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Celebrating a Historic Women's Season

Women's players and coaches posing for a formal shot on Saturday

The women’s squad came together on Saturday 13 May to bring the season to a close and celebrate the All Ireland League win, during which they went unbeaten, in back in December. Many Rock players were subsequently involved in the Interpros, Celtic League and 6 Nations, so it was a perfect opportunity for a squad photo, some reminiscing, some farewells to retiring players and coaches in glorious Stradbrook sunshine.

Our three retirees (from left to right): Laura Feely, Michelle Claffey & Mairéad Holohan

Thanks and mementos were given to three retiring (for now…) players, Michelle Claffey, Mairead Holohan and Laura Feely, all of whom have given immeasurable contributions to Blackrock and women’s rugby at club, interprovincial and international level. We will miss our Co-Club Captain Claff for her leadership and dedication over the years.

Philip Doyle, aka Goose, is also taking leave of the rugby pitch. It goes without saying that he has been one of the most successful women’s coaches in the game. Starting and ending his career and Rock, he has guided the Ireland Women’s XVs to their most successful period with a Grand Slam win in 2013 and beating the Black Ferns to read the World Cup Semi-Finals in 2014. In between he has coached Leinster, Ulster and Scotland and we have been incredibly lucky to have him as part of the set up and it is fitting that he has started and ended his coaching career in Rock with AIL titles.

The formalities concluded with the awarding of a newly commissioned cup, the Sue Garden Bachop Trailblazer Perpetual Trophy.

Sue Garden Bachop was a unique athlete and original Black Fern (#7) who played in the first Women’s New Zealand International in 1989 at Christchurch. A talented athlete, she represented New Zealand in athletics as a sprinter, a touch player, hockey and basketball. She found herself in Stradbrook after the 1991 World Cups with Steve Bachop and together, many discussions were had in the old club house on the feasibility of starting a women’s team in the club with the support of long-term Rock legends such as Nicola Doyle. In October 1992, Steve Bachop, Philip Goose Doyle and Alain Rolland took the first session and so began the women’s team. The first game against Coleraine happened not long after where Sue notched up four tries in the 26-4 victory. This game caused much excitement and was ultimately the catalyst in setting up the Irish Women’s Rugby Football Union in the sitting room of Mary O’Beirne in February 1992 and calls for an All Ireland League to be formed for the women’s teams that had been set up around the country that followed after.

Sue Garden Bachop leading out the team in the first women's Rock game

Sue and Steve returned to New Zealand and she went on to coach at many levels and became the first female to coach a men’s premiership side in Wellington. She was also a selector and later assistant coach to the Black Ferns who won numerous World Cups.

Tragically, Sue passed away from cancer in 2008 at the young age of 46 leaving behind three young children. Each have become exceptional athletes, with sons Connor and Jackson representing the Māori All Blacks and Georgia a top-level hockey player. Before Sue died, she also wrote a book on explaining cancer to children, which is still one of the go-to pieces of literature issued by the NZ Cancer Society.

Sue continues to be an inspiration with the trail she blazed for women’s rugby and we are honoured to have some of her fingerprints on the foundation of the women’s team at Blackrock.

We were in touch with Georgia, Connor and Jackson, who sent on this message for the award:

“Sue, our mum, was someone who never took no for an answer. When it came to the space of women’s rugby, this was no different. She believed that women deserved more than what they were offered and did everything she could to change that. When growing women’s rugby onshore and overseas, Mum pursued this in a fearless yet kind way, was dominant and passionate in this space, and filled onlooking athletes with excitement and knowledge. Our Mum was a true trailblazer, as I am sure any names who earn a place on this cup will be as well. Blackrock was one of the places Mum was able to leave her fingerprint on, and I am sure she would be nothing but proud seeing the leaps and bound it has come since 1993. Sadly, we lost Mum when we were all quite young, so it always fills us with so much pride and joy to hear these sorts of stories from people who she met along her journey, and who are continuing her legacy.  We all hope to visit Blackrock one day in the future, but until then you can live by one of Mum’s favourite quotes “Go hard or go home!”

Michelle Claffey, first recipient of the Sue Garden Bachop Trailblazer Perpetual Trophy

The first name to appear on the Sue Bachop Cup is Michelle Claffey’s. She is a player who has set the standard in recent years. She defied the odds and came back from two potential career-ending injuries, not only to play AIL once again, but to play with Leinster and Ireland. She has been relentless in recruitment, mentoring young and new players to the game while also taking on various coaching roles and captaining the side since 2016. She kept heart when chips were down and has been as valuable off the pitch as on it by continuing to drive the standards to ensure Rock were crowned AIL champions this season. Since joining Blackrock in 2010, the club has been her family. There has rarely been an event or fundraiser she hasn’t been involved with, and we and know that she will always be part of the club in some form. A true hero of women’s rugby who has rightly earned her spot as the inaugural name on the Sue Garden Bachop Trailblazer Trophy.

The team celebrating their All Ireland League win back in December

Blackrock has been a trailblazing club in many ways, but especially for women’s rugby that has produced 43 international players and multiple representatives from each province. We are excited with the development and dedication by the girls, minis, and youths section, and hope to see those girls make it to AIL champs too in the future - striving to be the next trailblazer.

The celebratory day continued into a sunny Dublin city for some culture and heritage (at a few taverns along the way!).

The squad enjoying a historical pub crawl on Saturday

Many thanks for all the support during this and recent seasons and we hope to see you on the side line of a pitch in the 2023/4 season.

Sincere thanks to our sponsor Pinergy, for putting on refreshments for the players and to the club supporters who have made this a particularly special year for Blackrock College RFC.

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