Thursday 14 November 2019

Paul O'Connell gets the Superman label but it's Niamh Briggs who deserves it - Sinead Kissane

Niamh Briggs juggles her rugby career with her work as a garda in Limerick
Niamh Briggs juggles her rugby career with her work as a garda in Limerick
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

We need to talk about Niamh Briggs. You need to know that being captain of the Ireland women's rugby team isn't her actual job.

Her actual job as a community-based garda in Roxboro in Limerick involved her working the late shift until 2am on Paddy's night this week.

She walked the beat for the first part of her shift, which started at 4pm and she spent most of the second part in the patrol car. She was up again at 7.0 on Wednesday morning for a gym session to prep for Ireland's Six Nations game against Scotland in the off-broadway setting of Broadwood Stadium outside Glasgow tomorrow.

While our other Ireland senior captain Paul O'Connell was able to recuperate briefly at home in Limerick on Paddy's night before returning to Carton House and the Ireland squad, Briggs was out policing the city.

Funny how Paulie gets the Superman label but it's the women's skipper who walks the beat in Limerick.

You need to know that shift-work like this is nothing new for Briggs in the build-up to a massive game. Or even after it. Briggs kicked two penalties, two conversions (one from close to the touchline) and was generally pretty damn good as Ireland beat Wales 20-0 in Swansea last Sunday.

The day after, Briggs worked the morning shift in Roxboro Garda Station. You need to know that she's not looking for your shock and awe here. She does a good line in self-deflection when you wonder how the hell she manages her Ireland rugby career and her work as a garda.

You need to know that a week after O'Connell won his 100th cap, Briggs will play for the 50th time for Ireland tomorrow. She sent a card to O'Connell to congratulate him on becoming a centurion and wished the team the best of luck against Wales last weekend because that's the kind of person she is.

Captain Paul O'Connell has warned Ireland to beware Scotland's 'nothing to lose' mindset
Captain Paul O'Connell has warned Ireland to beware Scotland's 'nothing to lose' mindset

While the women's squad plan on marking the occasion at the team hotel tonight, only those close to the squad and to her family will probably be aware of tomorrow's special milestone for Briggs. But she won't mind. Because that's the kind of person she is.

You need to know that Briggs sent a message on WhatsApp to her team-mates this week and told them that no matter what happens on Sunday, she's "incredibly proud of them". She sent that message out of friendship than anything else.

A win tomorrow will see Ireland win the Triple Crown and a victory of any kind will do if England beat France this evening for Briggs' team to win the Championship.

If France beat England, then it's like a game of cricket; Ireland will be set a target to chase down the points difference. Ireland could revel in the thrill of the chase.

You need to know how impressive it is that Ireland are in this position considering the changes to this squad after the retirement of senior players like Fiona Coghlan and Lynne Cantwell, under a new management team.

You need to know how talented Briggs is. One man who has watched her progress is RTE rugby commentator Michael Corcoran.

"Her kicking is first-class. Her place kicking is phenomenal as is her line-kicking," Corcoran says. "She has a great temperament and she's the one who makes this team tick."

You need to know that as well as her innate talent which saw her named on the IRB Women's Team of the Year in 2014, Briggs is also a player who trades off her emotion. She's been known to cry during speeches and anthems. But in this her first season as Ireland captain, she's managed to keep her emotions in check. After the players are presented with their Ireland jerseys tonight, she will use her emotional intelligence to gauge whether she needs to say a few words to the group. The Ireland captain doesn't talk for the sake of talking.

She believes that motivational speaking is an art she has yet to learn. Funny, because when I asked her the gist of what she will say to the group tomorrow before they run out onto the pitch, I got goose bumps listening to her talk about simple themes like pride.

You need to know this because she means every word she says and is very passionate. She doesn't know if she will shed a few tears tomorrow in what will be an emotionally-charged dressing-room. But if she gets emotional, she won't make any apologies for it.

You need to know what Briggs has done to get herself in this position.

Assistance

"To have a player who will do their job to the best of their ability when required is all you can ask for. Niamh went beyond that, when her game wasn't going the way she wanted she went away and got assistance to better her game, advice from coaches, specialists, whoever she could learn from," former captain Coghlan says.

"Niamh has had a number of injuries and to fight back every time, to perform at the highest level regardless of the lay-off is testament to her work ethic and desire to be the best she can be."

You need to know about Briggs because she deserves your attention. You need to know that Briggs probably won't like this piece. Because it's all about her, which goes against everything she believes in which is team first.

Briggs will walk the beat for Ireland tomorrow. But more than that - she's the heartbeat of this team.

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