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26th Feb 2020

Matches and makeup: the 19 year old Ulster pro rugby player juggling sports with the salon

Jade Hayden

“Rugby is a mental and physical job.”

Emma Kearney plays for the Ulster Senior Ladies rugby team – but she makes her money working as a beautician.

At just 19 years old, the Co Armagh native is already juggling two jobs; both that she’s incredibly invested in, but only one that pays the bills.

“On Thursdays, I work from 10am to 6pm in the evening, and then I head straight to Belfast to go training,” she tells Her.

“I’d be going from home to Belfast on Saturdays as well because that’s the day that there’s the most demand for makeup. My matches are on then too so I’d be playing and then straight back to work after that.”

Emma’s skills as a sportswomen – as well as her talents as a beautician – are currently being explored through TG4’s latest docu-series, Trasna na Líne. 

The two part series, which kicked off last week, follows the day to day lives of up and coming rugby players from Ulster, Connaught, and Scotland, documenting the sacrifices they make for their sport and the challenges they face along the way.

Emma Kearney 

Emma started playing rugby when she was in third year of secondary school. At the age of 14, she was late enough coming into the game, developing her interest from a few PE sessions with one of the Armagh coaches.

“I had never actually watched rugby or had any interest in it growing up,” she says.

“But after one of the coaches came in to us, I really started to enjoy playing. Then it just sort of went from there.”

A short five years later and Emma is already well on her way to being at the top of her game.

A current member of the Ulster Ladies squad for 2019/2020, she hopes to continue playing for the team for at least the next few years – all the while continuing to work full time at the salon too.

“Not a lot of people think about this, but you do become mentally exhausted, as well as physically” she says.

“Rugby is a mental and physical job. It’s a big competition, but once you get selected it’s almost a breeze.”

For a lot of athletes who dedicate themselves to their sport, getting selected is often just half the battle.

There’s injuries, anxieties, and the heartaches of defeat. But for the women playing rugby professionally, there’s also the issues of recognition, pay, and amenities.

“You can see differences [between women] compared to men who play the sport,” says Emma.

“There’s a big comparison between basic things, even like food and nutrition after matches. Even just having access to your own gym.

“The Ulster men’s team would train in Kingspan Stadium, but the women train in the basic rugby club. But hopefully at some point, we will get the same opportunities.”

Despite her obviously demanding schedule, and the inequalities still in existence between the male and female teams, Emma has always been grateful for the opportunity to keep doing what she loves.

“A lot of people wouldn’t get the room to work on both things they’re passionate about, but I do get to take the time to do that,” she says.

“It has made me more appreciative of the work that I do, both as a player and as a beautician.”

Trasna na Líne’s second and final episode airs on Thursday, February 27, at 9.30pm on TG4. 

You can check out a clip of Emma here: 

20×20 is an ambitious two-year long initiative to better promote and champion women in sport.

With the tagline of “if she can’t see it, she can’t be it,” the 20×20 movement is calling on everyone to #showyourstripes this March by making one of the following pledges:

• Pledge to PARTICIPATE or play more
• Pledge to ATTEND more women’s sporting events
• Pledge to PROMOTE, discuss, share, like and follow more female athlete

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