Saturday 21 January 2017

Soccer convert Fowley eager to show size isn't everything

Luke O'Donnell

Published 25/11/2016 | 02:30

Nicole Fowley from Sligo is enjoying her baptism of fire at Test level with the Ireland women’s team. Photo: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Nicole Fowley from Sligo is enjoying her baptism of fire at Test level with the Ireland women’s team. Photo: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Flung into a couch corner on Sunday evening is Nicole Fowley, decorated soccer player and recent Irish rugby debutante.

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Sunday night is homework night and Fowley, poring not through business and sports management texts but video footage, is nursing bruises from the weekend's 48-7 loss to the Canadian tourists. Her pride is in worse shape.

"We knew they were tough. We'd watched them and watched them and studied and talked. We knew them. And they still did massive damage," she laments.

World champions England the weekend prior made happier viewing for the Sligo native, albeit another loss.

It was a performance in which Ireland dictated the tempo for 70 minutes, and one in which Fowley featured throughout with deft touches and fancy footwork.

Sunday's defeat starved the pint-sized midfielder of all but two or three fleeting first-half touches. There were tackle opportunities aplenty though against some of women's rugby's Sevens superstars.

Should she avoid national coach Tom Tierney's red pen this week, Fowley's baptism gets no less fiery. Ireland's final autumn opponents are New Zealand, fresh from wins over England (25-20) and Australia (29-3 and 67-3).

In Ireland's favour is recent history (a landmark World Cup win over the Black Ferns in 2014) and a telling tussle with Canada midweek.

Two international caps now under her belt, Fowley is relishing her taste of Test rugby.

Since swearing allegiance to the oval ball, she has clocked up All-Ireland Cup titles with Railway Union and Galwegians, and two Connacht interpro campaigns. Her third beckons before Christmas.

No stranger nowadays to high-end rugby, November has been another eye-opener, she concedes.

"The physicality is a big adjustment, I'm not big and I've been hit hard before for club and Connacht, but where you might get smashed any given Sunday you still have time to offload, free a ball or do something on the ground," she says.

"Playing internationals, you hit a body or you hit the ground and you're swamped.

"You become a lot more reliant on your team-mates - they're the ones making things happen once you're tackled."

That said, Fowley freed plenty of quality ball against the world champions in week one. The Canadians afforded no such luxury.

"The Canada girls were big. Most of them compete on the Sevens circuit so they're pretty handy at contesting tackled ball," she explains. "They're huge too though. Forwards, backs, whatever."

There's every chance it won't be Fowley's only clash with the Canucks - she is earmarked for four days' Dubai duty with the Irish Development Squad after the weekend in between autumn Tests and the interpro campaign.

Irish Independent

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