Union Cup: Emerald Warriors forward shares his inclusive rugby story
When Eamon McConomy runs out with the Emerald Warriors at Europe's biggest inclusive rugby tournament this weekend, it will stir memories of a special moment shared with his father over a decade ago
Last Updated: 05/06/19 11:50am
This weekend in Dublin, the Emerald Warriors will host the eighth edition of the Union Cup - Europe's biggest inclusive rugby tournament.
The biennial event has grown from seven sides competing in 2005 to an expected 45 teams for 2019, divided up into a three-tiered men's competition and a women's cup.
Heading across the Irish Sea are players from 17 inclusive clubs across England, Scotland and Wales, while the Warriors are entering three different men's XVs.
Turning out for their seconds will be Eamon McConomy, who originally signed up as a novice to the sport back in 2007. The following year, he was representing the Warriors in the Bingham Cup - the 'World Cup of gay rugby' - in the Irish capital.
It would prove to be a tournament of great personal significance. Here, Eamon explains why running out for the team this weekend will bring him "full circle"...
I'll be playing lock or back row for the Warriors 2nd XV, at what will be my sixth Union Cup. I captained the team for three years but this time round, I'm just playing. Our team will be mostly made up of the older guys - there's probably about eight that have come back from abroad specifically for it, including some from Canada. There's a real camaraderie among us; a sense of brotherhood. I can't wait to reconnect with them. It's going to be a lot of fun.
I moved to Dublin from County Derry around 20 years ago. It's common for young people in Ireland to move away for jobs - I'm an accountant - or just to see more of the world. In the gay community as well, a bigger city is more of a pull. But for me, it was just for work.
I only came out after leaving home. I met Steve, who's now my husband. He's from Dublin himself and had been playing with the Warriors for a few months. He suggested I try out too as they really needed a kicker. That was in 2007; the club had only been going a few years at the time. We were training under spotlights that were put up by the players in the corner of a field! But it's been very progressive and we're on the crest of a wave at the moment.
At school, I'd played soccer, Gaelic football and hurling... and then a bit of tag rugby when I got older. I'd never actually played full rugby before I got involved with the Warriors, though. I soon found it really enjoyable. It's such a different skill set in every position that you play in - that's something that you learn quite rapidly. And it takes a diverse cross-section of society to play it - guys who are tall, short, fast, or not so fast! It's more like chess. You have to be tactically aware of where you're trying to move the opposition around, in order to create gaps. Now as I get older, I realise the mistakes I used to make just by having a rush of blood to the head!
I've never really faced any barriers through being gay. I know a lot of people will have, but I'm fortunate in that I've had quite a smooth journey in that regard. It was never really a factor at home - I have two younger sisters, and we're all very close.
We hosted the Bingham Cup tournament in 2008. My father, Martin, travelled down for it, which was so special for me. It was his first time watching us play rugby, and there were lots of parents and other family members and friends there too. Dad was so positive about it and got really caught up with the whole environment. He could see the effort that everyone was putting in; that sense of cohesion and pulling together in the same direction.
I can't speak more highly about the Warriors and inclusive rugby. The team is where I've made a lot of my good friends. Steve would have liked to be playing himself this weekend, but he tore the tendon of his bicep at the Bingham Cup in Amsterdam last summer, so he's coaching the third team instead. For us, it's like a second family - and now, being one of the older ones, you get to pass on some of your experience to the new guys coming through.
In 2009, only a year after dad had come to Dublin to watch us play, he passed away very suddenly. He had boats up in Donegal - it was one of his favourite places - and I got a call from my sister on a Saturday morning to say that he'd had a brain aneurysm. He was only 58. I'd just spoken to him on the Friday night as I was due to play a match that Saturday. It was so unfortunate, one of those awful speed bumps that life just sort of throws at you. He was one of those people that anything he could do to add to your life, he always would, and would back you 100 per cent. It's something that I took for granted - it's just how I expected parents to be, that they're always there for you.
We had the referendum on same-sex marriage in Ireland back in 2015. The vote itself was on the exact same weekend of the Union Cup tournament that year, which was being held in Brussels. A lot of our team travelled back home from far and wide so they could vote, in order to have the referendum go through - and thankfully it did with flying colours. The year after that, Steve and I got married with all our friends from the Warriors at the wedding.
I'm from a very Catholic background but that wasn't a big thing for me. You were taken for what you were, where I'm from. Love is love, and a parent's love for their child is more than anybody can say... I'd love to have that opportunity myself to be a parent one day. I've been very fortunate to have had two very influential people in my life to have always taught me right from wrong, and to show me what love is. It's going to take a little bit of time to shrug off the old archaic ways and get to how the world should be. But Ireland feels very progressive now.
If you've never played rugby before, an inclusive club like the Warriors is an ideal environment in which to learn. Just turn up and say hello - it's one of the friendliest places you'll ever find, because there are no barriers. Everybody takes you for who you are. For some it's a social thing, for others it's about fitness, or to be competitive. Friends from my work who are straight come to watch and support. It's all round how society should be. Joining was the best decision I ever made, and I've got friends for life out of it too.
To have shared the experience of 2008 with my dad, and now to revisit that 11 years later at the same club... it feels like it's coming full circle. And I'm not going to have a lot more years of playing rugby myself, if truth be told! The body doesn't do what you want it to do as you get older. I think Dad was proud to see that we were all happy - that's the key attribute of it, just knowing all of his kids had found that. I'm sure he got a lot out of it in that respect.
The 2019 Union Cup tournament begins in Dublin on Friday and runs until Sunday. For more information and to buy tickets, head to unioncupdublin.ie