Thursday 24 January 2019

Sinead Kissane: Irish amateurs risk falling behind pro rivals as change comes too slowly in women's game

Ireland's Ciara Griffin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Ireland's Ciara Griffin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

At 7.15 this morning the Ireland women's squad will meet in their hotel to start their warm-up exercises for today's Six Nations game against Wales.

An hour later, they will have their pre-match meal, also known as breakfast. At 9.30 the team bus will make the trip into Cardiff. The air will be heavy from the night before in a city which knows how to party on Six Nations weekend.

The team bus will pull into the Cardiff Arms Park under the shadow of the Principality Stadium around 10.0. They will have 90 minutes to do final prep for a Six Nations game which starts at 11.30. Hold on, an 11.30 kick-off?

"I'd play at 12 o'clock at night if it meant putting on the green jersey," Ireland flanker Ciara Griffin replies.

Growing up in Ballymacelligott in Kerry, Griffin started playing rugby at the age of six. She would find a rugby ball in the back of her dad's car or in the welly-press at home and off she would run into the front garden.

She improvised. Her older sister was her tackle buddy. They used a tree as a rugby post with a cone on the other side. The tree didn't stop them diving over the try-line, which made for some anxious moments for their dad watching on.

Because women's rugby is still in its infancy, many girls and women have been made into rugby players using their prime talents from other sports.

Griffin, though, was born a rugby player, and growing up on a farm helped. Watch her power as she carries the ball and you'll appreciate why Sean O'Brien doesn't have the monopoly on the advantage of 'farmer's strength' for a rugby player.

"There's certain strength that you can get from a farm that you can't get in a gym, you can't get it anywhere. You know yourself, if you're catching a calf it's a totally different kind of strength," Griffin says.

"So, if you're doing that from an early age, it definitely helps your development."

Playing rugby has always been an outlet for her.

"I love the physicality of rugby, it's one of my favourite things," Griffin says. "I love contact."

You can see that by the way she plays. Imagine if change came and she could do this for a living?

To celebrate International Women's Day this week #BeBoldForChange was the chorus line used on social media.

Let's cycle through some possibilities. How long more will we wait before professional 15s contracts are given to Ireland players?

England have a pro system now, France are headed that way too. While it may pay to play the long game as the structure of the game in Ireland is not near the set-up in France and England, it does little to dissipate the fear that the national women's team might be left behind if they continue to be amateur players competing in an increasingly professional game.

Griffin believes it is something which needs to be looked at. Would she like to be a professional player? "Who wouldn't?" she answers.

Can we get the PA system properly fixed for national anthems at Donnybrook? It embarrassingly didn't work for La Marseillaise a few weeks ago. The Ireland players also had to get on with it and started singing Amhrán na bhFiann before the system finally cranked into gear.

For the bigger picture, why isn't there a Lions Tour equivalent for women? For the Tour to South Africa in four years' time, there should also be a women's side to play three tests. Some marketing pup might come up with the bright idea of calling them the Lionesses TM. Please, no.

The decision to allow star players Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller and Hannah Tyrrell to play with the Sevens side a few weeks instead of being available to play France was extremely short-sighted in a year when normal rules shouldn't apply with Ireland hosting the Women's Rugby World Cup this summer.

Griffin says the 15-a-side team were disappointed to not have their full squad. But they didn't make their team-mates absence the defining experience. They got on with it and made the IRFU gamble work.

Griffin appreciates how the system works in all areas of her life. A few weeks after the Six Nations she will sell two calves she bought last May. She called them Massey and Ferguson. She tried not to get too attached to them because she knew the day would come when she would have to sell them - that's the nature of farming.

If Ireland manage to keep their winning run going against Wales today, it's set to be a winner-takes-all shoot-out for the title against world champions England in Donnybrook on St Patrick's Day.

It could deliver two new names for any future buys for her dad's farm. Grand and Slam.

Irish Independent

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