Singapore rugby player Liyana Ong set for Irish adventure
When Liyana Ong first picked up touch rugby in her early 20s at Republic Polytechnic, little did she know that she would go on represent Singapore – albeit in the contact version of the sport.
So it comes as no surprise that weeks after receiving news that she will be joining the Cooke Women’s Rugby Club in the top tier of the All-Ireland League, the 29-year-old is still in disbelief.
Ong, who will travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland on Dec 1, is the first Singaporean to join a club in the women’s 15-a-side competition. Cooke are bottom of the nine-team league after seven matches.
The league, which kicked off in September, runs till April 2024.
Ong, a scrumhalf, said: "When the idea (of playing league rugby overseas) was first mentioned to me, I did not think it would be possible. And now that everything is in place, I am still very shocked that it is happening. I was shaking when I was told about the chance to play with Cooke."
"It is a huge honour for me to be able to go over there, play and learn as much as I can. I am sure that this stint is going to really improve me as a player."
Ong made her debut for Singapore in sevens rugby in August 2022 and competed in several tournaments, including the Asia Rugby Sevens Series from August to October and the Hangzhou Asian Games in September.
Her Irish stint came about after a conversation with Rodney McCune, the founder of the Singapore Irish Rugby Club (SIRC).
A fitness instructor, she is also a coach for SIRC's various youth sides. McCune first saw Ong in action in a women's league match here. Noting that she had stood out, he hired her as a coach for his club and described her as a "fantastic player and a coach".
The Irishman felt that sending one of his young coaches overseas for a playing stint would in turn benefit the SIRC’s youth teams, inspire local players and lift the standard of the national team.
He said: "When I asked Liyana why she hasn't gone overseas to play, she told me that it is rare for Singaporean rugby players, especially females to play overseas. I wanted to challenge that."
After speaking to his contacts back home, the move was arranged. As Ong will not be on a paid contract at Cooke, she is relying on crowdfunding and hopes to raise about $16,500 to cover expenses for accommodation, transport and meals.
McCune said that parents of the kids that Ong coaches have chipped in after witnessing her enthusiasm for the sport.
He added: "Liyana is like the local rugby version of Ronaldo to these kids she coaches because they learn from her and they also watch her matches on YouTube, when she plays for the national team. This is going to be a very positive experience for everyone involved and if this pilot works, we want to try and send more players in the future."
The 1.56m-tall Ong, who competes locally for Bedok Kings Skyllas, is also bracing for a "physical adventure" in Ireland. Outside of her playing commitments, she will coach kids at clubs across Belfast.
She said: “In Singapore, all our sizes are about the same. But at the Asian Games, I got to face opponents from Kazakhstan and China, and they were pretty huge. It is going to be even more physical in Ireland and I am looking forward to testing myself there.
“I hope to be able to come back and share my experience with players in the national team as well as with the kids that I am coaching. I want to inspire the younger girls in Singapore to pick up the sport in Singapore just like I once did and show them that it can bring them places.”
Those who wish to donate to Ong’s crowdfunding campaign can do so at the website.