We caught up with one of the 20 new players named by Head Coach, John Whalley for the Rugby League Ireland Women’s train-on squad. 27-year old Francessca Copley of Featherstone Rovers told us all about how she found herself in contention for Ireland selection.
Following the trials, Copley said: “The trials were really good and fun, it was quite hard work at times we did some netball style games where we were all running around, I’ve not run that much in so long as I’ve just come back from a dislocated shoulder injury but it was really enjoyable.
I qualify for Ireland because both of my grandparents are Irish, my nan originates from Letterkenny, Donegal and my grandad was from Galway.”
The Featherstone Rovers winger explained a little bit more about her life before Rugby League, where she had a successful dancing career: “I started Irish dancing when I was six, my nan took me to see a dance show in Galway when I was over visiting my family and I loved it. For about a year I had this Irish dance CD and I used to run around the house with that on, I didn’t actually go to dance class until I was nearly seven and from there I danced right through until I was 21.
When I was 14 my nan used to drive me four times a week to Birmingham from Barnsley, so I was dancing down there – I was fortunate enough to go everywhere to be honest, dancing gave me lots of experiences. I went to America three times, won the World Championships in Boston, won the World Championships in Glasgow and won the World Championships in Belfast as a team, I was fortunate enough as well to qualify in solos, I wasn’t the best solo dancer but teams really opened up lots of opportunities for me to travel.”
Copley jested about the transferrable skills from her dancing: “A lot of the rugby girls laugh and say, oh she’s an Irish dancer she’ll have fast feet, a good step and being able to get round a defender and using speed as well. Honestly, it does transfer over quite well”
Speaking on her journey into Rugby League, Copley said: “I joined Featherstone in October 2020, I originally started at Wakefield just for pre-season to do fitness for Union because I’ve come over from Rugby Union in Barnsley. I started there five years ago, then I got injured, I picked up an MCL injury and I thought to get a bit of fitness in ready for the Union season I’d try Wakefield out and I just discovered that I loved Rugby League.”
She added: “Obviously Covid struck and I was working hard and I just wanted to alter the context of performance and I felt that Fev (Featherstone Rovers) were a club that could do that for me. They have a lot of ex-International England Rugby League players there, as well as a couple of friends in the squad who said come down, see if you like it, so I did and I signed on and I’m really enjoying it there.”
Having impressed in trials, Copley made the cut for the first 20 to be selected for the Women’s team, and explains how proud she is to be a part of Rugby League Ireland: “It meant a lot to be selected, when you tell people I’m going to trial for Ireland, they all laugh a little bit because they don’t believe I’m Irish, but of course I am because my family hail from there. My grandad isn’t here any more unfortunately, Irish dancing was always a huge part of my life, so Ireland means a lot to me – to pull on that shirt it would mean the World.”