Edel McMahon Interview: Our role is to offer a voice for our players

Edel McMahon moved to Sandy Park last summer
©Exeter Rugby Club/JMP Sport

Last time out, Exeter Chiefs Women recorded their ninth win in the Allianz Premier 15s as they comfortably beat DMP Sharks 61-0 in front of a crowd just shy of 3,000 at Sandy Park.

And since she arrived in Devon last summer, putting in performances for swathes of spectators isn't a first for Edel McMahon.

“I’m loving it," she tells TRU. "Everyone is so friendly and I love the community vibe that’s here. The first cup game I played in, there were over 4,000 people at Sandy Park. There were people queuing before we’d even arrived!

"They’re a vocal crowd which I don’t think I’ve experienced before in a club setting. The club has been very supportive and all the girls are brilliant. Some are local, some are from universities and there’s a nice mix of different internationals which are all bringing their own experience and personalities to training which has been really enjoyable."

Exeter sit second in the AP15s table, losing just one of their 10 games in the league this season. McMahon is confident they can maintain their place in the top four, with their next assignment coming against the University of Worcester Warriors Women on Saturday afternoon.

“We’re definitely an ambitious club,” she adds, as Exeter look to build on last year's play-off appearance. "We’ve kind of been laying the path for how investment has proved to be very successful for the team and what they’ve done in the last three years is fantastic. I wanted to be part of that.

"I certainly don’t think we shouldn’t be looking at a top-four finish at the end of the season. I think that’s achievable considering how well we’ve been playing so far. There’s definitely things we can do better but that’s more humbling to think we’ve not produced our best performances yet and even at that, we’ve been playing some really good rugby.

"The competition is unreal. It’s class to think that players are chomping at your heels every week, no spot is secured."

Away from helping the Chiefs achieve their goals on the pitch, McMahon was recently elected as Exeter's representative on the inaugural Women's Rugby Association Players' Board.

“It’s the first of its kind and it’s going to be something new for us to interact with," McMahon says, with all 10 Premier 15s teams having a voice on the board.

"Players are the massive stakeholder in the game. They want to make sure we’re guiding and supporting those key decisions that are being made to bring the game to where it needs to go.

"It also offers players legal advice when it comes to contracts. Our role at each of the clubs is to offer a voice for our players and to bring that to an elite level.

"It gives players a voice on how they’d like the league to be run. The players are the main people that are there and sometimes they don’t get a say. The WRA is making sure that clubs have a direct collective voice."

The creation of the Players' Board is a huge milestone for the WRA as well as for women's domestic rugby across the world and over the last 12 months, McMahon has also seen her national side - Ireland - take steps in a positive direction.

Last year, the IRFU announced 43 centralised paid contracts were going to be introduced for elite women’s players. The contracts have been benchmarked internationally and will range up to €30,000 + match fees and bonuses.

Despite Ireland missing out on qualification for the 2021 Rugby World Cup, McMahon talks about the importance of contracts and growing the game in Ireland: “The contracts have been coming for a long time especially since every other nation has been rolling out professional contracts.

"It was only a matter of time that Ireland were going to be next. I think it’s invaluable for players to get the support to be training full time.

"I think there’s definitely a long way to go with those contracts and how it will help develop the grassroots and pathway that Ireland can produce. There’s some amazing players playing underage rugby, playing provisional and playing IRL that haven’t got that exposure yet to what elite status means so I hope in the next couple of years, the contracts are filtered down."

Last year, Ireland also finished fourth in the TikTok Women's Six Nations and with 2023's championships set to get underway next month - with Greg McWilliams' men opening their campaign against Wales - McMahon feels they are in a much better place than 12 months ago.

"It was obviously gutting to not make the World Cup but I think by the time the competition came around, I was personally ready to move on and look ahead to the next World Cup," says McMahon, who was also part of Ireland's historic two-match series against Japan last summer.

"I certainly watched as many games as I could during that World Cup as I thought the games were a brilliant spectacle for what women’s rugby can be. The semi-finals and final were excellent.

"For me personally, I’m not sure I could speak for everyone but it didn’t hurt us too much in that it was seen as a failure and we didn’t get there.

"We were lucky enough to go to Japan which was a brilliant tour. We were there for three weeks which was class. To be in another country and experience a different culture, as well as playing two Test games against a team that were competing in a World Cup, was a test for us to see where we were at and building towards.

"This year, the Six Nations is quite important for us. It’s going to be a decider for the women’s 15s calendar [the WXV global competition] which will maybe start in September. That will set the tone for where we want to be competing with everyone else in the world and we’re looking forward to it - it’s going to be an important year for us."

On a personal note, McMahon, who has 21 Ireland caps, is relishing the challenges which lie in wait: “I love playing France! You never know what you’re going to expect when you play a French side. They play quite an exciting brand of rugby so you never quite know how you’re going to perform against them.

"I guess you always relish teams like France and England too as I play with some of the Exeter girls week in, week out. It’s nice to see some familiar faces when you play against them on the rugby field. They’re always the games you want to win but every game is special, to be honest. I finally completed my first full Six Nations campaign last season but I think I’ve learned to appreciate every game that I get an opportunity to play in the green jersey for."