Wednesday 13 December 2017

Guts and Grand Slam glory for all-conquering women's team

Captain Fiona Coghlan lifts the trophy surrounded by her team
Captain Fiona Coghlan lifts the trophy surrounded by her team
Niamh Briggs celebrates the win
Stacey-Lea Kennedy, left, Fiona Coughlan and Fiona Hayes, right, celebrate after the final whistle
Niamh Kavanagh, Ireland, is tackled by Michela Este, left, and Veronica Schiavon, Italy.
17 March 2013; Niamh Briggs, Ireland, kicks a penalty against Italy. Women's 6 Nations Rugby Championship, Italy v Ireland, Parabiago, Milan, Italy. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Claire Molly, Ireland, is tackled by Silvia Gaudino, Italy.

NO amount of unrelenting showers could rain on this particular parade in muddy Milan.

Guts and glory combined to deliver a truly impressive sporting triumph for a previously unheralded collection of sporting heroines.

And so, to the whooping delight of their 500 loyal travelling fans, and the thousands who watched the gripping proceedings on TV, Ireland's women's rugby team secured a historic first Grand Slam yesterday with their 6-3 win over Italy.

On a weekend when the men's side slumped to their worst ever Six Nations performance since the late 1990s, Ireland's women salvaged some pride from a wretched spring for international rugby.

"Hopefully this means that more people will sit up and take notice of our sport," declared proud captain Fiona Coghlan, moments after receiving the championship trophy from IRFU president Billy Glynn.

They already are. Even Niall Horan, the epitome of all that is trendsetting globally, was moved to congratulate the glorious girls. "Yess! Irish women's rugby team won the grand slam on Paddy's Day! Sick! Well done ladies," tweeted the One Direction star.

The Ireland squad are due to arrive in Dublin Airport at 1.15pm this afternoon and they are destined to receive a heroine's welcome.

They say that behind every great man, there has to be a great woman. Well, the reverse was also true yesterday as the small village of Parabiaggio, on the outskirts of Milan, was transformed into a sea of green on St Patrick's Day.

Philip "Goose" Doyle is the coach of this side and has honed them into a winning outfit.

"They are just a joy to work with," he enthused. "Great characters. They like hard work and know the standards that have got to be kep."

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Michael Ring added his congratulations: "This magnificent win follows on their triple crown success last month when they beat Wales, Scotland and England, confirming their place in the 2015 Women's Rugby World Cup.

"The Irish women's rugby team have swept the boards on their path to Grand Slam glory."

President Michael D Higgins also congratulated the team, saying he is now planning to invite the team and their officials to the Aras.

"This Grand Slam winning performance again highlights the ever-increasing success of women in sport in this country, and will contribute to further participation by women in sport and will help gain the due recognition that women's sports deserves," he said.

Amy Huberman, wife of former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, also tweeted her congratulations to the team.

"A monster congrats to the women's Irish rugby team on the Grand Slam! Bloody awesomeness," she said.

Having conquered Europe, the women's side are intent on ruling the world as they prepare for twin tilts at World Cups next year for both the 15-a-side and seven-a-side teams.

Unlike their male counterparts, this squad is entirely amateur and the budget spent on women's rugby would scarcely be enough to cover the salaries of players like Jamie Heaslip and Jonny Sexton.

"To be fair to the union, they recognised where they are coming from so I can't say anything bad about them," said Mr Doyle.

"They have backed me 100pc this season with all the funding and all the technical support I wanted. Thankfully I can bring back the silverware for them."

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