In our new series, Behind the Player in association with Deloitte, Ulster’s Women players share a little bit about themselves, as well as recommendations for coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This week, Ulster Rugby spoke to Queen’s University and Ulster winger, Diane Ramsay.
Tell us a little about your rugby pathway to date.
My rugby pathway was a bit of a strange one. I played for Ballymoney minis when I was around 6 years old for about a year but my mum thought it was too rough so I was taken out of it quite quickly! I was the only girl in my team and no boy wanted to tackle me; they always passed to me so I could score all the tries! I played hockey all my way through secondary school and then started a part-time job at Ballymoney Rugby Club. One Sunday afternoon, when I was helping out, the captain of the ladies’ team came to beg my manager for me to just go and stand on the pitch because they didn’t have enough players. I didn’t even know back then that you passed the ball backwards; I just stood there clueless and didn’t touch the ball or a person! That was officially my first rugby match. I tried to put together a team at Dalriada School. Ulster Rugby was running a six-week programme which we took part in and entered a tag competition. We got through to the finals in our first year but we weren’t very good as we wanted to play contact! We weren’t allowed to keep on the rugby after those six weeks and I was gutted.
I went to Queen’s and tried to juggle hockey and rugby, but I just fell in love with rugby so much. We had Claire McLaughlin, Gemma McCutcheon and Jemma Jackson there in my first year and they were brilliant. They took me under their wing and taught me all the laws. They helped me progress massively. I only played 3 matches the entire season but remember scoring a try in the semi-final of the Rosie Stewart Cup; it was unreal getting that experience.
Unfortunately, at the end of my first year, Queen’s dropped out of the All-Ireland League and we went into the Ulster leagues. A lot of the Ulster girls left to play at Cooke and we had about 5 players left. We sat down together and were asked if we wanted to take this on, not knowing what we were letting ourselves in for! We couldn’t have expected anything better because the numbers at Queen’s have grown year-on-year. We got promoted into the Deloitte Ulster Women’s Premiership last year and set up a second XV team as well and they compete in the Deloitte Ulster Women’s Conference. It’s so lovely to see so many girls playing there. Now I’m running around with Ulster as well!
Who have been your main influences in your rugby career?
I’ve had lots of different coaches at Queen’s and each of them have played their part in shaping me as a player. Andrew Clingan was my coach in first year and he taught me how to tackle well and how to be strong in contact. Jason Gilliland and Andy Harris coached for another year and Jason was my first backs coach. He had such a wealth of knowledge and he was the most ominous chop-tackler I’d ever seen; I wanted to copy him! Andy Harris loves the conditioning aspect of rugby and specific skills. He has improved my fitness throughout the years. Andy Pollock was another backs coach and he has such a good sidestep so I learned that from him. Charlie Farrell has come in and because he’s been involved in the Ulster setup, it’s been so good to have his game management coaching. At the end of the season, Jemma Jackson has come in and she will hopefully be working with the backs more often. She’s so knowledgeable about all things kicking and backline play. It’s been brilliant to have that depth added to my skillset.
What barriers have you had to overcome to reach this point?
The year I got my first Ulster cap was two seasons ago. I was one of the only players who wasn’t from the big clubs like Cooke and Malone in the squad. It was difficult because I was going there not really knowing people and girls already had friendship groups formed. I had to commit so much time to training and it put me out of my comfort zone but at the same time, I’m so glad I stuck at it because we have some fantastic coaches in Diesel (Paul Heasley) for strength and conditioning, and Suff (Derek Suffern), our Performance Manager. Neal Johnston and Popcorn (Neil Alcorn) have come into the setup as well. Learning from them at a higher level has developed my game hugely. I feel as if I was brought up not to miss training unless you have a limb hanging off! I stuck to that when I had the opportunity to be called into the Ulster squad and I’m so pleased I did. It’s been such an amazing experience so far.
What have you been up to in the last couple of months since the onset of COVID-19?
I graduated last July and got a graduate position in Almac Pharmaceuticals in Craigavon. We moved onto shift patterns to reduce the number of people on site at any one time. At the start, you either worked 6am-2pm or 2pm-10pm but I really struggled with having to flip from earlies to lates from one week to the next. I was put on to work permanent morning shifts. They were so accommodating and having that routine has helped. I was really struggling with training because I was so lethargic but now, I have early starts but I’m getting better at going to bed on time and get enough sleep. I’ve been able to take more control of my training and get back into the swing of things before the rugby starts up again.
