Buccaneers looking for more women to boost numbers

Pictured above: Action from a recent training session for female players at Buccaneers RFC.

Buccaneers RFC is on the hunt for more female players - particularly for the club’s adult team.

Mele Kiripati is development officer for girls and women’s rugby at the Athlone club and she is extending a warm welcome to any players who might be interested in giving the sport a shot.

The Kiripati family is well known for their involvement in Buccaneers. Mele’s husband Kolo was a key player for Buccaneers for several years and he’s now head coach of the senior men’s team.

Mele has been pleased to see the increase in numbers in the underage groups over the last few weeks. However, she said the club really needs more female players if they are to compete as an adult entity.

“Next season will be the tenth year since we had our first team, so I would hate to see it going just before we get to our tenth year. But hopefully we will recruit more players in the coming weeks,” Mele said.

Mele is one of three women on the Buccaneers executive committee, the others being Yvonne O’Shea and Judy Dowling. And she is grateful for the support of current club president Eamonn Collins and Brendan Wilkins.

Mele’s daughter Ivana Kiripati has been picked on Ireland squads in both 7s and 15-a-side rugby. Ivana’s sister Merisa and brother Koronato also play with Buccaneers, while the youngest member of the family, six-year-old Niall, has joined up with the club’s minis section. Mele was born in New Zealand while Kolo moved to the rugby-mad nation from Samoa when he was a child. They’ve been in Ireland for almost 15 years at this stage.

The Covid-19 Level 3 restrictions currently in place mean no matches involving Buccaneers teams can take place.

However, non-contact training can continue in ‘pods’ of 15 players. “We just have to make sure we have enough coaches and Covid-19 officers to run the sessions,” said Mele.

Girls can play with boys at the early age groups but when they get to U-12 level, they play on their own. Paul Fleming coaches the U-10 and U-12 players; Martin Joyce is with the U-14s; Tina Kiernan (who runs the ‘Love My Hair’ salon) is with the U-16s; and Adrian Hanley, who played for Buccaneers for a number of years, is with the U-18s.

Touch rugby has been growing in popularity in Buccaneers in recent times and Mele hopes that women’s rugby in the club can benefit as a consequence. “My children played touch rugby and both games work really well together,” she said.

Last year, Buccaneers players Leah Downes from Brideswell and Zara Mae Kurt-Elli from Glasson were selected on the Ireland U-18 touch rugby squad that participated in the European championships in France.

Former Buccaneers player and Ireland 7s international Anna McGann recently visited the club to pass on some coaching tips to the club’s female players.

Mele was naturally delighted that Moydrum native McGann was able to visit the club. “Anna is fantastic and she always makes time to visit the club when she can,” said Mele.

Niamh Ní Dhroma is another former Buccaneers women’s player who has earned international recognition.

One of the main problems Buccaneers women's squad encounters is losing players when they go to college in Dublin and other cities.

On the other hand, Mele hopes that Buccaneers can recruit players who come to Athlone to study in AIT. “We would like to form some sort of relationship with AIT to help us sustain a senior team,” she added.

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