To watch Leah Lyons go into battle for Ireland on the rugby pitch, it’s no surprise that she grew up with the game.
The 24-year-old front-rower has risen through the ranks of club, provincial and international competition to become one of the strongest assets in Irish rugby.
Plying her trade on a weekly basis with Harlequins in the Tyrrells Premier 15s since the turn of the season has further enhanced her skillset in the sport she’s embraced since childhood.
When asked to pinpoint the moment that made her, Lyons’ grassroots come to the fore.
Born and bred in Ballyhooley, just outside Fermoy in north Co Cork, the Lyons family are steeped in rugby tradition and her happiest memories centre around the Munster women’s set-up.
“When I was younger – 11 or 12, maybe – we would’ve been massively involved with the Munster team,” Lyons told RTÉ Sport.
“At the time, Fiona Steed would’ve been coaching them and when they’d be at the club in Fermoy training, my parents would’ve helped out with opening up the clubhouse and the dressing rooms.
“I’d always be there with them, getting the tackle bags if needed, or getting the bag of balls. We’d all be making soup and sandwiches, and helping doing whatever we could.
“They would’ve had a few inter-pros with Munster in Fermoy and we’d help out there, too.”
There was no shortage of role models around for young girls with rugby playing aspirations.
“You had such names as Amanda Greensmith, Marie Barrett, Joy Neville, Kate O’Loughlin and you had Niamh Briggs, I’m pretty sure she was in for her first couple of caps.
“There was so many there. We’d be ball girls for them, and at the time that was pretty new and pretty cool for us.”
Beyond the local club, the Lyons family took their loyalty on the road, supporting the team on their travels to the likes of the Sports Ground and Musgrave Park.
She even holds claim to being the first ever team mascot for the Munster women’s side. “That was a pretty special moment. I remember being absolutely terrified – but it was incredible – I was like, ‘this is what I want to do when I grow up’.”
The family’s special efforts did not go unnoticed – and it was receiving a special gift from the team that had a significant and lasting influence on Lyons.
“One year, they gave us a Munster jersey signed by the girls – to say “thank you”. That jersey, at this moment in time, still hangs in my bedroom,” added Lyons.
“It has stayed there since the day we got it – it’s something that’s the centrepiece to my room; it’s something that I can look at every day and see what those girls have done for us in the Munster jersey.
“I’ve since surrounded it with my own achievements in rugby – it puts it into perspective, I think. They’ve grown so much, and we’ve grown around it.”
As she made her own progression through the Munster ranks – at first playing for the Under-18s and Under-19s, before making her senior debut for the province in 2013, the feeling remained the same.
“Those moments can never be taken away from someone. It’s been an absolute honour to have worked with these ladies, I’m still very close to a lot of these older girls, and I look for their knowledge still at this time.
“They’ve always something to give back, whether it’s positive or negative but I think that’s the great side of this sport; it’s a one big rugby family and I think that the only way you can learn is to learn off each other. It’s been incredible so far.”