Sunday 22 April 2018

Ireland have outgrown Ashbourne says Fiona Coghlan

Fiona Coghlan at the launch of the Topaz Cash for Clubs Campaign at Lansdowne Road yesterday
Fiona Coghlan at the launch of the Topaz Cash for Clubs Campaign at Lansdowne Road yesterday
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The notion that Ashbourne is no longer a suitable venue for the Ireland women's rugby team isn't exactly a new one.

On the back of their 2013 Grand Slam success, the IRFU put them on the main stage at the Aviva Stadium for their Six Nations game against Italy last year.

A historic fourth-place finish at last summer's World Cup was another major stepping stone in the development of a game that is rapidly growing in this country.

For former captain Fiona Coghlan, it has been difficult watching on from the outside since she called time on her playing career after the World Cup, but she is now able to take stock of the bigger picture.

Journey

She points out: "Ashbourne took Ireland on when no-one else would and they've been a part of the journey of the growth of women's rugby."

That 'journey' has now reached the point where, in order for the game to continue its trajectory, it needs to be showcased on a bigger stage, and Coghlan is in full agreement.

Last Friday night's fiasco when a floodlight failure held up the Six Nations clash with France for 40 minutes isn't why Ireland need to play their games elsewhere, according to the former prop.

"I think moving the home games from Ashbourne isn't anything to do with the lights going out, it's that the game has outgrown Ashbourne," Coghlan said at the launch of the Topaz Cash for Clubs scheme at Lansdowne RFC.

"If it did move to somewhere more centralised with just a bit better accessibility, I think the game would grow even more, which would be brilliant.

"We got to play at the Aviva Stadium last year which was huge.

"We know it's not financially viable to have every game there but every so often to raise the profile of the game would be beneficial."

With calls for Ireland to play their home games at one of the provincial venues, Coghlan is hopeful that the IRFU are considering such a move.

Ireland will play England in Ashbourne next week and although she maintained that "it is the best playing surface in the country", by staging matches at the Meath venue, women's rugby isn't getting the exposure that it needs and deserves.

"I'm sure the IRFU are looking at it," Coghlan says.

"There has been a lot of change this year, maybe that's the reason why they wanted to keep something stable.

"There's calls for Donnybrook but I don't know what the status of playing internationals on a 4G pitch is.

"I've heard Tallaght mentioned and places like that. Just somewhere that's more accessible and can hold a bigger crowd.

"It's about trying to find a venue that will accommodate us like Ashbourne have over the years and providing everything that the team needs - that's the most important thing.

"The players just want as many people at the games as possible and if that means moving from Ashbourne, I'm sure they'd all row in behind it."

Concussion continues to be the major talking point in the men's game and although it is nowhere near as rampant in women's rugby, Coghlan admits that the same dangers exist.

With improved conditioning, players are becoming fitter, faster and stronger, but she doesn't believe the women's game will become as brutally taxing as the men's.

Concussion

"I don't think there's as much concussion compared to the men's game but players are prepared for it," she says.

"I haven't seen much of it. It's still a game for all shapes and sizes and that's important.

"I don't think the women's game will go to that extent of it being all about size.

"I really hope that the focus stays on the skill and the decision-making because that's key in rugby."

The women's game may not follow the attritional nature of the men's but the hope is that the sport itself will grow to new levels.

The first step to doing that is bidding a fond farewell to Ashbourne and moving to a bigger and better stage.

Irish Independent

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