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Eimear Corri making most of second chance with Wolfhounds and Ireland

By Martyn Thomas
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 28: Eimear Corri of Ireland arrives at the stadium prior to the WXV 3 2023 match between Ireland and Spain at The Sevens Stadium on October 28, 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Christopher Pike - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

When Blackrock head coach Ben Martin first suggested Wolfhounds and Ireland second-row Eimear Corri might benefit from a move into the forwards, she thought he was winding her up.

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Corri had been a sprinter in her youth and starred on the wing for the Dublin club and Leinster before a series of injuries robbed her of “the guts of about three years” on the pitch.

Having overcome those struggles to return to training at Blackrock she had assumed she could pick up where she left off but, unable to hit top speed, found herself out of the team.

That was when Corri approached Martin to ask what she needed to do to reclaim her place. His answer was an unexpected one.

“When I got back, I just found I didn’t really have the pace that I used to have, and maybe I wasn’t as agile,” Corri explained this week.

“I remember asking the coach if there was anything I could work on or what it was that I needed to do to get back into the playing team. And he suggested that, based on the agility that I do have and my power and my height that perhaps a role in the forwards, in the second row, would be something that I would consider.

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“I thought he was maybe joking the first time he said it. But I guess at that stage, I’d played for so long and coming back from the injury, my motivation was ‘I want to play, I love this game’.

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“So, I knew that if it came down to making a position switch or possibly not getting to play, I definitely wanted to give everything that I could to try making that position change [work].

“So, yeah, he’ll laugh that I say it, but the first couple of training sessions after Ben Martin, the coach, had said to switch to the forwards, I used to always say, ‘Will I go with the forwards or the backs?’ whenever we used to split. Until eventually a couple of times after him repeatedly saying, ‘go to the forwards’, I knew it was for real.

“Philip Doyle, ‘Goose’ as we call him, was our forwards coach in Blackrock and he was just amazing. I mean, obviously I was completely clueless about all the technicalities and stuff of the forwards, but, between himself and the forward pack at Blackrock, everyone really just kind of took me under their wing and just gave me all the kind of tips and tricks and explained what my role was amongst that group.

“And really and truly, they all completely just supported me wholeheartedly and they really made the transition as feasible and just as easy as possible.”

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Corri admits her focus at that stage was primarily on winning a place in the Blackrock engine room. “Ireland wasn’t on the radar,” she added.

“For me, it was genuinely a case of, if I want to play rugby at all at this level, the position change might be the way to do it. But I guess I knew that I had quite a unique skill set in [terms of] my speed in the forward pack.”

That unique skill set began to really blossom in 2023. Having been included in the Combined Provinces XV squad for the inaugural Celtic Challenge, without playing many minutes, Corri helped Blackrock to a first All-Ireland League Division I title in 15 years.

She was then part of the Leinster side that beat Munster 33-14 in the Women’s Interprovincial final in September.

“It was at that stage that I kind of knew, OK, if I can really finesse the skill set here, if I can really soak up and learn as much as I can, all the technicalities about the lineout, the scrum, all those sorts of things, that Ireland very much could be on the radar,” Corri said.

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In the end Corri, only had a little over a month to wait between that Interpro final victory with Leinster and earning her first Test cap, as a half-time replacement in Ireland’s 109-0 defeat of Kazakhstan at WXV 3.

That was Ireland’s opening match in Dubai, where a full debut would follow against Colombia eight days later before she appeared as a late replacement in the nerve-shredding 15-13 win against Spain that secured the inaugural WXV 3 title.

“It was amazing, I was obviously so honoured to get my first couple of international caps. The experience that’s in that group, it was great for me to be immersed in that,” Corri said.

“My injury spell was quite prolonged but there’s a very small set of people that understand how challenging it was.

“I was out for the guts of about three years, managed to get back for a couple of months in the middle of that but I was definitely rehabbing and on crutches and in boots for an awful lot more time than I wasn’t.

“So, the people that experienced those lows and all those moments when you were rehabbing, just dreaming to get back on the pitch… for all of those people to reach out and recognise what an achievement it was, absolutely made that so much sweeter.

“And yeah, there was definitely a point on that rehab journey where I was even told by medical professionals like, I might not get back to play.

“So, to have that dream taken away from you to then really becoming a possibility again, just made wearing that green jersey and lining out with the team like an absolutely unbelievable dream come true.”

This weekend Corri will have the chance to get her hands on more silverware when she lines up for the Wolfhounds against Edinburgh Rugby at Hive Stadium in the opening weekend of the Celtic Challenge play-offs.

The Wolfhounds currently hold a four-point lead over their hosts at the top of the standings and with only two games left to play, and points carrying over from the regular season, a sixth win of the season would be enough to claim the title.

“It would be amazing [to win the Celtic Challenge],” Corri said. “To win against a team who have played you and also know your style of play, definitely has that kind of bit of extra achievement to it.

“I suppose on the back of last year as well, it would be massive for us as a Wolfhounds team, but also massive for Irish rugby as well to be able to go back-to-back.

“The Celtic Challenge has been a massive platform for us to bridge our provincial set-up to that international stage. So, to go back-to-back would really kind of solidify the work that has gone on in Irish rugby for the past two years.

“And just give us that bit of extra confidence that our processes are working, we are beginning to move forward, and hopefully prep us as well as it can for the Six Nations.”

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