‘It’s a great feeling, it’s really special’ – Nicola Fryday
Long after the final whistle had sounded at Musgrave Park, the majority of the 5,039 supporters were still celebrating a priceless Ireland win.
Down on the pitch, the players looked as though a weight had been lifted off their shoulders, as they secured a thumping victory over Italy that showed they are on the right path, even if it will take some time to get to where they want to be.
In the middle of joyous scenes, the players greeted their family and friends, with Nichola Fryday making a beeline for the stand, just behind the press box.
With tears streaming down her face, the Ireland captain warmly embraced a familiar face.
“My little sister (Jessica) has been living in Canada for the last year, so she flew home to surprise me for the match,” Fryday explained.
“That was a really special moment and it was very unexpected.”
It was a lovely, poignant moment for the Fryday family as the sisters were reunited on the day Nichola led Ireland to victory for the first time as skipper.
As special occasions go, this must have been right up there for the Offaly woman.
“It’s a great feeling, it’s really special,” Fryday said.
“At the same time, we have the next two matches in the back of our minds. We want to finish this tournament well.”
With England away next up in a fortnight, a far bigger test lies ahead, but for now, Fryday and her team-mates can reflect on a job well done.
For debutante Aoife Wafer, this was also a memorable evening, and even though she left the field in tears following a yellow card, the 19-year-old will have better days ahead in a green jersey.
As the bench consoled her when she was sat on the sideline, Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams left his position in the stand to put an arm around the distraught Wafer, who was later presented with her first cap on the pitch in front of the remaining supporters.
“In our changing-room above each of the jerseys is the word ‘Clann’ meaning family,” Fryday said.
“We’re a family, that’s the squad and the environment we’ve tried to build over the last few weeks.
“We’re extremely close-knit so when you’re in the trenches and fighting for a win like that with your family, it’s very important to you.”
McWilliams also felt it was important to acknowledge Wafer’s moment.
“Every time we have given caps out we have been on Zoom links with the parents or other family members,” he said.
“Just to have the parents there, it meant a lot to the players. They just wanted to do it. It’s something they felt was really important.
“It’s a big day for us. Aoife getting her cap is big for the family but it is big for the whole group. We’re all really proud of her and it was important that we all shared the moment.
“Rugby is the engine, the vehicle sometimes, for what you are trying to create which is lasting memories and being able to challenge yourself, go through difficulties and come out on top.”
Ireland will reconvene for a one-day camp this week, as the attention turns to an England side in red-hot form.
Although the odds will be stacked against Ireland, Fryday insisted her side will relish the challenge that lies ahead.
“Look, it’s kinda similar to France,” the lock added.
“We are delighted to go up against the best team in the world. We’re not going to be going into it thinking about a loss.
“We want to implement our game-plan and bring it to them. You could see in the first 20 minutes against Wales, they really put it to them.
“We just want to make sure we go out fighting.”