Premiership: “Shib and Eilidh are our ‘why’ – we are just so proud we could win this trophy for them”

By Gary Heatly

As her Stirling County team mates erupted in joy as referee Mary Pringle blew the final whistle on Saturday to crown the club women’s Tennent’s Premiership champions for 2022/23, Megan Kennedy could be seen taking a moment to herself on the Bridgehaugh turf.

Lots of things were running through the 26-year-old’s mind with the most poignant being the memory of her former team mates Siobhan Cattigan and Eilidh McNab.

They passed away in 2021 and 2019 respectively and are sorely missed at Bridgehaugh with the women’s team wearing Siobhan’s nickname Shibby and Eilidh’s name proudly on the sleeves of their playing shirts.

There was a collection for charities connected with Siobhan and Eilidh during the day on Saturday as County defeated Corstorphine Cougars 27-8 to lift the silverware after a cracking match.

Many of the current Stirling squad played with – and were friends with – Siobhan and Eilidh during their County days while, during their senior rugby journeys, they both played for Stirling University too and Eilidh also turned out for Grangemouth.

Siobhan, of course, played for Scotland and to have done that alongside her County mates Megan and Rachel Shankland was a big thing for them all.

Indeed, when Siobhan passed away, Megan said:  “From a personal perspective, Shib and myself shared a lot of special memories. We started out our international rugby journey together, we got our first caps together, experienced our first Six Nations together and, in the beginning of that, all we had was each other.”

Fast forward to the present day and, after the final, Megan, who came on as a replacement, said:  “Shib would have loved being part of this game.

“Playing with her name and Eilidh’s name on our sleeves means so much to us all as a squad – they are our ‘why’ and we are just so proud we could win this trophy for them and the club.

“It is hard to put into words what this means for myself and the club, it is a bit surreal actually.

“I have been at this club since I was 14 and the senior team has never made it this far. I think it is testament to the growth of the women’s game and the club really backs that side of things.

“From Minis through to under-18s and the into the senior there are girls and women working hard for County every week.

“This year around 10 of last years under-18s have stepped up to senior level and they have just been brilliant, without them we wouldn’t have made it this far.

“In terms of the game, we really had to battle for the win because Cougars came at us and started the match really well [leading 8-0 at one point].

“Once we got our first try on the board we started to settle down a bit and to get another try and be 10-8 up at half-time was important.

“In the second half the backs managed to get into their rhythm and scored a few more tries and, as a squad, is was pleasing that we could problem solve and find our feet to make sure of the win.”

In October 2021 front-rower Megan had to retire from international duty because of medical reasons after winning 18 caps for her country.

That was a tough time for her and she was not sure if she would be involved in rugby again going forward.

“I took a year away from the sport when I retired and had absolutely no intentions of playing again,” she explained.

“Then I came back to County as forwards/set piece coach last summer working with [Mark Ainsworth and Kenny Craig] and as the weeks went on I was getting more involved in training drills.

“I thought ‘I never got closure last time’, so I wanted to give playing a go again and see what the body could handle.

“It has been great in recent times being back out on the pitch and nothing beats that buzz.”

In the final, 17-year-old winger Nicole Flynn scored two tries while Rachel Cox, Angharad Hopwood and Aicha Sutcliffe also crossed and Ceitidh Ainsworth kicked a conversion for County.

Cougars points came through a try by Lorna Young and a penalty by Kiyomi Honjigawa.

Highlights, via Scottish Rugby, can be found here while The Offside Line’s match report and reaction is here.

News update

Stewartry Sirens will be joining an expended eight team Premiership in 2023/24.

The Sarah Beaney Cup – and the National Shield and Plate – will start in February.

The Celtic Challenge, aimed at bridging the gap between club and pro games featuring Scottish, Welsh and Irish teams, is ongoing.

In week one, the Thistles were beaten 29-27 at Scotstoun by the WRU Development XV.

Sunday just gone saw the Irish Combined Provinces XV edging out the WRU Development XV 27-26.

It runs until February 25 with the Thistles in Belfast on February 4, Cardiff on February 11 and then at home at the DAM Health Stadium on the final day.

Keep an eye out for lots of Scottish women’s rugby content on this site over the next few months…

Thanks to Bryan Robertson for most of the photos featured here