"Imagine what that could do for women's rugby" - Stacey Flood has a plan worth hearing
"Ah, there was fights. There was fights!"
Stacey Flood grew up in a house-hold of eight, with her parents and as one of six sports-mad siblings. There was always someone to throw a ball around with, head out rowing or try beat in a game of one-on-one. There was always support. As siblings often do, though, there were some skelping going on, too.
Flood is only 25 now, but has been firmly in the Irish rugby system and representing her country on the world stage since "back in the day!" she was 17. She played with Dublin Minors, and often dipped back in GAA over the years, but rugby turned her head as soon as she set off on the Sevens circuit.
Bumping into the human highlight reel Quade Cooper, on that circuit, back in 2016, was a real bump to tell Flood she was on the right path.
"Oh yeah, he's such an elusive player to watch, and he's such a nice person to chat to. He was great. The people you meet on the Sevens circuit are great. You'd never get that time to meet all those people in 15s. In Sevens, all those people from 12 different countries are there in one place.
"You get to experience and watch some of the best players in the world doing their thing. Rieko Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams were playing it when I was there and Sonny Bill's sister [Niall]. She plays for New Zealand, too. It's such a big pool of talent."
Stacey Flood on building the best product in Ireland
Her older sister, Kim, played for Ireland too while the rest of the Flood clann, spurred on [and driven about for many years] by their parents, all love their sport too.
Flood, newly announced as an Energia rugby ambassador, made her 15s debut for Ireland in October 2020. And while 2021 was not memorable for too many bright moments for the national team, the Dubliner has emerged as a genuine outhalf option for Greg McWilliams' side. She is determined to add to those caps in 2022.
Seven members of the squad named by Adam Griggs, the outgoing Ireland Women's coach, have contracts with English or French clubs. On House of Rugby, earlier this month, World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin admitted England and France were "flying ahead" of their European counterparts because of 'the investments they've made and professional leagues they've put in place'. He added:
"And maybe it's fine if the best Irish, Welsh and American female players are playing in those leagues, for a short period of time, to build their own competitiveness. But obviously, over time, there's got to be the best Irish players playing where Irish girls can see them, and be inspired."
Asked if she would be tempted to play her club rugby in England or France, or if there should be a huge focus on improving club rugby structures in Ireland and pushing on with a Women's Champions Cup, Flood begins to vigorously nod her head.
"You took the idea straight from my head!" she says.
"For me, it would be about growing the game in Ireland. It's great that those leagues are doing well, and they're so competitive, but imagine if you could have that on your front door. And you could be playing in Energia Park every weekend, or there could be finals on these big weekends.
"That would be a great opportunity, and imagine if you had the top two provinces getting the chance to play the top two from France, England and more. Imagine what that could do for women's rugby all over the world, let alone just Ireland.
"It would be a huge thing to push on with and hopefully, one day, it does happen. For me, it's about growing the game in Ireland and staying here. I'm a home-bird!"
Best friends in rugby
Ireland Women will be hoping to finish as high in the Six Nations standings when the championship begins at the end of March.
Flood is keen to build on her experiences with the team in 2020 and 2021. She was rearing to go when first coming into contact with many of the 15s stars.
"I'd met a lot of the girls in passing. I was excited to play with Beibhinn Parsons - as a 10, she is someone you want to be putting away. She's always exciting to play with.
"Getting back on the field with Sene was great. She used to play Sevens with us. And getting to play with the likes of Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy. Everyone, really. You learn so much from the players around you. Steal their talents and thinking, 'Oh, I could definitely learn that from them, so I'll get them to teach me."
"And getting to play with Kathryn Dane - she has so much knowledge and experience of the game, as a 9. She helped me get me through my first stint with the team, and made it look like I knew what I was doing!"
*This season Energia is helping fans play their part and learn about how to be more sustainable and environmentally conscious through its Ireland’s Greenest Fan campaign.