The youngest player to ever play rugby for Ireland is growing up. Beibhinn Parsons will be 19 by the time the World Cup qualifiers arrive in December.
Capped at 16, when she instantly displayed a turn of speed and power that bamboozled her American opponents, Parsons, refreshingly, embraced the opportunity to speak over zoom about how much she is enjoying Ireland camp, of her disappointment about the Leaving Cert, on scholarship living in UCD and discussions with Anthony Eddy – the women’s director of rugby – about spearheading the Sevens attack (whenever that globetrotting sport returns).
She never once got annoyed. Not even when we asked her about playing other sports.
“I started off in Ballinasloe club which had a really strong girls’ team and I really enjoyed it. Why not rugby would be my question back to you. I think it is a great sport and I have met some of my best friends through it.”
Building up a teenager who is already a fundamental part of Ireland’s plans leaves the individual open to many pitfalls. That concern is allayed by the way Parsons confidently answered the questions put to her at the second Canterbury jersey launch.
And anyway, her talent leaves the media with little alternative. The try against Scotland last February – an intercept and 90 metre dash – planted a flag before she weaved around three Welsh defenders for another gem. Not to compare, but Donnybrook had not seen an explosion of such raw ability since the most capped Irish male scared the life out of Ulster in 1999.
Growing excitement around Parsons stalled when she ruled herself out of the Six Nations due to the Leaving Cert mocks.
“It has been crazy. Thinking I was going to miss out on three Six Nations matches and potentially missing only one. That’s a huge positive that I am taking.
“The Leaving Cert didn’t run its course but things happen, that’s the new normal that we are living in.”
You get the feeling that teenagers are adapting far quicker than everyone else.
“It was difficult. We had to remain patient. Our orals were firstly postponed and then cancelled. Our Leaving Cert was postponed and then cancelled. You had to roll with the punches. We were all in the same boat, knowing you had unity with your class mates, you can take that.”
But the Leaving Cert debacle still simmers for the class of 2020.
“I absolutely wanted to sit the exams,” she said after training in Abbotstown. “A bit gutted that I couldn’t. I feel part of that one percent that actually wanted to sit them.
“I would have loved to wrap it up, put a bit of closure on it, get a result that you know you deserve. Yeah I would have loved to sit the exams.”
Eimear Considine is just an amazing athlete. I feel like she has more hours in the day than anyone I know. She is just a super human. She gets everything done. Her skills are through the roof.
Her rationale becomes clear after checking the CAO points range (topped at 625) in 2019 to study Biomedical Science at UCD.
Parsons has begun her scholarship and new life on campus.
“I am part of the Ad Astra academy, which is really positive, they work with me really closely to make sure I am able to train and able to keep college afloat.
“We are keeping ‘on campus’ [classes] to an absolute minimum. I am doing science subjects so of course there are going to be labs. All the protocols are in place, masks and social distance, so I am feeling safe in my college set up. I am keeping my bubble to an absolute minimum because I don’t want to put myself or the rest of the team in jeopardy.
“I am currently on campus with three house mates, that’s my social circle and I am keeping it that small. They are all scholarship students, some athletes some academic students.”
Back to the rugby, the expectation (the hope) is that herself and Eimear Considine will tear up the Italian defence on Saturday evening in Energia Park.
“Eimear Considine is just an amazing athlete. I feel like she has more hours in the day than anyone I know. She is just a super human. She gets everything done. Her skills are through the roof.
“On her level is Sene Naoupu, she is amazing. She has such a bank of knowledge and experience that I like to pick at and gain as much from her as I can.
“To see the likes of young girls coming up, like Dorothy [Wall] who is so skilled at such a young age, there is a broad range of young players that are really skilled and coming through.”
Wall (20), from Fethard RFC, also showed enormous potential, making 20 tackles in 40 minutes against Scotland, before the Six Nations was paused. The flanker is one of those players that team-mates seek to avoid during tackle drills.
“You never like to be opposite Linda [Djougang],” Parsons revealed. “She hits really hard. You never want to be opposite Dorothy either. Physicality should be in their name. They love contact.”
Eventually the demands on Parsons time will grow. She is an obvious target for Eddy’s Sevens squad and her presence in a Blackrock team, when the club game returns, should draw plenty more eyes to the All Ireland League.
The rise of Parsons will not happen on its own but her limitless potential, still in the early stages of what promises to be a special international career, is worth switching over to RTÉ on Saturday at 6pm. Just after the men sign off from the Aviva stadium on Virgin Media.
“Yeah, I am having conversations with Anthony [Eddy] and Griggsy [Adam Griggs] around Sevens and 15s. Right now, my eyes are on this Six Nations and the world cup qualifiers. That’s where all my energy and all my focus is going to. Sevens might come into the equation down the line but right now I am very happy in 15s.”
And 15s is extremely excited to have her.