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 Cooke and Ulster centre, and former Ulster U18 Player of the Year, Kelly McCormill.
Tell us a little about your rugby pathway to date.
I started playing rugby when I was about 15, five years ago. I started at Monaghan RFC who set up an U18 girls’ team. It was their first time setting up the team, so nobody really knew what they were doing but were all in it together! We had a couple of training sessions before we had our first match, so I was thrown into the deep end to begin with but I absolutely loved it. It was one of the best things I had ever tried in my life and I knew I was going to stick with the rugby. I had a fantastic coach in Davy McGregor; he got us up to a really high standard and he really pushed us in the first year.
I was lucky to get onto the Ulster U18s 15-a-side team, which was a big step up, especially in my first year playing rugby. I was only on the bench at the time but it was an incredible experience. I played for the U18s for four years, and in my second year playing rugby, I was selected for the Ulster U18 Sevens team. Sevens wouldn’t be my main rugby code but I gave it a go and I loved it. I played Sevens for three years alongside the 15-a-side team. I got to meet so many new people from all over Ulster and still have friends from those days now. I was so lucky, I got to play for the Ireland U18s Sevens team for two years and got to go to places like France and Edinburgh for tournaments. It’s been a hectic five years but it has been amazing!
Who have been the main influences on your rugby career?
My parents. They have driven me all over the country to training, trials, matches and they’re my biggest supporters. I don’t think they’ve ever missed a match and they would often stay to watch me train and give me lots of advice whether I wanted to hear it or not! They’ve been supportive through my whole life, when I played Gaelic and basketball too.
My coach, Davy McGregor is another big influence on me. I started playing rugby with him as my coach and he has been amazing; he threw me in at the deep end and whether or not I wanted to do it, I was going to do it for him. You might be a bit scared of him at times but I absolutely love him. Even to this day, he would ring my dad every couple of weeks to find out how I’m doing and he still comes to my matches. He makes gym equipment and during quarantine, he gave me a sled so I’ve been doing sled pushes up and down the garden. He’s always had my back and supported me these past five years.
The girls I’ve played with have also helped shape me as a player. Starting off at Monaghan, not many of us had a clue what we were doing, but we supported each other and got quite far. From that team, there are still a few girls playing now. Lucinda (Kinghan), one of my best friends is on the Irish Sevens team and she’s been a huge influence; the two of us backed each other up and got onto teams together. Then you have the likes of Ella Garland and Dolores Hughes who are playing with Ulster at the moment. There are lots of other girls who have had underage caps too. There are maybe eight of us from Monaghan, so from starting really late and not knowing much, we’ve come really far together.
I’m so glad I joined Cooke. The team has been supportive of me and the standard there is so high. There are women there with Irish caps and a huge amount of experience. They help me become a better player.
I’ve had loads of influences on my rugby career!
What barriers have you had to overcome to reach this point?
What have you been up to in the last couple of months?
I don’t like sitting around! At the start, I was out gardening every day because the weather was so nice. We have a big garden so I had lots to do, cutting trees, logs and tidying up. I cleared out a pond and put some koi fish into it because I love animals.
I took up cycling with my dad because we wanted to do some exercise and went out together. My sister and I go out walking with our three dogs; we have a Great Dane who is still a puppy and we’re walking her a lot!
Like everybody else in the country, I’ve turned into a pro baker! I also found a baby pigeon which I was rearing for a few weeks and have since got it to a volunteer so it’s out of my hands now.
I’ve been helping dad around the house, fixing things up. We had to re-do part of our roof so I was helping dad with that. In the past few weeks, I’ve been back at work at the outdoor centre every day, kayaking, canoeing and sailing.
I started up at Shane Glennon Conditioning, so I’m there twice a week trying to get ready for rugby again – hopefully it will be starting up again soon.
How do you stay motivated?
I always try to find something to do; I don’t like sitting around. At the start, a few girls in Monaghan would try to do some socially-distanced running together. I just make sure I have something to do all the time!
What have you been doing to stay fit – any tips you can share?
If you aren’t a highly-motivated person, it will be harder, but if you’ve got a few friends, text them – even just to go for a walk together. There’s nothing better than a walk in the countryside. There are so many fitness classes out there too; even online classes. Just put one of those on and try to keep to a schedule as it’s easier to stick to than winging it every day. Set a time every morning to get up and set your day out.
What about any healthy eating advice? What’s the best meal you’ve made at home?
Healthy eating hasn’t been my strongest points – we had a lot of barbecues during lockdown! I’ve been baking buns and traybakes a lot, so not the best but I’ve tried to cut that out. Cooke has sent out a nutrition plan for us which I’m trying to stick to.
I would cook things like lasagnes and I love a good stir-fry. I’m not very good at it but I like the easier things to make. I haven’t poisoned everyone yet and the family has enjoyed it!
With so much training, it’s good to get your protein and eat good meals. Having plenty of carbohydrates before matches like pasta is really important. If you don’t eat right, you won’t have the energy you need for the amount of activity you do, especially at Ulster playing at a high level.
What have you been doing to stay calm and enjoy yourself while at home?
It can be quite stressful in lockdown. I have been doing some yoga classes which calm me down a lot. Going for a walk every evening helped me too, because I had that in my plan and looked forward to it. My sister and I went together and we got quite close during this time chatting on our walks. Walking really clears your mind. I am keen on water sports or even going for a paddle. Alone time is important as well if you’re living with family or lots of people. I love gardening as well, so I made sure to go out every day. You’re with yourself and doing your own thing. It definitely kept me in good mental health.
Have you picked up any new skills or hobbies?
Baking would be the main skill I’ve picked up. We bought a KitchenAid mixer for my mum’s birthday, so we’ve been using that non-stop. I’ve been cycling with my dad as well; it’s given us something to do together with some father-daughter bonding. I’ve taken up surfing recently – now I’m not very good at it – but my sister, her boyfriend and I have been out a few times and it’s so much fun. I’m going to stick at the surfing and give it a good go.
What has been the best rugby advice you’ve received?
The best advice I was given was from my coach, Davy McGregor. He would always to say, “Get in and batter all around you!”. One of my favourite aspects of rugby would be tackling, and that comes from him. He threw me in and so I had to hit hard. My parents would always say as well to get stuck in, because if you don’t, you could end up hurt, so I always go in as hard as I can.
What has been your proudest moment in rugby?
What are your rugby aspirations?