Sunday 21 January 2018

Unheralded stars prove their worth

Eamonn Sweeney

Perhaps the undersung achievement of 2013 was that of the Irish women's rugby team who before this season had never finished better than third in the Six Nations.

In Ashbourne on February 9, they were up against an England team who were going for an eighth title in a row and had beaten them by a combined total of 54-6 in their previous two meetings. England hadn't conceded a single try when winning the 2012 championship and had begun the season by beating Scotland 76-0.

Yet Ireland won 25-0 in what might be our most remarkable international victory of the year. That haul was made up of three tries from Portlaoise wing Alison Miller and a try, penalty and conversion from Clonmel fullback Niamh Briggs. Miller, daughter of the late Laois GAA great Bobby, and Briggs went on to play huge roles as Ireland kicked on from there and the pair finished as the competition's top try scorer and points scorer respectively.

Briggs contributed 10 points as Ireland beat France, who'd also turned over England, 15-10 to move within one game of making history. And it was her 51st-minute penalty in Milan which ultimately saw Ireland past Italy 6-3 to give them not just the championship but a Grand Slam.

Achievements like this or like Barry Murphy's European Championship bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke last week, Paul O'Donovan of Skibbereen's bronze in the world under 23 rowing championships lightweight single sculls, Aileen Reid's second place in the Grand Final of the World Triathlon Series and the European Junior silver medals for Limerick 100m hurdler Sarah Lavin and Wexford showjumper Bertram Allen can get lost at this time of year as the marquee sports claim most of the retrospective space.

But heroes like these are every bit as important to Irish sport as those whose deeds were performed in front of bigger crowds. Give them their due, they did us proud.

Irish Independent

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