Six years ago, Joanne Morgan reached the pinnacle of any UK athlete’s career - representing Team GB in the Olympic Games in London. Now she has swapped her volleyball for a rugby ball and is embracing her new challenge with an already infectious enthusiasm.
After playing in front of 15,000 fans inside London's Earls Court arena and millions watching across the world on TV and online, it was a decidedly contrasting environment for Morgan kicking-off her rugby career for Broughton in front of a handful of die-hard enthusiasts pacing the touchline at the Fort Matilda ground in Greenock last weekend.
The surroundings may have been a little less salubrious than the Olympic arena, however for Morgan, that excitement of engaging in competitive sport saw the inevitable return of butterflies that appear in any sportsperson’s belly.
Morgan offered a smile as she relived her first time out in Broughton colours. The newly installed dynamic Centre recalled, "If I'm honest, I was more nervous about my first time on a rugby pitch than taking to the Olympic Volleyball court. I was really worried with my lack of experience that I was going to get hurt - totally irrational I know - but I knew I was going out there, anticipating other girls running at me and I was going to have to try and tackle to stop them - you just don't get that in Volleyball! But you know something – I absolutely loved it!"
The first time Joanne had ever been introduced to a rugby ball was when she signed up to a notice put up in her office for willing volunteers to enter a team into the Touch Rugby during the summer. The naturally talented sportswoman took to the oval ball game like a proverbial duck to water.
“I know former Club President Rebecca Long through professional circles and when she suggested I come down to Broughton I thought I’d give it a go. As a newbie, you can imagine I was fairly apprehensive about engaging in a new sporting environment, particularly a contact one too, but I’ve really enjoyed the warm welcome, the support and encouragement too. That makes a huge difference.
“What I'm also looking forward to is playing sport again that sees me train during the week and not seeing myself get home each night at 10pm feeling drained. I live local to the Club too which means I can cycle there and back in 10 minutes, which is fantastic."
The opportunity to pursue that Olympic goal for Morgan came in 2008. After Graduating from Heriot Watt University with an Engineering Degree two years previously, she put her career on hold to chase her dream.
"In 2008 I moved down to Sheffield. I'd train 7-9 in the morning then work in the day job until 4pm before heading back to train from 6 til 8 - five days a week. I then got an agent who found me a club overseas.“
Having quit gymnastics to take up volleyball in her early teens, a career spanning over some 20 years has seen Morgan play professionally in Sweden and Holland and has been capped over 50 times for Great Britain. More recently, Morgan was given the esteemed honour of being made Captain of the Scotland National team.
The 34 year old noted, “It was a real privilege to be handed the armband and be the Captain of my Country. A role that saw me proudly lead the team into competition and be offered the opportunity to lead by example on and off the court too.”
Whilst it may not have been a winning debut for Joanne bagged a brace of tries on her debut. "To be honest, I didn't really know what I was doing out there! I just followed instructions from my teammates who just kept telling me to run straight – it was all very Forrest Gump-esque – although I did remember to put the ball down in the right place! I felt like, well, my job was easy. The others done all the hard work for me and I just kind of ran.
And ran she did. Both of her tries - one either side of half time - came from distance, something that bypassed the new recruit at the time. "That will explain why I was pretty knackered! I was so tired after making those bursts.
“I learnt so much during the game too and I am looking forward to developing my newly found rugby skills under the stewardship of Louise and Calum at training. It’s never too late to take up a new sport you know and I’m relishing the challenge.”
Volleyball in crisis:
Faced with having no cash since 2010 when it’s funding was stopped by UK Sport, GB Women's Indoor Volleyball saw the team head into its own backyard tournament for the first ever time at the Olympics - and sadly - potentially the last time as the British Indoor senior teams folded within months of the London games.
It wasn't the legacy Morgan or British Volleyball as a whole wanted or desired in what was termed at the time as an "obliteration of the sport at elite level." However, the tournament did throw up another first - a coupon bursting win against Algeria, Team GB women's inaugural Olympic victory in a tournament where Team GB Women finished a very credible 9th place out of 12. Sadly, unless a cash injection into the sport is found, that singular success could be resigned to annals of UK sporting history.
Updated 12:08 - 6 Sep 2018 by Mark Brown