Each time a match came up I'd text my son Jacob and say 'Have a really good match so that we can have your shirt'... now we're auctioning it to help mums in Africa
Janine Stockdale, mum of Ireland Six Nations star Jacob, and Esther Reid, both lecturers in midwifery at Queen's University Belfast, tell Stephanie Bell how fans can get their hands on a piece of rugby history and support a good cause at a gala ball this month
It was always going to be a valuable rugby jersey, but no one could have guessed just how precious it would turn out to be. At the start of the season, Ireland rugby star Jacob Stockdale had promised to donate his Six Nations Championship shirt to his mum Janine and her friend Esther Reid to raffle in aid of two African charities.
None of them had any idea just how sensational Jacob's performance would be or how critical to Ireland winning the Grand Slam.
Just a few months later, instead of a raffle, Janine and Esther have built a huge fundraising night round the now famous monogrammed shirt worn by Jacob as he broke records to help Ireland lift the trophy in their final game against England at Twickenham on March 17.
The 22-year-old from Lurgan set a new record for the most tries by an Irish player in a single Six Nations Championship and also tied the record for the most tries by a player in a Six Nations Championship. He scored seven in all.
He was also named as the 2018 Six Nations Player of the Championship and also picked up the prestigious Malcolm Brodie Player of the Year and the George Best Breakthrough prizes at this year's Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards.
Now the hottest tickets in town are for a seat at gala charity black tie ball Scrums for Mums on August 29 in the Whitla Hall at Queen's University Belfast where the shirt - and boots - Jacob wore in the final game against England will be auctioned.
The event will also see fellow rugby stars Rory Best and Iain Henderson join Jacob on the stage for a special Grand Slam interview by the BBC's Stephen Watson, who is host for the night.
Every penny raised will go to saving the lives of mothers and their babies in Uganda and South Sudan through a new maternity service set up by a Northern Ireland woman.
Esther and Janine are both lecturers in midwifery at Queen's University. They both started the job on the same day last year and quickly discovered they had much in common. As well as sharing the same profession (both hold PhDs in the subject) they each have a heart for African charities - and Esther's husband is an Ulster rugby season ticket holder.
The pair organised a small fundraiser for Africa some months ago and asked Jacob if they could have his rugby shirt when the season was over.
Janine (55), who is also mum to Lydia (18) and Hannah (25), says the whole family, including husband Graham (55), have played a part in helping organise Scrums for Mums.
Explaining how it all came about, she says: "Esther and I both started as lecturers in midwifery at Queen's on the same day - April 17 last year - and we were working in the same office together. We started talking and soon realised we had very similar passions.
"I have had an African friend whom I have known since Jacob was three years old and she picked up my kids from school and I picked up her children so Jacob grew up with African family friends.
"Esther had been out to Malawi and Uganda doing midwifery and last September was in Kampala where a new midwifery unit was set up in the slums by Diane Lockhart from Northern Ireland.
"Esther wanted to raise some funds to support her and we did a small fundraiser and then asked Jacob if he would give us a signed shirt to raffle.
"As the season went on Jacob was doing better and better and we asked him if he got onto the bench for the Six Nations could we have his shirt.
"Each time a match came up I would text him and say 'Have a really good match so that we can have your shirt' and he would text back 'The shirt is yours'. It was just a bit of fun.
"Esther and her family and our family were all there at Twickenham and we got together after the match. It was a very snowy day and it was amazing for us to meet up afterwards and celebrate.
"Jacob did so well that we thought we can't just do a raffle as the shirt was worth more now and so we came up with the Scrums for Mums event when the shirt will be auctioned to the highest bidder."
Esther (57), who is married to Dee (58) and lives on the north coast, is mum to Stephen (34), Rachel (31) and Aaron (27).
Another thing the two women have in common is that both their daughters, Hannah and Rachel, work in IT and they got together to help design posters and a website for the event.
Although they have no idea how much they will raise, Esther explains just how vital the funds from Jacob's shirt and their big night will be to women and children in Africa.
She says: "When I visited the midwifery unit in the slums of Kampala last year I was both amazed and shocked at what Diane is facing out there. I was very impressed by what she was doing. She is working to save lives every day.
"The mortality rates of mothers and babies in Africa is very high as they don't have access to trained health care professionals.
"As well as raising funds for the unit we would like to buy a vehicle to take women to hospital in emergency situations. At the moment they have to go on the back of a motorbike.
"Money will also be going to a local charity that sends teams of doctors out to educate practitioners and teach them new skills."
The title for the event - Scrums for Mums - is also significant as Esther explains: "We needed a name that could connect mums and babies with rugby which was really hard.
"Women in Africa don't have access to skilled, compassionate and respectful care. What the unit is doing is not just about skills but about compassion.
"We were bouncing ideas about when we came up with Scrums which stands for 'Skilled Compassionate Respectful Universal Maternity Services' which we thought was really appropriate."
Janine and Esther say they couldn't have organised such a huge event without help and are indebted to Lurgan Rugby Club and Professor Donna Fitzsimmons from Queen's University, whose support has helped make the night possible.
Janine is of course proud of her son for his achievements, but says: "Jacob to us is still just Jacob. We are very proud of him but to us he is still just part of our family.
"When he was a teenager, I went to all the school rugby matches and stood with the other mummies screaming on the sidelines. He was always good at school but I can remember when the rugby started to come to the fore.
"He was 18 and we had a meeting at Ulster Rugby with David Humphries and Alan Clarke and coming home it suddenly dawned on me that this was serious and that it was going to be a career path for Jacob.
"Ulster Rugby still want their players to develop academically and they provide direction and support. Jacob got an elite athletes fellowship to study for a degree in criminology and law.
"When he started to play for Ireland the rugby really took over and he had to withdraw from his studies but he has a very inquisitive mind and I have no doubt he will go back to it in the future.
"As a mum it is great to see your child do something for a living that he absolutely loves and for me that is a real privilege. I just hope the rugby shirt goes to a really good home with someone who loves rugby."
The black tie bash, which is to be staged in the Whitla Hall at Queen's University on August 29, kicks off at 7pm with a drinks reception followed by a four-course meal. Guests will then enjoy entertainment from comedian Tim McGarry and magician Rodd Hogg. The Grand Slam interviews with our local rugby stars will then be held, followed by the auction. As well as Jacob's shirt and boots, also up for grabs is Rory McIlroy's signed pin tag from his 2018 US PGA Tour win, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Championship Course, as well as a number of other items. Tickets for the night are £100 each and are available through the website www.scrums4mums.com. You can also find out more at Facebook/scrums4mums