Ireland’s Women didn’t disappoint on the pitch last Saturday, but what about the fans off it? asks Conor Cronin…
I was so impressed with the set up in the Aviva on Saturday. Fireworks, a full house, people mostly in their seats by the time the anthems were starting, giant posters of BOD, a fantastic game with a great result and a fitting tribute to our departing hero.
And that tribute was watched by the same full house who had cheered and shouted during the match. We stayed and watch Brian talk about how it was to play in green, and take his daughter out onto the pitch with him. It was lovely. And we had no problem staying for that.
But then, of the 43000 or so that were there, about 42000 of them left.
It was fine and easy to stay watch BOD talk, and even though we were getting a second match thrown in to the price of the first people just left. Leaving about 1000, maybe 1500, to stay and cheer on Irish rugby players working hard.
The women put in an absolutely mighty performance. They won their game by the same margin as the men won theirs, with the added bonus that, unlike the men, they didn't concede anything.
I know that for whatever reason, women's sport just doesn't get the same support as men. But when you consider how hard these girls work, I would've thought they'd get more on such a special day.
They've got day jobs. A few live in England and have to come here for training. They won a grand slam last year. And in spite of even that amazing achievement, people still left because a pint with the lads was more important.
I know there are people who, because of family commitments etc, had to go home, or had to get the kids from the grandparents, or get the train or bus home, or even had to go to work in the case of one guy I know was there. But for all the people who went out for the beer and hung out with their friends, is that all it was?
Did you know that our anthems, sung in the afternoon, sounded amazing. I actually recorded them. it was brilliant! compare that to the sound the girls got... it was like the difference between the two teams, huge!
Most people also probably don't realise that BOD isn't the only centre who played a last home game at the weekend. Try scorer Lynne Cantwell, who is Irelands most capped international at 78, is also retiring. No mention in the stadium, no big floating poster.
The IRFU are culpable in all of this as well. There is a lack of funding for 15s (they're concentrating on women's 7s) and a failure to sufficiently encourage the fans to stay. If they had included a team sheet in the programme from the men's game it may have encouraged more people who maybe didn't realise the women were on to stay. People might have seen it and said "sure why not, lets keep cheering on the green jersey".
I have such admiration for what I saw the women do on Saturday. They don't get paid to put their bodies on the line, they do it for pride. They do it to say they did it. I watched Ashleigh Baxter get hit hard and roll over on her neck, get up and shake it off. And all because she wants to do herself, her team mates and her country proud. And what better incentive for it than that. What I'm getting at is that we the fans should have been there to encourage her in much stronger numbers. Because they deserve it.
Look at the words of Ireland's Call. I know we don't all agree with it being used or anything, but the words are what matters here. "Come the day and come the hour... we have come to answer our countries call... shoulder to shoulder". That shoulder to shoulder should be including the women who train as hard as the men, who play the same amount of time, who take big hits and give them, who ruck hard and drive over try lines and score 39 points more than their opposition. Just like the men.
And then, they go home to their lives and back to their 9-5 jobs, whether it's here in Ireland, or over in England.
If you stayed and cheered on the girls in green, brilliant! I'm delighted you took pride in the Jersey to support it regardless of who's wearing it, just like I did. For those who didn't, and don't have real reasons to not, what would have been so terrible about cheering on OUR team as they played and won?
Conor Cronin (@ccbooms) is a Leinster fan cursed with a Munster loving father. You'll regularly find him screaming in the north stand in the RDS.