It has been just a little over two years since Aoife McDermott made the decision to focus on rugby after excelling in basketball where she won a silver medal representing Ireland at the European championships among many other achievements.
She made her Six Nations debut earlier this year against Wales where she was drafted into the starting lineup at the last minute due to a late illness for Nichola Fryday.
Looking back on being called up to the Ireland squad for the first time, it was justification for the massive decision she made by parking basketball, a sport she has played in and excelled in all her life, for the oval ball.
“It was kinda like, ‘Right, this has been worth it. That terrifying decision has somehow paid off,'” McDermott said.
“Heading into that first camp, it was about trying to make the team and get capped. I was delighted when I got the call.”
McDermott isn’t the only Irish rugby player to have switched to rugby from a basketball background; Lindsay Peat and Louise Galvin both made the crossover and this provided the confidence that the Sligo native could do the same.
The towering lock reflects on the last time she played a competitive basketball game and drawing on this experience to ease the nerves ahead of that last-minute start against the Welsh.
“I played senior international basketball. The last time I played was in 2016 in the European Championships for small countries. I came home with a silver medal from that, which was nice. Well, it was a bit disappointing in hindsight.
“The day of my first cap for Ireland with the rugby, Nichola Fryday fell ill so I came into the starting XV. And I remember all the girls going ‘You’ve done this before, it’s not your first time”, so it was good. I think that experience did stand to me in that I knew I had played an international match at senior level before, albeit in basketball but it did help.”
The similarities between the two sports in terms of structures and set plays have eased the transition for McDermott although she recalls her first training session as an eye-opening experience and a wakeup call as she soon realised she had a lot to learn about her new sport.
“Anthony Eddy [Director of Women’s and Sevens Rugby] rang me and invited me down to a sevens training session. I literally thought it was going to be a club coach so I got some shock when the phone rang. I went down to the sevens but I hadn’t a clue. The girls were like, ‘We ruck over’ and I was thinking, ‘A ruck? What’s that?’
“They were talking about working in pods of three but I literally hadn’t a clue. So Anthony very kindly suggested that I maybe go to a club and learn the basics, the rules, things like that. I went down to Railway [Railway Union RFC] and it went from there.”
Heading down to that first training session with Railway ignited fears whether she was making the right decision but ultimately, it proved to be the right one.
“Yeah, it was a very scary decision. I remember heading down to Railway for my first training and not knowing anyone.
“I was literally walking away from the starting five of an Irish basketball team after a European Championships to see if this was going to work out or not so it was terrifying.
“I don’t regret it. I think I had done as much as I could with the basketball and had achieved as much as I could.”
In late 2018, McDermott is becoming an established member of the Ireland squad but this Sunday’s fixture with the USA in Donnybrook will prove to be another new challenge as she gets set to call the lineouts for the first time.
“It’s definitely my favourite part, I love the lineouts. The systems of the movement and things like that, my handling is at a good level from basketball so I’ve enjoyed the lineouts.
“I’ll be calling them on Sunday, so this will be my first time calling them at international level. Coming in last year in the way that I did, Griggs [Adam Griggs] was very kind in that he took that pressure off me. I just had to worry about playing my own game last year. This year, it’s nice to have that added challenge of calling the lineouts.
“It’s great that the US have had two games so we can scout them and watch them, see their movements and what their patterns are, things they like to go. We can have an idea about how to attack that and we definitely will be looking to attack their lineouts and try to rob a few and disrupt it, while securing our own ones at the same time.”
Ireland have four new caps in their matchday squad for Sunday’s Test against the USA and McDermott is well aware of nerves they are likely to be experiencing.
“It’s about making them feel welcome, putting them at ease. I think I was the last player who’s been capped, so anyone after this will be the next one, so it’s definitely fresh in my mind. We want to give a special experience for them, you only get your first cap once.
“We’ve got a great buzz around camp this time around. Everyone’s getting on really well and it’s good fun, good craic. The girls have fitted in really well and settled in really well, so it should be a good weekend for them.”
Ireland take on the USA at 1 pm on Sunday in Donnybrook.