I’ve become a pro at baking banana bread! I have four sunflowers, strawberry and courgette plants which I’ve been trying to keep alive. I’ve been doing some DIY, decorating rooms to keep myself entertained too.
How do you stay motivated?
At the start, I looked to outside sources so I have accountability to keep doing things every day. I took part in ‘Irish Rugby Roundup’ which was started by Lesley Winder at Belfast Harlequins. It’s an online platform which provides 3 workouts a week plus a matchday workout to simulate our rugby schedule. It’s brilliant because you share your completed workouts with your friends. It was great to see the other girls as the biggest part I miss about rugby is the accountability you get with team training. Since lockdown has eased, I’ve met with some of the Queen’s players to do conditioning sessions at a distance.
What have you been doing to stay fit?
Diesel at Ulster Rugby has set us some home workouts but I have no equipment so it has been a bit of a struggle for me, so I turned to other sources that I didn’t need equipment for. Diesel will be giving us two home workouts each week and we have a WhatsApp group to keep each other going. I’m lucky that I live a few minutes’ walk from Orangefield playing fields so I have been able to do a lot of my conditioning there.
What about any healthy eating advice? What’s the best meal you’ve made at home?
I love cooking! I’ve done a lot since lockdown and have been trying to make different meals. Some have gone well but some have been horrendous, but at least I’m learning! I recently made a nice ‘fakeaway’ salted chilli chicken which I was really pleased with. I’ve been making lots of lasagnes and trying cooking salmon in different ways. I always have vegetables on my plate and try to eat them first and fill myself up so I don’t overindulge on carbs! I tend to eat quite intuitively and know what meals work for me at different times of the day. I need to eat something light before training for energy and a protein shake afterwards to replenish my muscles.
What have you been doing to stay calm and enjoy yourself while at home?
My workload has been quite heavy at work, so when I feel myself getting anxious, I try to go outside for a 5 or 10-minute walk to clear my head and remind myself it will be ok. There is always a solution to any problem you face. The more I manage my sleep and the better quality sleep I get, I’m not as anxious during the day as well. I’ve been doing some work with a colleague on prioritising tasks, setting goals every day. I love to tick things off and you feel so accomplished when you get to do that. I try to avoid doing things that aren’t important or urgent and focus on things that contribute to your goals. It’s a good way to give yourself a purpose in life, especially when everything outside is unpredictable at the minute.
Have you picked up any new skills or hobbies?
I’d like to think I’m becoming more of a green thumb now. My mum and I share tips and compare how our plants are doing with each other. I went to visit her last week and looked in the greenhouse – my plants are nothing compared to hers!
At the start of lockdown, I tried to do handstands. I managed to get to about 30 seconds and that was about the height of it!
Have you got any streaming or book recommendations?
I’m a terrible reader of books but I did read Joe Schmidt’s autobiography and I’ve started James Smith’s ‘Not a Diet Book’ as well. I’ve been listening to more podcasts when I go for my walks; I find them really easy to listen to. James Smith’s podcast and the ‘Chasing Excellence’ podcasts are excellent. I enjoy learning by listening rather than reading.
What has been the best advice you’ve received?
Lots of coaches drill this into you but they always say to bring your game day to training so that you’re training as hard as possible and preparing the best you can for game day. I have noticed that as I’ve progressed, the more intensity you bring to training, the better you perform at the weekend.
What has been your proudest moment in rugby?
One of my proudest moments with Queen’s was when we won the Junior Plate and Carrick Sevens in one year. It was the culmination of all the hard work we put in the 2-3 years previously. We went unbeaten in the league and it was so lovely to do that with that group of girls. In uni teams, they tend to play in three year cycles with students coming and going – I’m still involved and I hope to still play for a few more years – there are girls who don’t have that opportunity because they move on. It was a big moment for me.
At Ulster, last year in our Interpro game against Munster, I scored my first try right in the corner. I have loads of great photos from it because I was nearly on the touchline! That was one of my favourite moments.
What are your aspirations?
I would absolutely love to continue playing a committee role in rugby. At Queen’s they encourage students to be on the committee, but on the men’s team, they have a student committee and senior committee overseeing them. That’s something I would have given my left arm for when I was going through trying to figure things out on our committee. Because Queen’s has given me so much as a player, I’d love to give more back in the years to come.
I’ve tried coaching with the youth teams at Ballymoney and it was fantastic seeing them come along, but I think I might be more of a committee person!