The Dublin Roller Girls

January 12, 2012

A girl with Bosco red hair fly’s around the hall at high-speed on roller-skates, lapping her opponent and cheekily tapping her on the ass with her baton. The winning team cheer loudly only to be drowned out by the loosing side’s groans and moans as they trudge of to the side of the hall to do wall squats, placing their backs flat against the brick and pushing their knees out, their bodies consumed with a burning pain and uncontrollable shakiness. The main hall of the Poppintree Sports Centre, which traditionally plays host to ladies indoor soccer and volleyball teams, is a wash with purple leopard print, tattoos, piercings and fierce eyeliner as the Dublin Roller Derby Girl’s hold their “Fresh Meat”, a quarterly open day in which the established rollers put the newbie’s through their paces in the countries most exiting, fastest growing all female sport.


An incredibly visual game, linked to the punk rock and Goth scenes, many of the girls claim to be the ones who were last picked for sport at school and bring this rebellious streak out onto the track. Stripy socks, fishnets and short, short skirts are de jour, lending an exhibitionist feel to proceedings and the girls create an alter ego to help release aggression they might not feel so comfortable expressing as themselves. “The name is whatever feels right for you” Christine O Connor (31) AKA Kitty Cadaver, a children’s book buyer tells me. “Some people take their derby on as an alter ego and channel their new persona, to help them push on through and meet a challenge they might not have felt up to as themselves.”


Imported from the States, roller derby is a high-speed, full contact team sport for women played on an elliptical (oval) track. With two teams of five, the jammer at the back has to lap the player in front, known as the pivot, by getting through the opposing teams three blockers who use their shoulders, hips and booty to prevent you getting through. There are legal and illegal hits and there can be a surprising level of violence between teams including vicious nudging, pulling and slamming into one another.


Safety is foremost but accidents do happen and injuries the Dublin Roller Girls have incurred so far include a strained groin, ruptured shoulders and badly torn ankle ligaments. “ One of the girls who visited us from the States had two pins in her color bone, a broken ankle and has since torn something else” says Ruth “Feline Rowdy “ Hirsch, a 27 year old retail manager from Dublin.  “But you learn the safe way to fall, you wear protection and for most Rollergirls their injuries are like a badge of honor.”


There are those who bristle at its exhibitionist nature and fear that Derby will be seen as a fake sport, like WWE, as it was during its previous incarnation in the 70s when an attempt to boost attendance backfired badly and pile ups and brawls were incorporated into bouts.


“But Roller derby is different” Feline Rowdy says “and I think it’s important to keep it different. I think that the fact that we are not out there in gym shorts and basketball singlet’s is part of the essence of what Roller Derby is about.”


It has an alternative feel in Ireland at the moment but in the States it attracts all types and ages. “People look at derby and they see punk, they see fishnets, they see tattoos and stuff like that” Michelle “Kim McKazzie’ Keeley a 37-year old full time mom tells me. “That’s not our target market. It’s women who want to get into sports. Anyone over the age of 18 is a possible Rollergirl as long as she is fierce and committed.” In America many teams have mothers competing on the same side as their daughters.


It made its way to Dublin via where Feline Rowdy placed an ad inquiring as to whether the city had a Roller Derby League. With none in place she and those who responded to the post decided to set up their own, meeting every Sunday to discuss the various steps needed to turn their dreams into a reality.


“The gear required (skates, pads, helmets) can run from between €200-€400” says Feline Rowdy. “And while we were prepared to spend that amount we knew that we couldn’t expect a person with what could just be a passing interest to do so, so we needed to fundraise to kit them out for the first month or so.” They sorted out insurance, venues, sponsorship and recruitment drives and will play their first ever bout on home ground this summer when they take on the Liverpool Roller Girls. There are teams now active in Limerick, Cork and Belfast with activity in Galway and Carlow while the Irish will be represented with a national team at the first ever Rollerderby World Cup to take place in Toronto this Christmas.


The girls live for derby. When they are not training they are reading about derby or watching videos about derby or trying to get more people involved in derby. Partners and boyfriends can get left behind if they don’t pitch-in in someway. “It’s get involved or see less of me,” says Martina “Tina Gut Her and Jam” McDonald (24) an artist who handles the teams press.


It’s a big commitment. “If you join you also have to make 75% of practices and 80% of our launches,” says Kitty Cadaver. “You skate on Mondays, Wednesdays and then again on Sundays. I try to skate at least once more during the week in the park or in a roller disco. Then you have events and committee work that takes up a lot of your time. “


So what should potential roller girls keep in mind before pulling on their skates? Coach Christopher “Violent Bob” Goggins (29) thinks that girls need to look past the aesthetic. “This is a tough, tough, sport, played by tough, tough women. You are going to be on 8 wheels, you’re going to fall, you’re going to get hurt, and you are going to wake up the next day stiff as a board.


“But don’t be too scared. It’s going to be weeks and weeks before you get involved in any of that. We teach you how to fall properly, how to be safe. You’re taught all of this before any bad stuff happens. So come down, try it, get your aggression out.”

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