Written By: Andrea Burk
When Jack Hanratty, Keltics’ provincial coach, is asked: “what’s going on over there?” in response to the fact that heads are turning over the large numbers of young women playing rugby in the small province of Nova Scotia – but also to the competitiveness of their programs – he replies: “we are having a great time! And we are proud of the programs we offer our young female players.”
Indeed the Keltics are turning heads as they are starting to contend with long-standing rugby powerhouse provinces like Quebec, Ontario, Alberta & British Columbia (in no particular order). As a result, 2017 was a year of big wins and coveted hardware through the age-grade to senior levels for the lobster-loving province.
- u16s had a big, first ever win against Quebec
- u18 development team brought home bronze at the Eastern Canadian Championships
- u18s won gold at Easterns and silver at Nationals
- u20s beat Quebec and Ontario and won gold in Eastern Canadian Championships
- Senior provincial team came within a kick of beating the Alberta Wolfpack and held on the line for much of the game against BC
Hanratty recalls the Senior Nationals as being one of his top proud moments as a coach, where the grit and character the team showed on the field was a true testament to how far the program has come and the potential it holds for the future.
The Nova Scotia Keltics are now fielding women’s provincial 15s teams at the u16, u18 (2 teams), u20, u23 and Senior levels, as well as a bi-weekly u18 competition from September to November. A modest Hanratty credits the growing success of the women’s programs to strong relatable coaches, the Keltic community and culture, and access to rugby and physical conditioning programs and facilities.
THE RELATABLE PLAYER-COACH, KELTIC CULTURE & GIVING BACK TO THE GAME
The Keltics young coaching team exudes enthusiasm, energy, and a willingness to learn which is inherently inspiring to the younger players. “I don’t have to convince teenage girls to pick up a rugby ball, because of this culture that has been set by the senior girls,” says Hanratty.
Rugby, in itself, is a place where people are encouraged to be as big, as strong and as powerful as they can possibly be without apology. And what’s better than to share that with a community of like-minded people of all ages and development levels. Hanratty figures Nova Scotia has the strongest standard of coaches in the women’s programs because of their willingness to learn, the effort they put into the role, and the accessibility the athletes have to coaches through practices, games, and conditioning sessions at the provincial sport facilities.
The four women’s coaches that Jack is raving about are Amber Davision (HV U20), Mary Giles (HC U18), Janice Cougle (HC U18 Dev) and Emma Delory (HC U16).
Every coach in the five provincial teams, with the exception of Hanratty, plays senior women’s rugby, and 32 is the age of the oldest coach. This means the developing players get to play beside – and directly learn – from their senior players. It’s an incredibly natural way of learning and personal development. Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of mutual respect that is built between player and a coach when the coach walks their talk, and is able to do everything they profess at practice.
No longer is coaching a ‘do as I say,’ but they are pushing themselves to the limit in games just like they ask of their players. “This on-field access to coaches allows the younger players to understand the work it takes, in fitness and skill, to get to the next higher levels [in the pathway],” explains Hanratty.
THE NEXT LEVEL: KELTICS TO CANADA
It’s important to note that at the development level, not every player strives to get to the next level. This is something that the Keltics have recognized. But at the same time, all Keltics still play for their teammates, and, in some cases, their teammates who want to make it to the next level and to ultimately play for Canada. In those instances, the agreement in the Keltics culture is that it is every player’s duty to help their teammate succeed in their goal. This means that Keltics smile at training, strive for high performance, and ensure that other provinces know that a game against the Keltics will never be an easy game.
While Nova Scotia only has a few homegrown National Senior Women’s Team players, the province has been a hotbed for players coming through the varsity programs. This includes homegrown players such as Emma Taylor (St FX alum) and Dawn Dauphinee (nee MacDonald), who also returned to Saint Mary’s University as the head coach in the mid 2000s.
Players who have come through St. Francis Xavier University (X), Acadia University (ACA), and Saint Mary’s University (SMU) include the likes of: Ghislane Landry (X), Magali Harvey (X), Amanda Thornborough (X), Olivia DeMarchant (X), Tyson Beukeboom (X), Emma Taylor (X), Sara Kaljuvee (X), Jill Payne (X), Jessica Dovane (SMU), Genevieve Gay (SMU), and Andrea Burk (ACA). Additionally, Sabrina McDade (X) & Burk have been capped for Canada in Rugby League. Most notably, as a special treat, one of the most decorated national players of all time (male or female), Gillian Florence, has recently taken up residence in Halifax, and returned to the field as a Keltic for the 2017 National Women’s Championships.
THE KELTIC SHIFT: REVIVE & COHESION
When Hanratty took first joined Nova Scotia Rugby nearly five years ago, the men’s and women’s programs were playing for two completely different cultures. The women’s teams were called Scotia and the men’s teams were called Keltics. What they realized is that teams in other provincial sports were also called Scotia, but not everyone was a Keltic. This offered a unique opportunity to create something special for players who earned the right to be a provincially-recognized Keltic. They sharpened up the Keltic brand with kit, skill and conditioning programs, and a whole new attitude about what it meant to earn the right to be called a Keltic. Not everyone was happy with the changes at the time, but four years on, the Keltics have realized their vision.
Hanratty explains. “I noticed the shift at Easterns in Prince Edward Island 4 years ago. We had won gold in every category we were competing in, and there was one more game to play. Usually by this time everyone is tired and heads home after their game, but in this instance our age-grade u18 girls were playing for gold in the final. Everyone stuck around and flooded the sidelines with Keltics colours and cheered on their team.”
THE KELTICS OF THE FUTURE
What’s next for the Keltics? Hanratty is driven to have the teams be competitive at every level and be an associated team with the Canadian National Teams. This means that when the rugby community receives selections from Rugby Canada, the home team ‘Keltics’ will be a common occurrence throughout the team sheet. Their saying in Nova Scotia is “Keltics blue to Canada red” to keep them moving forward in pursuit of their goals.
With ever more attention and equality being brought to women in rugby, it seems as though programs like the Keltics are building at the right time. Thank you to Jack and his coaches, as well as to all the coaches and volunteers who are contributing to this growth.