The IRFU has confirmed the appointment of Gillian McDarby as Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways.

She will be responsible for the development, delivery, and implementation of the approved strategic and operational direction of the women’s rugby performance programme for both XVs and Sevens.

She will also take on the development of a cohesive player pathway that connects and feeds the needs of both national programmes.

She will work with the Domestic Rugby department to grow the playing base of young women and girls, thereby facilitating the consistent performance of Irish teams at an elite level into the future.

McDarby has worked within the IRFU since 2014 when she came on as the Women’s Rugby National Teams Programme Manager.

She was a member of Cycling Ireland’s elite squad from 2002 to 2007, after which she served as the National Team Manager and on the Board of Cycling Ireland.

She became a Business intelligence Analyst in the Performance department of the IRFU in 2019 and one year later took over the Facilities and Operations Manager role as the IRFU moved its High Performance Centre to the Sport Ireland Campus.

“It is a great privilege to be appointed as the IRFU’s first Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways,” she said.

“I have worked across several important areas in the game and believe there is a huge growth opportunity for the women’s game in Ireland and I am looking forward to working with all stakeholders to bring the women’s game to the next level.”

“It is also pleasing that my appointment coincides with the formal announcement of contracts for up to 43 female players. This is a major step forward for women’s rugby in Ireland.”

“Success in the women’s game will be based on sustainability: creating sustainable pathways within the competition structures, getting meaningful competition structures in place for both women and girls to access the game of rugby at the right entry points and continuing to develop competitive international teams in fifteens and sevens. That, to me, is success.”

“This is an exciting time for the game and while much work has been done, there is always more to do. There are no overnight successes in sport, but I know that by working collectively with clubs, players, coaches, staff, and volunteers we can build an ever-evolving environment where young women and girls are supported to be the best they can be.”

“I would like to congratulate Gillian on her appointment and thank the interview panel of Nancy Chillingworth, High Performance Manager with the Olympic Federation of Ireland, Gary Keegan CEO of Uppercut, the high-performance advisory consultancy firm that works with organisations and leaders across sport, both of whom are independent members of the IRFU’s National Professional Game Board (NPGB) and David Nucifora, the IRFU High Performance Director,” added IRFU CEO Kevin Potts.

“The high-performance expertise and independence brought to this appointment was very important to the NPGB.”

“We wish Gillian well in this vitally important role and will ensure that she has the full support of the NPGB and the IRFU to successfully bring women’s rugby in Ireland to the next level.”

“Today’s announcement of the creation of up to 43 IRFU contracts for Women’s Players is a further strong signal of our intent to foster and grow the women’s game over the coming years and to ensure that our women’s players are provided with the best opportunities to compete at the highest levels of the game in the future.”

The IRFU will discuss the details of the contracts with players before making further public pronouncements on these exciting developments.

The contracts have been benchmarked internationally and will range up to €30,000 as well as match fees and bonuses.