Sunday 28 December 2014

We're here to win world cup, says rugby star Fiona

HOPEFUL: Irish women's team captain Fiona Coghlan talks to Joyce Fegan ahead of today's first game against the USA

Published 01/08/2014 | 12:19

Fiona Coghlan

Clontarf school teacher Fiona Coghlan only signed up to play rugby by chance during Freshers' Week in college - now, 11 years later, she is captaining the women's national team in the World Cup.

"We're in a good place. We're in it to win it," the 33-year-old said.

After already winning the Grand Slam this year, Ireland today play their first game in the Women's Rugby World Cup in France, taking on the USA at 4pm Irish time.

Does the Dublin maths teacher think her team can go all the way?

"That's the plan. We've spoken openly about a place in the semi-final.

"We're realistic though because we know we need to win every game in our pool to be guaranteed a place and it's a tough pool. It's a huge task but it starts today," explained Fiona.

But once in the semis the Irish team will let nothing stand in the way of them and glory.

TOURNAMENT

"If we make the semis, we'll go all the way," she added.

There are 12 teams in the tournament and only three pools. After the USA game, the Irish squad will face New Zealand and then Kazakhstan.

Our women's team have spent the last three months in intense training with just one rest day a week.

Their gruelling schedule sometimes meant two training 
sessions a day, slotted in before and after work.

As if the training itself wasn't enough, Fiona also had a class full of students to navigate through the Leaving Certificate.

"I had a maths class so you had to be extraordinarily organised so you can be there for the kids," said Fiona.

"I don't think I'll see the sport go professional in my lifetime. There will have to be a whole shift in mind-set. There are very few professional women's sports in the world.

"At the start it annoyed me - the media profile of women's sport, but the better we play, we prove ourselves."

Actions speaking louder than words is how Fiona deals with any negative aspect of her game.

And when it comes to the stereotype that women shouldn't play rugby, she is matter of fact.

"No one has actually made smart comments to me, but I've heard about them. The whole women playing a man's sport - I know it has been out there," she said.

"But I just go out and play - people see us and our standard and are like, 'Oh you 
can actually play'. It's totally flipped," she said.

The sporting hero who the majority of the squad look up to, is Brian O'Driscoll.

"In terms of a sporting hero I know a lot of the squad would consider Brian O'Driscoll their favourite player, not just in terms of how he plays but for the manner in 
which he conducts himself on and off the pitch. The fact that an Irish sportsperson could be a world hero is inspiring," said Fiona.

Another respected sportsman is Irish coach Joe Schmidt, who has coached the girls twice and went to see their game against Wales in the Six Nations this 
year.

"He doesn't coach women's rugby and he doesn't coach men's rugby. He just coaches rugby," said Fiona.

Another fan of the squad is RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy, who made a contribution to a good luck video made by the Irish Rugby Football Union for the team.

"Hello ladies, remember me in the green room? I'm sure you do, I've got the pictures. Watch the French boys and watch the girls too," he said in his contribution.

HYPE

Fiona laughs this off explaining that two of the squad met the pundit accidentally in RTE and all that happened was that they stopped to have their picture taken with him.

But joking aside, it's serious business from today for the Irish team and part of the captain's job is to make sure her team is in the right frame of mind, but not to "hype them too much".

"We've all had personality testing - there's all different personalities in the squad, you need the right mix.

"What I say mightn't suit some people but we all know we have to take responsibility and motivate ourselves."

Food, sleep and nerve control are also important.

Each player has their own trick for dealing with pre-match nerves.

Fiona uses visualisation and others listen to music or sketch.

But for everyone - they are there with one singular purpose - to win.

"Hopefully I'll be talking to you with a trophy next time," said Fiona.

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