Shane Dempsey from St Mary’s College Rathmines recently caught up with Fiona Coughlan the captain of the Triple Crown-winning Irish Women’s Rugby team as part of his Gaisce award, gaining an insight into the life of a successful female rugby international.
The 2013 Women’s Six Nations campaign has been highly productive for the Irish team, with victory over Scotland securing their first-ever Triple Crown. Ireland captain Fiona Coughlan admitted she was delighted with the achievement, but that there was still work to do in the coming weeks.
“I had mixed emotions when the final whistle went,” said the Ireland captain. “I was taken off for the last 5 mins of the game so I had a bit of time to reflect.
“While I was absolutely delighted that we had won the Triple Crown for the first time ever, I was disappointed with how we played, our first half performance is not where we wanted to be but I suppose our ability to re-assess at half-time and change things around was encouraging.”
Coughlan explained that there was one moment that stood out above all others, and that she would cherish the 25-0 win over England for the rest of her career.
“I always said I would retire happy if we beat England.” Coughlan continued. “While I always knew we were capable of beating them, the manner in which we achieved it was the best part.We dominated in every aspect of the game.Even at the end of the game, Engalnd went through 39 phases and our defence stood tall.
Amazingly, Coughlan only began playing rugby when she was a student in the University of Limerick. Coming from a rugby-mad family, the prop admitted that she was hooked on it after her very first game.
“My family would have been always rugby supporters and my Dad and brother played.” she explained. “While I was a sports mad teenager, there was no opportunity to play rugby until I went to college in University of Limerick. Once I played my first game I was hooked.
“Things rapidly progressed from that point, under the tutelage of Ian Costello (Munster Men’s skills coach) I advanced through the system, playing for Leinster and then getting my first cap v Spain in 2003.”
Juggling international rugby and a career as a secondary school P.E. teacher may sound troubling, but Coughlan says that support from her colleagues and students helps to ease the pressure.
“[They] are so supportive which makes it easier.” explained Ms. Coughlan. “After the Triple Crown I had some media appointments and thankfully the school accommodated me. The Welsh game was the toughest game to return to work from because we played on the Sunday and flew home that evening and I was back in the following morning.
Coughlan believes it is time for women’s rugby to be seen on a par with its male equivalent, and that society needs to change it’s outlook on the sport as being solely a male game. ”
“I think society needs to value Women in Sport as much as men,” Coughlan stressed. “And allow the girls role models to aspire to be alike. Again the fact it is deemed as male-dominated is a society issue.
“It is changing but it is slow to change. The Ladies Gaelic Football had similar problems in their infancy but now they are shown live on TG4,it is more accessible to play. Rugby is starting to evolve like that, there are more women’s clubs and under-age teams.
“I feel the game will continue to grow and with our success to date this season it has gained significant exposure.”
Coughlan was quick to praise the ever-increasing support from the IRFU.
“Every year the support from the IRFU is increasing. We are realistic about the fact that we are not a money earner for them like the Men’s team so we can’t compare ourselves with them. But since we came fully under the IRFU umbrella in 2009 there has been significant improvements in every area, technical resources, medical resources etc.”
The Ireland squad take on France on Friday at Ashbourne RFC, and Coughlan is confident that her team have what it takes to record only a second-ever victory over Les Bleus.
“It must be remembered that we have only beaten France once in our history, but the last number of games have been very close. We are in a good place, the style of rugby we are playing is working for us.
“We need to implement the game plan that the coaches devise for the day. It will be a tough physical encounter and we have some things to work on after the Scotland game but if we can get things right and slow France down, it will be a good game.”
Ireland currently are currently first in the Women’s Six Nations, with three wins from three and are on course for a first-ever Grand Slam. They play France on Friday night in Ashbourne.