. It is such a personal and club satisfaction when a team does well for themselves.
“You know how much effort goes into it.”

 

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