In what is a groundbreaking move for Irish rugby, the IRFU have confirmed the news that 43 centralised contracts (including the current ones for members of the 7s programme) will be offered to elite women's players next season, and have also announced the appointment of Gillian McDarby as the Head of Women's Performance And Pathways.
We wrote last week on reports of this development, and while their confirmation is not a surprise, it is a seminal moment in the history of Irish rugby.
The contracts will range up to €30,000 plus match fees and bonuses, and further announcements will be made following discussions with players.
Chief Executive of the IRFU, Kevin Potts, had the following to say on the historic development:
Today’s announcement of the creation of up to 43 IRFU contracts for Women’s Players is a further strong signal of our intent to foster and grow the women’s game over the coming years and to ensure that our women’s players are provided with the best opportunities to compete at the highest levels of the game in the future.
Huge News For Women's Rugby And Irish Rugby As A Whole
Gillian McDarby has been selected to the new position of Head of Women's Performance and Pathways, following an 'extensive recruitment process' directed by the IRFU National Professional Game Board.
The IRFU website has also provided a list of duties that will be carried out by McDarby.
Gillian will be responsible for the development, delivery, and implementation of the approved strategic and operational direction of the women’s rugby performance programme for both XVs and Sevens. She will be responsible for developing a cohesive player pathway that connects and feeds the needs of both national programmes.
She will work with the Domestic Rugby department to grow the playing base of young women and girls, thereby facilitating consistent performance of Irish teams at an elite level into the future.
McDarby was previously a member of Cycling Ireland's elite senior squad, and has held numerous positions within the IRFU, including the role of High Performance Centre, Facilities & Operations Manager, which she has held since 2020.
"It is a great privilege to be appointed as the IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways," said McDarby. "I have worked across several important areas in the game and believe there is a huge growth opportunity for the women’s game in Ireland and I am looking forward to working with all stakeholders to bring the women’s game to the next level.
“It is also pleasing that my appointment coincides with the formal announcement of contracts for up to 43 female players. This is a major step forward for women’s rugby in Ireland.
“Success in the women’s game will be based on sustainability: creating sustainable pathways within the competition structures, getting meaningful competition structures in place for both women and girls to access the game of rugby at the right entry points and continuing to develop competitive international teams in fifteens and sevens. That, to me, is success.”