THE night before appearing on stage in front of several hundred people in the Limerick Rose selection event, Rachel O’Neill was taking part in a Strictly Come Dancing event in Monaleen GAA club.
It was a dry run for the Rose event that calmed the Castletroy primary school teacher’s nerves, leaving her at ease on stage with host and MC for the night at the Radisson Blu, Ollie Turner.
The 22-year-old didn’t put a foot wrong on stage and impressed the judging panel of 2010 Dubai Rose Elaine Rael, 2008 Limerick Rose Sharon Kennedy and Radisson Blu duty manager Eoin Chambers to such an extent that she pipped 34 other contestants to the Limerick Rose crown.
“It was not as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be. I had done Strictly Come Dancing the night before with my local GAA club, so it was a walk in the park compared to that,” laughed Rachel this week, still clearly coming to terms with the prospect of being the 2015 Limerick Rose.
“I haven’t really gotten used to it yet, I am still a bit shocked, but it is brilliant, happy out. I am thrilled, over the moon,” added Rachel, currently subbing in St Nessan’s in Mungret.
The former Castletroy College student, who graduated from MIC in October, was sponsored for the Rose selection by Matthew Stephens Jewellers, for whom she works part time every Saturday.
She was encouraged initially by Matthew to enter the event, but it was the impression Rachel had of outgoing 2014 Limerick Rose, Dawn Ryan, that swung the decision for her.
“I had seen Dawn Ryan popping up all over the place around Limerick, she was everywhere. I decided I wouldn’t mind being a Limerick Rose so I said I would enter it,” explained Rachel.
“Just seeing Dawn and all the work she did in the last year really inspired me; it was brilliant the work that she did with the Limerick Rose Centre, so I wanted to get on board.”
Rachel will now face competition both nationally and internationally at the upcoming Regional finals in Portlaoise on the June Bank Holiday Weekend, with an estimated one in four chance of being selected.
She is relaxed about her prospects of bucking the trend and being the first Limerick Rose since Melanie Carroll in 2007 to actually make it to Tralee.
“A couple of my friends had entered it previously and when I mentioned it them they were very encouraging and said it was a great experience,” she said.
“I just know that head office make the rules, I am just delighted that I have been given the opportunity to be the ambassador for Limerick and I am going to do my very best and try to get us to Tralee - that would be the dream.”