Irish girls fear no-one after Slam – Briggs
Munster, Ireland and World Player of the Year. It's fair to say that 2013 went quite well for 29-year-old Ireland full-back Niamh Briggs, who picked up another award last week, the Park Hotel Waterford Supreme Sports Star.
The modest Waterford native has reached the pinnacle of women's rugby, just eight years after she started playing tag in Dungarvan at the age of 21.
What makes her achievements even more remarkable is that she combines her career as a full-time garda with life as one of the country's most talented sportspeople.
The UL Bohemians star and her international team-mates kick-off this season's Women's Six Nations campaign against Scotland tonight.
After two penalties from Briggs secured the title in Milan last year, she has no problem dealing with the added expectation that comes with the title of Grand Slam winners.
"Pressure is good. I know that I thrive on it and I think that the girls do too. Last year in Italy there was a challenge that was never put in front of us before, which was pressure, but we still came up with the goods," said Briggs.
"We're away to England and France, having never beaten them away before, I think to get a result from either of those games would be amazing.
"We were so close away to France two years ago and last time away to England, after a very close 60 minutes we then allowed them run away with it.
"We're in a much better position now, we're strong and physically fitter and though we respect all our opposition, we don't fear anybody."
Having the World Player of the Year in the ranks certainly won't do the side's chances any harm, although the modest Briggs insists that her unique treble of personal awards are a testament to the performance of the entire Irish squad.
"It's very humbling and I'm very grateful to accept one of them, let alone three of them.
"I'm very honoured to have won them but I believe that I received them on behalf of the entire Irish squad."
The Ireland team's current status as one of the leading teams in world rugby is built on the foundations of the previous generation.
Briggs' involvement with the Irish Women's squad coincided with the IRFU beginning to fund the side, a luxury that wasn't afforded to her predecessors.
"The girls before me would tell stories of how they would have gone up for Ireland training sessions where they slept on floors because they weren't put up in a hotel.
"They trained for four hours a session, our sessions don't last more than 90 minutes. It was mental when you think about it but they did it back then, and they did it gladly. They even paid for their first jerseys!
"It's mind-blowing when you think that less than a decade later there is an Ireland Women's team holding up the Grand Slam trophy."
Briggs worked her way up to the Irish side through the provincial underage system.
She was spotted by then-Munster U-21 manager Kate McCarthy at a tag blitz in 2007 and played her first 15-a-side game for Munster later that season with an Irish call-up soon following. It was at this stage of her career that Briggs left Dungarvan RFC, who were only playing 10-a-side, for Clonmel.
"My dad had played for Clonmel all the way up and was very proud so he got involved with coaching on the women's team and he loved it.
"There are girls still playing at Clonmel from my time there, they were amazing and I learned my trade from them.
"I probably would still be there if I was working locally but I moved to Limerick and it was just too hard with the shift work and commuting so I made the decision to move to UL Bohs."
The move proved to be a major success as Briggs further strengthened a UL Bohemians side that have now won 11 league titles in 12 years.
"I'll never forget the first training session – there were 25 people at it, including players like Fiona Coughlan and Lynne Cantwell, so I was a bit blown away. I was involved with Ireland for a year or so at that stage but I was still on the fringes in terms of learning the game.
"It was the best thing for me watching how they trained and the sheer professionalism of it.
"That was a bit of an eye-opener for me when trying to take myself to the next level."
Women's rugby in Ireland is growing year on year and Briggs is delighted that last year's Grand Slam success has contributed to more teams forming all over Munster and beyond.
"It's become massive throughout the country," she said. "Clubs are just springing up girls' teams everywhere and it's unbelievable.
"Back in the day, it would have been Thurles that had an underage team and Fermoy were coming into it too. But now there's Castleisland, Tralee, Abbeyfeale to name but a few.
"The support we have throughout the country is phenomenal. I suppose we had to win something big to gain respect but now people know about the Ireland women's rugby team and we have received enormous support from people throughout the country.
"It's amazing to see women's sport in general being put on the map. As a youngster I played everything, every sport and I think it helped to define me as a person.
"You have to enjoy it, through sport you make friends for life."
Six Nations fixtures
Today: Ireland v Scotland, Milltown House, Ashbourne RFC, 7.30pm.
Friday, February 7: Ireland v Wales, Milltown House, Ashbourne RFC, 7.30.
Saturday, February 22: England v Ireland, Twickenham, 6.20
Saturday, March 8: Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium, 5.0
Friday, March 14: France v Ireland, Stade du Hameau, Pau, 6.45