The winger made her debut at just 16 and looks destined for a long international career
Beibhinn Parsons: Meet Ireland’s youngest ever Test player
A few days after being named the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Women’s Player of the Year, Beibhinn Parsons received a letter. The envelope simply had the winger’s name and ‘Ballinasloe’ on the front, but it’s a small town so it found its way to her.
The letter was from former Ireland fly-half Ollie Campbell and contained three pieces of advice: 1. Score tries. 2. Score tries. 3. Score tries.
“That’s the best advice you ever need,” says Parsons, who scored five tries in her first ten Tests. “I wrote back thanking him for his good advice – I’d never really sent or received letters before.”
Parsons is still only 19 but this is her third season in the Ireland set-up. She made her debut aged just 16 against the USA in November 2018, making her the youngest player ever to win a senior cap for Ireland.
Reflecting on that achievement now, she laughs about spending the Sunday evening after the Test doing her homework. The whole experience was such a whirlwind she can’t even remember if she was nervous.
“It happened so fast. Everything was so new and out of my comfort zone, but I just really wanted to get on the pitch. I remember waiting for a stoppage in play to be subbed on and it felt like I was waiting for an eternity to get on, but in the moment I don’t think I was nervous.
“It was an amazing experience and one I didn’t take for granted at the time but I value even more now. I value how much faith Adam Griggs and the whole coaching staff had, they gave me a golden opportunity to get international exposure at a young age. That’s really been the making of me.”
There were clear gains to be made in terms of gym work and game knowledge – she’d had a season of mixed rugby before returning to Gaelic football when there was no girls’ team to migrate to and only started playing again in 2014.
However, it was the off-field aspect that Parsons found the biggest hurdle. After all, she was in a squad with a lot of players who were closer to the age of her teachers than her peers.
“The girls were lovely and welcoming and put in a huge effort to find common things to talk about, but I found the social aspect the toughest on entering that squad. It was a strange dynamic at the start and it was a big leap to make at that age. I think I had to mature quickly.
“It’s completely different now; I really feel involved in the team. They’re all my friends now. I’m comfortable with all the girls and will chat away about anything. The fact a lot are teachers, when I was studying for my Leaving Cert (last year), I’d call on them – Eimear Considine did Irish orals with me, Anna Caplice helped with German. It’s like a team of sisters.”
Parsons is now doing a biomedical science degree at UCD, one benefit of the pandemic being that lectures are pre-recorded so she can fit her studies around her training with Ireland’s sevens and 15s squads. It was before one of the 15s sessions that she heard the news about the World Cup being postponed.
“We had an emergency Zoom meeting right before training. I remember being really upset but then watching the other girls and how professional they were, the words that come to mind are unshakeable and unbreakable. That’s why I love team sport – when you’re feeling low and need to be picked up, you have team-mates to lean on.
“It was deeply disappointing but to see how they carried themselves and got on with it will always stick in my mind. We still need to qualify for that World Cup and need to make each session count.”
Asked about her strengths, Parsons points to her evasiveness and ability to break tackles. She also mentions the work she’s doing on her kicking game, looking to bring in chips and grubbers. That’s something else to keep defences guessing – and could well help her follow Campbell’s advice.
This article originally appeared in the May 2021 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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