By Ciarán Ó Flaithearta
Mary Healy and Nicole Fowley reflect on their on-field journey as Mary plays her final game in the green jersey.
Following the recent Women’s Inter Pro series with over 20 Galwegians represented in the Connacht squad, captain Mary Healy and Galwegians captain Nicole Fowley reflect on their journeys with both Galwegians and Connacht as Mary enters her final season before hanging up the boots, breaking up one of the most consistent half-back partnerships in both Galwegians and Connacht.
Although a disappointing and difficult campaign for Connacht with only one win out of three matches it was a great opportunity for a lot of the younger women to make a start at provincial level with an unseen 12 new caps that proves the development of women’s rugby within the province and within Galwegians.
For Mary rugby didn’t come around until she was in her third year of college. Mary Joined Galwegians by chance back in 2012 at the age of 22 when GMIT failed to put together a team. Mary first played for Connacht in 2013 going in for an open trial and being selected as scrum half for her first Inter Pros. Mary impressed in the Inter Pros earning herself an invitation into the Irish set up as a guest where she would train and attend camp learning from the coaches and those around her.
Mary was determined to put herself in contention for an Irish jersey putting in the extra hours with the former scrum half and Galwegian’s head coach at the time Cory Brown who taught her all she needed to know “in the space of about six months I went from not being able to pass to being able to pass and then I was actually in contention”. All her hard work paid off when Mary earned her first cap in the Stoop in Twickenham in the first Women’s International November series in 2015. Mary has since gone on to win a total of 14 Irish caps.
For Nicole, it was a different story altogether growing up in Sligo she played Gaelic football and soccer with a bit of tag rugby on the side. Nicole started off her rugby journey with Sligo Rfc to learn more about the sport and have a bit of fun on the pitch it wasn’t until she was in college that she began to play rugby more frequently joining Railway Union and traveling up to Dublin from Sligo whenever she could to train. Although she really enjoyed rugby, Gaelic and soccer still came first and only for a combination of Railway player-coach, Mere Baker seeing her potential and Connacht drafting her into the squad, she was eventually chose to dedicate herself to rugby.
Following her decision to focus on rugby Nicole moved to Galway in 2016, “to play at the highest level” which was with Galwegians. From there she began to work hard putting in all the “early mornings and late evenings” which paid off when she was selected to pay for Ireland and she says that she “hasn’t looked back since”, now with eight Irish caps in her back pocket.
Both women being so ambitious agreed that there were many sacrifices to be made to reach the level that both of them played at. Mary says that when she played for Ireland “something had to give usually a social life and your team becomes everything”, the grueling routine of early mornings in the gym before work, after work running sessions which Nicole remembers fondly before continuing on to club training allowed no time for anything other than rugby.
Having served their time on International duty the pair seem to be enjoying life at home with Galwegians which has had a long-lasting effect on them. For Nicole “it’s the comradery and the friendships that we’ve made down through the last number of years, it’s very much a family vibe which I think is kind of our culture and our ethos that everyone is welcome.”
The pair make a fantastic duo on the pitch but it also works well off the pitch with Nicole popping the question back in August. Having been together nearly eight years they agree that their understanding of each other benefits their game in many ways. But like all half-back partnerships it’s not always smooth sailing “don’t get me wrong every now and then we do kill each other on the pitch, but you would if you were any other 9 and 10. But what happens on the pitch absolutely stays on the pitch,” stated Nicole while Mary insisted that it was never her fault.
With Mary stepping away at the end of this season to focus on her career she has set a goal to see Connacht win an Inter Pros be it promoting women’s rugby to helping with skills and passing sessions.
But for now Mary and Nicole continue to steer the ship for the women’s firsts in the AIL. Off the pitch, you will often see them on the side-line or helping out with the minis on Saturday mornings inspiring the younger generations and sometimes you might even see them in the club bar making one of the Galwegians Women’s infamous TikTok’s.