From teammates to rivals

September 02, 2023

Nora Stapleton

By Daire Walsh 

Long before they became team-mates on the international rugby stage, Nora Stapleton was well aware of Hannah Tyrrell’s prowess in another sporting code.  

A native of Donegal, Stapleton previously played club ladies football with Na Fianna on the northside of Dublin. Although Tyrrell now lines out for the Glasnevin side, she was previously a member of Round Tower Clondalkin and often came up against Stapleton on the local scene in the capital.  

Representing Ireland in the oval ball game eventually became the main priority for both players, but Tyrrell made a sudden return to inter-county football with Dublin a little over two years ago. She slotted seamlessly back into the Jackies fold, scoring 1-5 against Waterford in Division 1B of the Lidl National Football League at Parnell Park on May 23, 2021.  

She has gone on to produce a string of impressive performances since then, none more so than her virtuoso display in last month’s TG4 All-Ireland SFC final victory over Kerry in Croke Park. Her eight-point haul narrowly outweighed the 0-7 tally she amassed in a Brendan Martin Cup decider defeat to Meath in 2021 and Stapleton isn’t the least bit surprised that she has become such a key figure for Dublin – despite having previously been away from the set-up for seven years.  

“I wasn’t surprised, to be honest. There’s certain elements of the sport that complement one another, but I think she would have gone back into Gaelic at a really high fitness level. Hannah would have been playing Gaelic football all through younger years. We used to play against each other plenty of times in Dublin. We’d probably be kicking lumps out of each other in midfield, to be honest!” Stapleton said of Tyrrell.  

“Hannah is a fantastic player. She is really skilful. When you have players who can kick off both feet, that’s essential in the game. Essential in any ball sport, especially when you play at the top level or the top of your game. You need to be able to do that and she just shows that composure under pressure.  

“She’s really good at showing for the ball and obviously her free-taking as well. She’s kind of an all-rounder. She has really shone for Dublin over the last little while. The story behind it as well, Sorcha her wife giving birth and a new born baby at home. She’s probably up feeding in the middle of the night and things like that. A few of us know what that’s like.”  

In winning an All-Ireland senior title with Dublin, Tyrrell added to the FAI Cup success she accrued with soccer outfit St Catherine’s in 2011 and the Women’s Six Nations Championship triumph she enjoyed in the green of Ireland four years later.  

Stapleton has completed a similar trifecta in women’s sport, starting with three consecutive FAI Cup crowns as a UCD player from 2002 to 2004 and culminating in a brace of Six Nations victories of her own – including the historic Grand Slam campaign of 2013.  

Additionally, she was an All-Ireland ladies football champion with Donegal in the junior and intermediate grades in 2003 and 2010 respectively. The latter win against Waterford at GAA HQ was particularly pleasing for the Inishowen woman, as it arrived only a matter of weeks after she had represented her country on the global stage.  

“The 2010 intermediate final was an interesting one, because I had just been to the Women’s Rugby World Cup. When I came off that World Cup then, Donegal reached out to me. They had a few injuries and were looking to bring in a few additional players. I felt bad coming into the team at such late notice.  

“The management contacted me first, but then it was because senior players reached out that made me go back. I went back into Donegal then and it was really enjoyable. In the final, myself and (Ireland team-mate) Niamh Briggs came on the pitch. She went back to Waterford at the same time and we were playing each other in the final.  

“It was very strange being team-mates a few weeks earlier in a different sport to rivals and ultra-competitors on the pitch. Pretty much marking each other, we had a few clashes on the field in Croke Park that day. We came on at the same time, wearing the same number. It’s pretty funny thinking back on that, but again just delighted there was the win there as well that day.”  

Interestingly, Tyrrell wasn’t the only familiar face to Stapleton in this year’s All-Ireland senior showpiece. Now working as a Women in Sport Lead with Sport Ireland having previously been employed by the IRFU as a Women’s And Girls Rugby Development Manager, she also spent six years as a Games Promotion Officer for Ballinteer St John’s.  

During her time with Ballinteer, Stapleton came across a young Orlagh Nolan, who played a vital role at centre-forward for Dublin in their All-Ireland win over the Kingdom.  

Meanwhile, another of her former Ireland colleagues – Louise Galvin – started at midfield for Kerry, 11 years on from featuring at wing-back for her county in a final defeat to provincial rivals Cork. While she was naturally disappointed to see her coming out on the wrong side of a 0-18 to 1-10 scoreline, Stapleton is full of admiration for the way Galvin has continued to play regularly at the top level in ladies football after giving birth to her son Florian in March of last year.  

“I think she’s a fantastic role model, to see that she did that and I know she has spoken about the type of training that she had to do. How she had to tailor it and stuff. In my role in Sport Ireland, it’s all Women in Sport related. We know that there is a lack of research around training while pregnant. Especially at the upper ends of the game,” Stapleton added of Galvin.  

“We created a maternity policy not too long ago, which was to try and support the athletes in terms of carded funding and things like that, but also looking at what kinds of guidelines or policies do we need to put in place in the sport to support women.  

“Because playing at whatever level shouldn’t determine when you can or shouldn’t start a family. Why can’t there be both? I just think Louise really proved that and she’s a great example.”  

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