Ellis Doyle's journey to the Black Ferns XV
Eilis Doyle marched home from primary school one day and announced to her mum that she was going to play rugby.
Fast forward almost two decades and a wild journey in the sport, Doyle is set to don the number one jersey tomorrow for the Black Ferns XV.
Doyle admits it’s a far cry from 2021 when she suffered an ACL injury that left her questioning if rugby was going to be in her future.
“Some days were good and other days it was so hard I questioned if I wanted to return to rugby but weirdly, I wouldn’t change it.
“Having what you love and what you are passionate about being taken away from you for a period of time made me way more grateful to be here on the other side, and I experienced a lot of personal growth through that recovery journey.”
Returning to the field this year, Doyle describes 2023 as the most chaotic rugby year of her life.
She was called into Matatū and loved her first experience at Super Rugby level.
“I never expected to be called in so when I was invited, I loved it so much. I finished up and went home to see family and got asked if I wanted to join the Western Force. They asked me on the Monday, and I was on a flight to Perth the next day.”
Doyle returned to Dunedin after the SuperW and helped lead her club team, Alhambra-Union, to their first women’s title in 11 years. It was a special moment for Doyle, who started her club rugby journey as a 14-year-old.
“There were no rules around age limits back then. It was so scary! I went with some friends so I had a few people my own age with me, but I remember playing the likes of Vic (Subritzky-Nafatali) and being so scared.
“A couple of times Kelly (Brazier) came back to play, and I remember being so star struck having her in our team.”
Doyle sits on 97 club matches and is excited to bring up the ton next season. Black Ferns XV assistant coach Peter Breen is an Alhambra Union centurion, which Doyle says is a nice connection.
Breen is alongside Whitney Hansen and Linda Itunu in the coaching team this week.
“For a start its pretty unreal to acknowledge having two phenomenal women in coaching roles in this team. Bindy (Itunu) is super experienced in wearing the black jersey so I feel she can really empathise with how we’re feeling and is such a great coach.
“Whit is so good; she has a way of making you feel unstoppable. We have been up pretty late doing scrum set ups, its pretty special having a coach that is willing to stay up with you helping with your work ons.”
Its not the first time Doyle has been in a national team environment, the prop was part of the 2019 Black Ferns Development team that played in Fiji. She admits that experience provided a lot of lessons as a young player.
“I struggled a bit with the mental side the last time round and was really overwhelmed. I questioned myself a lot but this time, I have never felt so calm in an environment. I am honestly loving every part of it and really embracing the opportunity.
Doyle’s chaotic rugby year is culminating in the Black Ferns XV campaign this week and leaves her feeling motivated going into 2024.
“With how I feel in this particular setting this week it 100% makes me want to make rugby my thing. I never thought growing up that being a professional rugby player was a realistic goal, I never thought Super Rugby would even be a thing for women.
“If young Eilis could see me now, she wouldn’t believe it.”