Kylemore Book Club: Rugby’s Global Community

Wednesday, August 25, 2021 1:00 pm EST

This final week looked at the global growth of rugby both in terms of the development of new players and coaches, as well as the diaspora of international players. As part of this, current international players and staff gave an insight into their experiences playing at home and abroad, as well as what the global diaspora of the sport has meant to them over the years. Special guests for this event included Campaign Manager for the Tackle Your Feelings mental wellbeing campaign, Hannah McCormack as well as the Director of Development for Connacht Rugby, Karl Boyle. Read the event recap, watch the video, or listen to the podcast below.

The final virtual event of To Hell or to Connacht: Stories of Irish Resilience featured Campaign Manager for the Tackle Your Feelings mental wellbeing campaign, Hannah McCormack as well as the Director of Development for Connacht Rugby, Karl Boyle. This event was moderated by Lisa Caulfield, Director of the Global Centre at Kylemore, and featured Eamonn Molloy (Coach Development Manager at Connacht Rugby) and Justin Hickey (Director of Rugby – Head Coach at Notre Dame). The goal of this session was to take a closer look at the global growth of rugby both in terms of the development of new players and coaches, as well as the diaspora of international players. As part of this, current international players and staff gave an insight into their experiences playing at home and abroad, as well as what the global diaspora of the sport has meant to them over the years.

Personal experience and background from both McCormack and Boyle helped to bring discussions surrounding the development of players and coaches in Ireland, both in terms of strengthening skills and creating playing opportunities for all communities, as well as strengthening players’ mental game in order to make them more successful both on and off the pitch no matter where their rugby careers take them. The stories and experiences explained through the pre-recorded videos with Peadar Timmins and the live session helped to shed a light on how the growth of rugby internationally has been molded and developed in many aspects.

Using pre-submitted questions and a flowing interview style, the hour consisted of questions asked by each of the moderators which were answered by McCormack first and then Boyle, whose experiences and roles within rugby in Ireland complimented each other as both of their focuses are on player and team development. McCormack began with a short presentation about her work with Tackle Your Feelings—a mental health and well-being campaign, which supports individuals proactively looking after their mental well-being. The campaign features some of Ireland’s Rugby Players leading from the front, breaking down stigma and encouraging people to become more proactive about looking after their mental well-being on a daily basis. TYF is an all-island campaign run by Rugby Players Ireland in partnership with Zurich and with the support and funding from the Z Zurich Foundation.

McCormack discussed the importance of the mental side of the game for players and talked about the resources available and the ways in which the collaboration with Rugby Players Ireland has been mutually beneficial in making the programme a success. She talked about how rugby players have played a role in de-stigmatising bringing up mental health, especially as it’s something many of us have struggled with in the last year and a bit because of COVID-19. She ended her presentation by showing the different outlets the TYF campaign address, such as dealing with injuries, contract negotiation, transitioning in and out of rugby, time management and then outlets for non-elite players such as resources for work-place stressors and a student-focused programme. Eamonn Molloy spoke of his experiences with TYF and the younger Connacht rugby players and that it’s been hugely successful in giving them somewhere to discuss those aspects of their mental game and compartmentalise everything. To him, this support network for rugby players has evolved over the last few years 

Then, Boyle discussed his work as Director of Development with Connacht Rugby and how his upbringing in Connacht has deeply instilled a loyalty to the county and the strong identity of Connacht and the West of Ireland. He went on to discuss the ways in which Connacht has grown as a team and as individuals on the pitch and off the pitch with their “Front Up, Rise Up” grassroots campaign. He said it’s when they decided on their business development model that the club really started to understand how they needed to operate “as a hugely ambitious club on the fringes of Europe”. Boyle attests that it was getting everyone behind the Connacht team that made it happen. He claims that it’s what the players go on to do not just on the pitch but off the pitch that inspires others, including the visible diaspora of male and female Connacht players in international rugby. Boyle says that the more Connacht Rugby can engage with people from the West of Ireland who are abroad, the more it will help the club’s development. He gave examples of bringing the academy side to Boston in 2019 and the connection formed with the Irish-American community there and the great games that the team had against an emerging New England team. 

Boyle discussed the exchange of developing coaches globally as well and used Koma Gandy coming to Connacht for a few weeks as a success story and a way in which the Connacht Rugby community and the New York rugby scene have formed a closer connection.  

The session ended with a few questions from the audience aimed at how the IRFU works and the implementation of schools programmes as well as how TYF is implemented in schools and how they equip people with the skills they need.

This event concluded with a short breakout session for viewers to meet and further discuss the content with fellow book club participants.


  • “So, we look at helping players become the best version of themselves; we look at developing them off the pitch” (Hannah McCormack, 7:32)
  • “The more resources you have, the better your feelings of wellbeing [are] and the better your feelings of wellbeing, the more able you are to deal with those challenges” (McCormack, 8:21)
  • “We know that when we have people in all of these really exciting roles of being an elite athlete, they’re able to act as role models to the general public; to help them see how they can be proactive themselves” (McCormack, 9:07)
  • “I think we can all attest that our mental health has been impacted in the last year or so” (McCormack, 10:39)
  • “We see well-being as being the balance or the equilibrium between the challenges that you face and the resources that you have to deal with those challenges” (McCormack, 12:05)
  • “Everyone is going to benefit from being proactive with their mental health and well-being” (McCormack, 18:14)
  • “It seems to me that particular to rugby there is this scaffolding, a sort of help that’s built into the sport that really mentors and [provides] resources for rugby players to have” (Lisa Caulfield, 23:08)
  • “The saving of Connacht Rugby became very quickly not about rugby at all; it became about the West of Ireland” (Karl Boyle, 27:09)
  • “There’s the business behind it all that has to support the growth of participation, the education of coaches and volunteers, and also, obviously, professional coaches and players as well” (Boyle, 30:43)
  • “And I suppose it was a two-way street; Connacht Rugby can’t be successful without the support of its fans, and indeed its diaspora and it’s with that that the success is mutually inclusive” (Boyle, 32:56)
  • “I reflect a lot on the West of Ireland of old, that really its biggest export has been its people. And while that’s been wonderful for places right around this globe, […] what I want to see for my children is a West of Ireland that can sustain them, and not just sustain them; that they can realise their potential and maximise their abilities in the West of Ireland” (Boyle, 33:48)
  • “Sport transcends so many things […] and one thing that certainly sport does is it includes, it brings people together” (Boyle, 39:12)
  • “If it wasn’t for some of these so-called negative emotions, a lot of really good things in life wouldn’t have happened” (McCormack, 48:26)
  • “The players in Connacht have been really fortunate; sport came back quite quickly after the first lockdown, but the environment that the players went back into was very, very different” (McCormack, 50:21)
  • “Our project, the stadium and high performance centre, has been described as a beacon for regional development” (Boyle, 1:01:34)