"To be in that first Women's Lions team would be a great achievement" - Claire Molloy
"The reason I know I was definitely under 18, is that I got drug-tested afterwards."
Claire Molloy was 17 years old when she lined out for Galway in the Ladies All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final at Croke Park.
Part of a Galway team that included future Liverpool and Ireland footballer Niamh Fahey, Molloy was up against the likes of Valerie Mulcahy, Bríd Stack and Briege Corkery. Galway led 0-4 to 0-3 at half-time but a Mulcahy goal helped put that Cork side on course to the first of five senior titles in a row.
"I had to have our sports massage therapist as my chaperone for that drug test," Molloy recalls, "as I was under 18."
While Molloy kept in with Galway for another few years, her move to Cardiff to study medicine saw rugby come into focus. She made her Ireland debut back in 2009, was part of the Grand Slam-winning team in 2013, and won another Six Nations along the way [as well as reaching a World Cup semi-final].
The Galway native took a sabbatical from the Ireland team in 2019 to concentrate on her medical studies, and work as an Accident & Emergency doctor in England. She is now working as a locum doctor and back in the Ireland squad for this year's Six Nations campaign.
With 70 caps to her name, Molloy is, by far, Ireland's most experienced player. She is also their best.
It was no surprise, then, that Royal London - the company that will become 'Principal Partner’ of the Women’s Lions Programme - reached out to Molloy to give an Irish perspective. Susie Logan of Royal London says:
"We were really keen to have Claire involved, and hear what she has to say. We've also had some English players involved - Shaunagh Brown, Maggie Alphonsi and Emily Scarratt. They've all been brilliant and brought us stories from a different perspective."
Alphonsi, Brown, Scarratt. This is the high standing in which Dr. Claire Molloy is held in rugby circles.
The company is funding a study that will look into how a Women's Lions team would work, and how it could fit into the newly introduced WXV schedule that is set to transform the game.
Logan says that while the traditional British & Irish Lions tour, for the men, seeks to travel to New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, all options are being considered for the women. That may include touring to France or even incorporating the French and Italians to make a European 'Lions' team. Touring to North America is also an option, as is touring every two years or taking on more than one 'Test' nation on a tour.
Molloy is 32 now but has ambitions of playing on a couple of years yet, and would dearly love to be selected for a Women's Lions squad.
"Oh, of course," she says. "It would be a lovely carrot, to be involved and be in that first Women's Lions team. It would be a great achievement."
Should a Women's Lions squad pull from those traditional 'home nations' of England, Ireland, Scotland ad Wales, it would be the English - filled with pros and semi-pros - that would be likely to make up over half of the squad.
Ireland, however, has plenty of candidates for selection and Molloy was more than happy to extoll the virtues of as many teammates as possible.
"I've obviously got full faith in my team," she smiles.
"The likes of Cliodhna Moloney has been outstanding for Wasps and Ireland. She's a powerful, dynamic, modern front row. She got two intercepts at the weekend, against Loughborough Lightning, which isn't too bad for a hooker! She ran the length of the pitch, yet still kept finding people to run into.
"Beibhinn Parsons is a world-class talent, on the wing, and you have someone at centre like Sene Naoupu. You've got the work-horses like Ciara Griffin and Nicola Fryday, who go around and do a lot of work quietly. Then exciting talents like Dorothy Wall, who is a unique back row that we have in our squad. So powerful, so strong and she is bringing a lot to our game."
Also mentioned by Molloy were Lindsay Peat - "What can't she do?!" - and Stacey Flood, who has a bit of the Finn Russells about her.
"There are plenty of talents in the Lions squad who would definitely threaten for Lions places."
One hopes that the study is done properly but with haste, too. There is a definite appetite for a Lions Tour that would amplify women's rugby even more.
If it does get the go ahead, expect Molloy to be involved in some shape or form. She is simply too good not to be on that plane.