Dorothy Wall not fazed by great expectations as she plans to power on

Talented backrow knows all about getting the right kind of athletes involved in women’s rugby

Not so long ago one of the nuns in Presentation Thurles sidled up to the girl going from classroom to classroom skimming talent off the school’s camogie, football and basketball panels (she even recruited a jockey).

The GAA mentors were displeased, so when the nun put a vice grip on her arm, this one-woman-rugby-recruitment-officer was surprised to hear encouragement rather than scorn.

That was then. Nowadays, Dorothy Wall has enough on her plate with second year radiology exams in UCD to even plan next week’s 21st birthday.

“It will be a cramming period for myself, but sure look, I’ve done it before.”


Exam stress ensured the page was quickly turned on her first full Six Nations campaign, a tournament that would have announced Wall as a global star if Safi N’Diaye had not seen her lurking in the long grass.

N’Diaye being the giant French lock who took Wall’s presence on the Donnybrook pitch earlier this month as a personal affront to her womanliness. The Montpellier enforcer went directly after the daughter of a Tipperary hurler but the young Ireland blindside laughs her infectious giggle at the idea of being bullied.

“They were calling out ‘sis’ [her number] and doing their best to block me. I’d never been exposed to the world-class, uber-competitiveness that was thrown at us.

“Safi, the big French secondrow, was making it her business that I knew she was there. And I hadn’t experienced that before so it was good for me.

“I can deal with that now. It will benefit all of us when they come around again.”

The only Irish rugby player who used to talk like this in their early 20s, and then back it up, was Seán O’Brien.

“Ah it doesn’t faze me too much to be honest with you.”

Attempts to get down to business, and the apparent blockages in the female pathway from mini rugby at Fethard RFC to a Six Nations super Saturday, prompts Wall to talk about the Give It A Try programme that has Canterbury and the IRFU providing a “safe and fun” introduction to the game for girls aged eight to 14.

“Funnily enough, there was rugby in my school but only in fifth and sixth year, so yeah, we didn’t have it for second and third year.

“Aine Staunton, who played for Munster, was my basketball coach in school. She said to me ‘you need to give rugby a go’ after I had been fouled out of a few games.

“In the Pres in Thurles – and it is probably the same in all girls’ schools – there is a huge amount of talent. The GAA players have all the ball and kicking skills and they are tough. Like, tough girls.

“Especially in my school you had players with county representation. My friend Grace O’Donnell would have played camogie for Kilkenny and she was a jockey. A supreme athlete, her feet were ridiculous, so I got her into the rugby.

“I’d go around to the different classes and pull all the really good athletes. The GAA coaches weren’t too fond of me but we got a serious team going and I remember one of the nuns grabbed my arm one day and went [Wall switches to her holiest accent]: ‘Now Dorothy, this rugby you are playing, is it full contact?’

“’Yes sister, it is full contact.’

“And she’s like: ‘That’s great!’”

If you are not laughing at the story you are laughing at the way Wall tells it.

“She was delighted that we were going out there, and we made it to two All-Ireland finals and lost them to Gorey. It absolutely broke my heart. We had never put our bodies on the line in Donnybrook – well, I have since – but the girls really bought into it and I absolutely love that part of rugby.

“That’s why the Give It A Try is great, because we are targeting that younger audience so when they go into schools or clubs they won’t get hurt because they have the tackle tech, they’ll know where to put their heads and how to present the ball.

“That is the pathway everyone is harping on about; grassroots and fuelling the next generation of internationals. It is very important that the programme is in place.”

Wall has spoken previously about her family’s sporting pedigree, and she never misses the opportunity to drag her father over the coals.

“Oh God my Dad got some slagging about that,” she roars about a recent interview in the Irish Independent where she revealed Anthony Wall’s nickname is Baby Jesus.

The mystery will not be solved here but it could have been Tipperary folk borrowing the title bestowed upon Cork’s Tony O’Sullivan.

“I think Dad was marking DJ Carey in the under-21 final and he played out of his skin and people were comparing him to this other hurler. And he was the ‘Baby Jesus’ of that other hurler. It never left him and I think it is absolutely hilarious because he gets so embarrassed whenever I say it!

“I’d be walking with him and some bald lad across the road would be yelling ‘Baby Jesus’ and you’d be thinking ‘what is going on here?’”

Wall senior also offers a cautionary tale for his daughter’s career.

“My Dad would have played a very high level of sport and everyone wanted a piece of him. Maybe there was a point where he didn’t enjoy his sport because he was playing football and hurling and when he got into rugby maybe they were not too happy. He was being pulled out of it in every sense. I think he stopped enjoying it because he was so burnt out. So he never wanted me not to enjoy it.

“Without being qualified as a mental coach he is very horizontal and that is good for me, as it keeps me calm, keeps it all subjective. I am very thankful to have him there with all his experience and knowledge.”

Ireland’s qualifying tournament to reach next year’s World Cup in New Zealand will probably happen in September. A warm-up Test match is a possibility, but Wall loves the idea of a fire and brimstone interpro series in August, as much to shine a spotlight on unseen talent.

“I know so many girls in Munster, and Béibhinn [Parsons] would say the same in Connacht, that we played with at underage but haven’t been picked up. I think it would be a great opportunity for the other girls and to widen the player pool.

“I played with a girl called Claire Bennett now in Limerick and it is widely known that she is a wrecking ball.”

Another one would always be welcome.