"There is so much more running" - Irish star swaps the oval ball for the ONeill's ball 4 months ago

"There is so much more running" - Irish star swaps the oval ball for the ONeill's ball

There is no greater honour than playing for your country and Neve Jones has already achieved this feat with the Ireland rugby team, most recently featuring in their emphatic win over Wales in the Six Nations.

New challenges are something that the Ballymena native thrives on however, so much so that despite having no prior experience in the sport, she thrust herself right into the thick of Gaelic football with East Belfast GAA.

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The Ulster rugby hooker made her football debut with the 'B' team in Warrenpoint and was so impressive that she was put into the 'A' team game that followed straight after.

Jones was so unfamiliar with the positions when told she was centre-half forward she had to ask “Does that mean I do the jump thing at the start?” 

“I have a couple of friends that played Gaelic, and I've always thought it looked like a cool sport but I've never thought about actually trying it until East Belfast posted that they were starting up a new team,” said the 22-year-old.

“The team was full of girls who were coming back to the sport after maybe not playing for a while or were like me and trying it for the first time. I did find it similar to rugby because obviously it’s a team sport and the aim is still to get the ball to the other side of the field.”

The transition wasn’t completely seamless however and despite being in peak physical condition from playing at the highest level in rugby, Jones found that Gaelic football required a different type of fitness.

Neve Jones pictured with her East Belfast GAA team
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“It’s much more demanding on your cardio, like there’s so much running. You’re always constantly moving, while in rugby you could be laying on the ground having made a tackle, then you get up and sprint 10 or 20 metres, make a tackle and repeat that cycle, so it’s more in bursts while Gaelic is more constant.

“I do think my fitness from rugby put me in good stead because I would have that explosiveness to get off the mark, find the space or get away from a defender.”

In the same way a soccer player would scarcely believe that they can just pick the ball up in their hands, and that kicking the ball over the bar actually counts as a score, Jones found some aspects of playing a new sport almost liberating.

“Being allowed to kick the ball is great. In rugby I wouldn’t dare kick it. We have a few Gaelic players who play rugby for us in Malone and they made the transition over so well, the only thing they probably struggle with is having to pass backwards and maybe the tackling.

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“The tackling is something I struggle to get my head around as well because I was told that ladies' football was basically non-contact but some of the tackles were definitely contact and even now I’m like ‘is this a tackle?’ I’m still not really sure. It’s definitely more about using the space rather than just running into people though.” 

Jones is looking forward to finding some time to get back to football this year but naturally her focus is still very much on rugby and her Ireland career.

“Well, I've always wanted to be in the green jersey since I started playing rugby, and it's always been something I strive to do and I'm very thankful for the hard work that I put in, my friends and family put in and my coaches put in, all to get me the green jersey and honestly the best feeling in the world is when I’m able to do it.”

Dizzy heights already achieved in rugby with so much more to follow, but by her own admission her personal challenge is to “actually solo the ball this year and I would love to score a point as well”.

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