A Victory Worth Savouring

We met up on the first weekend in January to start our preparations for the 2013 RBS Six Nations.  It was great to see all the old faces (no retirements) and plenty of new faces too.  It was clear from the first session that there was going to be great competition for places.  On the weekend sessions we would do two pitch sessions a day and then you would have an array of meetings.  It can be quite intense and tiring both physically and mentally.

On the third weekend of camp the management decided to surprise us with a squad trip, we thought maybe paintballing or go-karting, no it was a trip to do some army training in the Curragh Camp.  Again this was physically and mentally draining but surprisingly enjoyable.  On the final weekend prior to the competition we played Spain in a friendly, we won the game but for us it was more about our systems and seeing if they were effective.  We still had a lot to do prior to the Wales game. 

I attended the Six Nations launch in late January and I spoke to many journalists about our primary aim for this tournament , which was to secure World Cup Qualification for 2014. I also stated that after playing for 10 years I would obviously love to have some silverware to show for it.  You go into every competition wanting to win it and although we have steadily improved over the years I didn’t envisage the season unfolding as it did.

Our first game was away to Wales, we hadn’t won there since 2005, so for many of us we knew how big a task this was.  In fairness to Wales, they put us under pressure in every aspect of play and although they led for the majority of the game, we kept within touching distance.  It took a try in the last 5 minutes to secure the game for us.  Obviously we were ecstatic with the win but the try we scored was so pleasing because it was the only time in the game that we implemented our game plan and style of play and we produced an excellent team try.

Next up England, a team we had never beaten in eighteen attempts.  Last season we matched them for 60 minutes and their fitness pulled through in the last 20.  We knew it was within us to beat them but it was important to play for the full 80 minutes.  There had been much talk about England missing players for the game but I don’t buy that as many of the squad had played against New Zealand in the Autumn Internationals and they had significantly more caps than us.  From the kick off we went at the English and we took control of the game in every aspect.  Obviously Ali Miller’s hat-trick in the first half hit the headlines and rightly so scoring a hat-trick against any international opposition is some feat but every player did their job.  The scrum functioned the best I had ever seen it, we were ruthless at every breakdown, we just didn’t let off.  Going in at half-time 20-0 up was a bit surreal and difficult to know what to say to the girls but the coaches just kept the focus on us.  Hats off to our coaches and management and the game plan they put in place for this game.  I always said I would retire happy if we beat England but I knew there was more for us to do.

It was amazing the media exposure we got after beating England, people were starting to sit up and take notice of us and the way we were playing.  Going into the Scotland game with a possible Triple Crown on the cards brought a great deal of pressure.  It was great that on the night before the game Declan Kidney took time out of his very busy schedule to present us with our jerseys.  Scotland always raise their game against us and this game was to be no different, we really had to work hard to break Scotland down and it took 60 minutes before we got the break-through that we wanted.  In some way the score-line flattered us and didn’t give a true reflection of the entire game but I was happy that when we started playing our game that we were ruthless.  It was disappointing that there was no silverware for the Women’s Triple Crown but none the less we had something to celebrate.  It was interesting to note there were no wild celebrations; we had just created history for the 2nd time in 2 weeks but the team were already focusing on the French game.  With success comes a desire for even more success.

The French arrived on Irish shores after a good win against England away from home.  We knew they had one eye on the Championship but we approached the game, as we did all the rest, nothing changed, just small adjustments in the game plan.  We knew the crowds would be bigger than ever in Ashbourne and we were excited by that.   In our pre-match meeting the management had decided to tell us that the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins would be a special guest at the game.  This was brilliant news but nothing fazed the girls, all of our preparations stayed the same.  The French game showed exactly how we had matured as a team.  The control and the responsibility shown by each player was fantastic.  France threw everything at us but we just kept hitting them back and although they were extremely physical, I think we played the better rugby over the course of the game.  The day after the game, we knew that if England beat Italy we would be Six Nations Champions and that is exactly what happened.  We knew going into the Italy game that the trophy was ours but we wanted to finish on a high, with the Championship and the Grand Slam title.

In the week prior to the game I heard of more and more people booking flights to Milan to support us.   There was such a great atmosphere about the game.  When RTE announced they were going to show it live, another piece of history was created.  This had been a season of firsts.  We did our captain’s run on the Saturday, with the sun basking down on us, accurately aware of how bad the pitch was and that was with no rain.  To open the curtains on the Sunday morning I was disappointed not that anything would change but just that some slight adjustments were required but we still wanted to play our wide expansive running rugby game but conditions were not going to allow us.  I don’t think people can understand how horrific the conditions were to play in.  The pitch really zapped the energy from our legs, the snow meant we were freezing and then the rain just added more woes.  I always felt we were in control of the game and even if Italy pulled something out of the bag that we would respond.  The last 10 minutes were very tight but on the pitch we were very calm, again we all knew what we had to do.  There was huge discipline and composure shown by everyone.  It’s difficult to sum up my feelings when the final whistle blew, was it relief or euphoria, I don’t know.   Finally after 10 years of trying the trophy was ours.  It was great to see so many past players in the crowd and the number of family & friends that had travelled over made it even more special.  Celebrations again weren’t too wild; we were savouring the moments and chatting with the people that have supported us throughout our career.

We arrived into Dublin the next day and were met by hundreds of people. It was so humbling to receive such a warm welcome.  It’s not often that I would be stuck for a few words but I just couldn’t thank people enough for the effort that they had made to support us.  It was a whirlwind week, with daily interviews but I enjoyed it, as it allowed me to re-live the last 3 months.  It culminated last Friday as we were guests on the Late Late Show, which was brilliant.  Unless you’re Irish I don’t think people understand how big of a deal that is.  For me one of the best things I have done in the last week was take a trip to Crumlin Children’s Hospital with the trophy.

So where to now, a well-deserved break for 2 weeks and then back into pre-season to try and keep the trophy in Ireland for another year.  There is much talk about the structure of next year’s Six Nations, in my eyes if they change the current structure, the fifteen’s game will be taking a backward step.  It should be about mass participation and I think XV’s allows this more so than 7’s rugby.  Interesting times lie ahead but for the moment I will savour the fact that we are the Grand Slam Champions of 2013.

Fiona Coghlan

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