Contributed by Clíodhna O’Reardon
The Hills Women’s Section boasts a wealth of talent, a range of experience and an abundance of commitment and passion for the game. With teams in both the Cricket Leinster Division 1 and Division 2, the club provides plenty of opportunity for both high-level performance and development, as is evident from the experiences of a number of senior players.
Cricket is a family affair in The Hills Cricket Club, and that is no exception in the Women’s Section. As the proud home club of two Irish Women Senior Internationals, Jane and Aimee Maguire, it is easy to see why. Jane, the elder of the two, got into the game through her dad, Mark and her older sisters and it would be this example that Aimee would later follow, or rather, fall into; her first experience of playing, she explains, was a match when she was “suddenly thrown into the field when my sisters’ team were short players.” Both cite community, family and an overall love of sport as factors that contribute to their enjoyment of the game. Jane in particular captures the essence of the club; “I know that every time I go to the club there will be a familiar face.”
Now representing their club on the international stage, they not act not only as representatives of Fingal cricket, but also as role models to their younger peers. Jane cites the famous victory over South Africa in Sydney Parade in 2022 as her favourite experience in an Irish shirt, made all the more special by the presence of her family, friends and Hills teammates, cheering her on from the sidelines.
The Maguires are not the only one’s aiming high. Rebecca Gough and Lara McBride, up and coming youngsters in the team, also speak to their ambitions. Both got into the game through local summer camps, and both experienced representative cricket this year, with Rebecca appearing for Ireland in the U19 Women’s World Cup in South Africa in January, and Lara playing for both Leinster and Ireland U17s in Belfast and Scotland respectively this summer. Not only that, they both play for the Typhoons in the Super Series, often against their clubmates and friends Jane and Aimee Maguire, who represent the Scorchers. Lara hopes to play at the highest level she can but, “most importantly, with a smile on her face”. Rebeccca has similar hopes, and is going the distance to try and make it possible. Quite literally, she is spending the winter months in Sydney this year, playing for Bankstown Cricket Club. She hopes that while there she will further develop her game and “learn in a different environment, in different conditions.”
Someone who knows this all too well is Women’s 1st XI stalwart, Aisling Byrne. Aisling started playing when she was 4, like Aimee, because her Dad and older sister did. In September 2022, she went on a working holiday visa to Sydney, playing for Penrith Cricket Club, alongside former Hills overseas player, Alana Ryan. For Aisling “It was an amazing experience and opportunity and she really enjoyed playing with and against some of the best.” Following in her footsteps, and joining Rebecca in Sydney this winter, Jane is keeping the Penrith/Hills connection alive, joining Penrith this season as well. Aisling too acknowledges the community and friendship in the club; “Getting to go up to the cricket club on a Thursday night or at the weekend, you always know you’ll see a friendly face and have lovely company.”
The Penrith/Bankstown fixture will be one to watch as the season kicks off Down Under, not just for the presence of two Hills players on the opposing teams, but also the appearance of an adopted daughter of the club, Tahlia Dunne. A Sydney native who took up cricket in school, she sought the same experience of both Rebecca and Jane, wanting to play in “different environment and gaining the expertise of others to improve her game.” For Tahila, the club was welcoming, and the challenge of playing with and against International players in Division 1, an intriguing prospect that didn’t disappoint.
Tahlia is not the only overseas player to have made the journey to Skerries for the 2023 season. Mary-Anne Musonda, captain of the Zimbabwean Women’s team, had a stellar season for the club. She knows all about the benefits that playing in new environments and conditions can have for one’s game, coming fresh off the back of the FairBreak tournament, a “global cricket initiative and tournament that brings together women who play cricket in Associate countries as well as Full Member ICC nations. Originally a hockey player, she took up the game when she was 14. Not content with just a trip to Hong Kong for FairBreak this year, Mary-Anne was seeking to “experience different conditions to those back at home, and this pushed her to search for a club overseas.” The stars aligned when she came across a poster advertising an opportunity at The Hills, and the rest was history. For Mary-Anne, the small nature of the Women’s section allowed her to take on more responsibility and to share her knowledge and experience of the game. Skerries, she says, was a great place to live, and the people in the club were “always keen to assist and easy to work with.”
While a small section, it is evident through the experiences of its players that for what they lack in size, they make up for in passion. All of the senior players expressed a desire to strive to be better, so that they can fulfil their potential in the sport and represent their club and families with pride. Demonstrated by the continued connections with Australia that now work in both directions, The Hills Cricket Club’s women section is one where friendship and community facilitate a welcoming and supportive environment, bursting with role models for the younger girls who one day will step in to fill their shoes.