‘Your losses can be definitive, but I don’t let them define how I think about myself’

DOROTHY WALL LAUGHS as she prepares to reveal another chapter of her family’s impressive sporting history.

“You see, there are so many good athletes in my family that I keep forgetting to mention.”

The Ireland back row has previously discussed the sporting lives of her mother, Sophia, a horse rider, and grandmother, Betsy, a talented athlete in her day, as well as her father, Anthony, who once turned down a football scholarship in America.

Today, it’s the turn of Wall’s uncle, Hugh O’Connor, a man whose influence on the young Tipperary woman has come in handy recently.

His name comes up as Wall reflects on Ireland’s mixed Six Nations campaign. A high-scoring win over Wales was followed by something of a reality check against France, before Ireland signed off with a comfortable, if not overly convincing defeat of Italy.

The stadiums were empty, but the team felt there more eyes on them and more words being written about them than usual given the unique situation of a standalone window for the Women’s Six Nations. 

For 20-year-old Wall, who only made her Ireland debut last year, the extra scrutiny and interest had the potential to become a little daunting.

So she leaned on the lessons learned from days at home with uncle Hugh.

“My uncle was an international tetrathlete,” Wall explains.

“I used to do tetrathlon underage with the pony club where you’d ride a cross-country course, swim and run, and you’d shoot a rifle.

“My uncle is probably the calmest person I know. He is so unfazed by anything. But I used to get wound up. I’m probably not a good long-distance runner or a good long-distance swimmer, but I was getting to the best of my ability so I could be fit for my rugby. That was my reason for being there and I suppose I had to compartmentalise the fact that I wasn’t as good as these other long-distance athletes, but I was going to be the best version of me so I could benefit from other aspects of it.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations with him around performance and stuff, and I don’t really get that nervous (now). He’s been a huge part of that. He’d just like, ‘What’s the point? It’s wasted energy, you’re directing your energy in the wrong sense’. And that’s easy to say, but I spent a lot of hours with him in the barn shooting targets and stuff. He was very good for me in terms of the psyche around it.”

As a result, Wall tries to take a more considered view of Ireland’s overall return in the Six Nations.

She wasn’t walking on water after her dominant performance in that opening round destruction of Wales, just as she wasn’t losing too much sleep after Ireland shipped 56 points to a semi-professional France team.

“When I was younger I was quite hard on myself in terms of (playing) basketball in school,” Wall says.

Dorothy WallWall has helped launch Canterbury and the IRFU’s Give It A Try programme.

“I was very hard on myself in how I performed if I didn’t do this or didn’t perform in a certain way. But that wasn’t beneficial for me. That wasn’t good for my confidence, it wasn’t good for how I performed the next day, so I think a certain amount of maturity… Like, your losses can be definitive but I don’t let them define how I think about myself as a player or how our team is.”

With just seven caps to her name, Wall is already a standout performer in Adam Griggs’ team. A destructive ball carrier with a tireless workrate, she has the potential to be a pillar of this squad for the next decade. 

Her progression is all the more remarkable when you consider her path to the game. Basketball was her early love, but she was a regular sight on the sidelines at Fethard and District RFC, where her three brothers all played.

“I kind of thought ‘You know what, I might be good at this sport,’” she explains.

Four years later, she has two Six Nations campaigns to her name.

“I think with every game and every minute you play you learn more about what it is to actually… Like, you can be a good athlete, but to be a good international athlete is very different. It’s how you deal with how the game is going, how you can problem solve on the pitch, and I’ve a lot to learn about that sort of thing.

“But I’m open to learning about it and I think the experience and the gametime of this Six Nations will stand to me because I was handed different scenarios and maybe I didn’t deal with certain (situations well), but I probably did stand up and deal with others.”

This Six Nations also saw Wall contribute more directly to Ireland’s attack. She scored her first try for Ireland against Wales and bagged another against Italy. She also provided some important contributions in open play, including a neat peel off a lineout to play in Amee-Leigh Murphy Crowe against the Azzurre last Saturday.

Wall scored her second international try against Italy last Saturday. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“In the Welsh game I did a lot of carrying and stuff, but I do have that in my artillery to be used, so I may as well use it when I can,” she says of her attacking game.

“But yeah, I think I have more to give. It’s probably confidence in my own ability as well and diversifying how I play rather than just being this physical threat, which I can be, but I probably do have more to offer in that sense.”

The family WhatsApp groups have been hopping for the last month. Messages of encouragement pour into the group chats from Tipperary and the USA, where extended family members have been getting to grips with alien concepts like the sin bin. 

Wall appreciates the support but is also glad to have another social circle who are less interested in her exploits on the rugby pitch.

“My family are a huge part of it. They are my number one backers,” she says.

“You need to have other facets for how you feel about yourself and how you enjoy your life. I definitely would emphasise that, you need other things going for you and need to enjoy other parts of your life.

“Some of my friends absolutely do not care about the fact that I play rugby, they don’t have a clue what is going on, and it suits me lovely”. 

Her rugby life will be parked for the time being. A radiography student, Wall will start exams on the day of her 21st birthday next week.

There will be another Ireland camp in six weeks’ time. The Women’s All-Ireland League will hopefully get underway in August. If all goes to plan, Ireland will play their postponed Rugby World Cup qualifiers in September.

It’s a long wait for supporters of the women’s game, but Wall, who was speaking as Canterbury and the IRFU launched their new ‘Give it a Try’ campaign, hopes the last few weeks have at least planted a seed in a few impressionable young heads.

“It’s been wonderful, the media attention we got, I think it’s been very positive to have our own (standalone) tournament.

Wall started in all three of Ireland’s Six Nations games this year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“More people have been talking about it. Considering the pandemic, there’s not much going on so more people have been watching it. More girls and boys have been watching it, and maybe with the new season, when Covid hopefully clears up and the clubs open and the ‘Give it a Try’ campaign is running, you’ll have more younger kids (playing) because they were watching us play, and there wasn’t other clashes, it wasn’t just the men. 

“My hope would be that yeah, we were put out by ourselves, we performed and then we didn’t perform and we got better, it was scrappy etc, but it was realistic. It was realistic of where we are as a team, and I hope that young girls and young boys saw that and are like ‘Yeah, you know what Mum or Dad, I’m going to play.’

“Hopefully there will be a huge influx of youngsters when it opens.”

 Canterbury and the IRFU have launched this year’s nationwide Give It A Try programme – a rugby programme for girls aged 8 to 14 to learn how to play rugby in a safe and fun environment. Clubs can register at http://www.irishrugby.ie/giveitatry

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