Ireland ban Sam Monaghan loves her job managing two Brighton pubs. One of the pubs is near the train station of the seaside resort, the other on the outskirts. One of the first things Monaghan teaches new bar staff is how to pour a pint of Guinness.
he silky handcraft goes further than neat dumps, you know. “Yes, I’m very picky about my Guinness,” smiles Monaghan. “Of course, being Irish, I think, ‘Look, if you can pour a good pint of Guinness, I’ll hire you no problem.’ But honestly, some of the pints I see in London actually break my heart.”
Monaghan has gone from casual rugby player to a leading performer in this Women’s Six Nations. She was working in a pub in Croydon over five years ago when a friend suggested she try rugby at the local club to make new friends after she moved to Brighton. After Monaghan was born in New York and lived there until she was eight, Monaghan’s family moved to Navan and she played various sports as a teenager and was part of Meath’s 2009 U16 All Ireland winners Gaelic football team.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know the rules, I have no idea what’s going on’. Kind of I still don’t know…” Monaghan joked to the Irish Independent. “I remember the first game I played , I caught the ball and turned around and they just said, ‘Run!’ And I ran diagonally across the pitch. And they said, ‘Yes, you have to learn how to walk straight’.”
Monaghan’s acceleration as a rugby player this season has been straight up. It’s easy to forget that this is their first Six Nations. She was quickly anointed ‘Sammy Bill’ Monaghan after making three offloads against Wales – one of which was an amazing assist for Linda Djougang’s try.
She was named Player of the Match in the win over Italy, was shortlisted for third round player and led the stats in that game as Ireland’s best ball carrier (12) and most broken tackles (five). She may even be moving toward being a tournament shortlist territory player. Then came the calf injury.
In the Saturday week before the game against England, Monaghan suffered a first-degree calf injury while routinely speeding off the line at a day-long training camp in Dublin. England was a game she had been focused on because she wanted to compete with the women she plays against in the Premier 15s with Wasps Women. Instead, a “heartbroken” Monaghan had to watch her teammates from the stands.
“It was a big personal one for me and it was the one I was actually looking forward to the most. You want to compete against the best players in the world, that’s how you get better,” says Monaghan, before describing how nervous she was – despite not playing – on the drive to Welford Road. “My hands were sweating; i was so nervous I played the game in my head and our game plan. I was just imagining that Tricky (Edel McMahon) was making phenomenal hits, which is what she did in-game. They just raved about leather for the first 40 minutes, I was so proud. And then, towards the second half, I just wish I could go out there and help them.”
The 69-0 defeat by England also accelerated talk of the future of the national team with hints that deals – of some form – could be introduced by the IRFU ahead of next year’s Six Nations. Monaghan, 28, is quick to praise her two assistant managers at the pubs for helping her double duty during this time, but it’s all difficult to manage. She is in charge of ordering, the rotas, and does shifts behind the bar to pour pints. She could get calls up to 9 p.m. about something like a gas problem. There are days like the Wednesday before the Italy game when she worked a 14-hour shift. She started inventory at 6am but a late delivery due to staff shortages meant she was there by 8pm.
“I was stressing. I hadn’t even looked at my analysis (for the Italy game) but everyone is in the same boat. We’re all trying to work all the time,” adds Monaghan. “It’s tough, but I also love my job, so it’s quite difficult – which one – you can’t decide on one, so you just end up doing both. Yes, it (contracts) is a long time coming. You can no longer balance the two. The game has evolved so far. So much has been said about it over the last few weeks and it was really nice to see. I think it’s imminent, but it has to happen now.”
Monaghan could not have imagined a year ago that she would win her ninth cap for Ireland in tonight’s game against Scotland (she passed a rigorous fitness test on her calf, covering 5km on Wednesday).
This first chat with her friend in a Croydon pub eventually led to her joining Wasps in September 2020. Led by the Irish contingent – Cliodhna Moloney, Claire Molloy, Ciara Cooney and Edel McMahon – the club got something out of her that she didn’t even know was there.
“In my first season at Wasps, they really took care of me. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing, but I think they saw something in me. There was a dog inside me, but they just brought it out, you know what I mean? I think I was a bit distant at first. I think they brought out a lot in me, but I just didn’t know it was there.”
We need to talk about these dumps. “I have no idea where that came from,” laughs Monaghan. “I think it’s a matter of confidence. With Wasps I have to express myself a little more. I have a great skills coach, Ollie (Bishop) and he always does these things with us in terms of skills and he said, ‘Look, if you don’t do it here, you won’t do it on the pitch’. It’s literally that split second that you think that ball might or might not get there. And I actually have pretty long arms, so it helps. I can’t do that unless someone runs away from me, so I think now the girls know to just run off one of my shoulders.
But don’t mention the Sonny-Bill comparison — she doesn’t have it. “I think I was put on a pedestal too much! That’s not me.”
What was really close to Monaghan’s heart this season is what Irish rugby might want to forget. parma This is where Monaghan began her Ireland career last September and where Ireland’s World Cup dream ended.
“I think I carried that with me for the rest of the season. I was just pretty disappointed with my performance. I got a dead leg in the game against Italy and I carried that into the game against Scotland. After seeing this (a few weeks later) I figured I never want to put myself in that position again. That’s not me, I don’t play like that.
“I just thought I was pretty slow to get rolling. You take those experiences and learn from them. I think that was one of the things that has always stuck in my mind, especially this season. Anything could happen in this game, every game could be your last game. So it’s something like, “How would you like to be remembered?” You just want to do what’s best for your country because you don’t have much time.”
If you’re expecting straight-talking Monaghan to dodge a question about whether tonight’s Six Nations final against Scotland is a grudge game, think again. It was Scotland who beat Ireland 20-18 in their last World Cup qualifier last September to deny them a place at this year’s World Cup. “Oh, it’s 100 pieces (a grudge game). It really is the inspiration for my whole season. We talked about that today. Scotland has not won a game yet. They won’t come and hand it to us on a plate. This is personal for us. We should go to this World Cup. They have taken our place, so it will be a dogfight.”
And you can expect Monaghan to pour every last drop of himself into this dogfight.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/six-nations/this-is-personal-for-us-we-should-be-going-to-the-world-cup-they-took-our-spot-41602209.html “This is personal for us. We should go to the World Cup. You have taken our place