Ladies game can reach for the stars after historic season
Back in 1996, I took a transition year group (as part of a Gaelic Games appreciation course) to the Ladies All-Ireland final between Laois and Monaghan in Croke Park. To say I was blown away by the standard would be an understatement, as Sue Ramsbottom and the rest strutted their stuff as skilfully and as competitively as any group of men.
Ladies soccer, too, was already well established by that stage, but female rugby was still very much in its infancy. My lone experience up to that point was in observing a ladies match between two east-coast American teams in Bermuda as part of their Easter festival and refereeing a match between Bruff ladies and AIB ladies in Kilballyowen around the same time.
Tomorrow illustrates how far women's rugby has come in this country, as Fiona Coghlan and the Ireland ladies run out in Milan in search of a first ever Grand Slam to go with the inaugural Triple Crown and championship titles already in the locker.
The match will be televised live on RTE and if that doesn't tell you what this group of players have already achieved, then I don't know what does.
The ripple effect will be amazing as more and more young girls, often starting with tag rugby, are enticed into the sport.
To put this achievement in context, since the Six Nations began in 2002 we have finished sixth, fifth, sixth, fifth and fifth up to 2006. The first breakthrough came between '07 and '09 when we finished fourth, with the serious jump coming three years ago in 2010 when moving up to third (behind England and France).
The last few months, under Philip Doyle's patient and guiding hand, have been something else again, with the ladies in green taking four scalps, including a first ever victory over England in the competition.
The tough road travelled has been well documented. Now sporting immortality beckons.