Major teams: UL Bohemians, Richmond
Test span: 2001-14
Lynne Cantwell’s story is summed up by the idea that perseverance and hard work truly pays off in sport.
The diminutive centre ended her career as Ireland’s most-capped player, with two Six Nations titles under her belt and the accolade of helping lead the Irish to a first World Cup semi-final in 2014, a tournament where her side famously beat the Black Ferns for the first time in history.
She has come some way since her debut in 2001, when she sat on the wing watching English players whizz by her in a 79-0 loss at Worcester. “English players like Chris Diver were just running all over us,” she admitted.
Cantwell was pretty new to the sport at the time, having taken it up at the University of Limerick in a period before the IRFU had become involved in running the women’s game. Ireland’s resources were so scant that Cantwell, a former 400m and cross-country athlete from a GAA background in Dublin, designed the conditioning programmes for her team-mates.
Cantwell was at the heart of a resurgence that would see Ireland go on to challenge the best in the world by the time of her retirement, at which point she had also won the Rugby Writers of Ireland Women’s Player of the Year award, won several accolades with London club Richmond and spent a season in New Zealand honing her skills.
It was pace that initially marked Cantwell out as a future star who would go on to win 80 caps, but her precision passing and superb footwork kept her at the top of the sport throughout her impressive international career.
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She also made telling contributions for Ireland as a sevens player, helping the side to qualify for the World Cup in Moscow in 2013 and secure a World Series spot. She now works as a physiotherapist in London.