Wednesday, August 13, 2014

IRELAND-7 ENGLAND-40

2014 Women's Rugby World Cup Semi-Final, Stade Jean Bouin, Paris, France 13/8/2014<br />Ireland vs England<br />Ireland's Claire Molloy and Paula Fitzpatrick tackle Jo McGilchrist of England <br />Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

NEVER LET IT GO

HoR pro logo greenAnd one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back, the past is in the past

Of course we’re all gutted for the girls, of course we all yearn for what might have been.

But from those who have tried for years to turn people’s heads towards the potential of women’s rugby, to those like me who have had their heads permanently turned in recent months, we simply cannot afford to let this one match define what has been an absolutely breath-taking tournament where Fiona Coughlan, Lynne Cantwell, Niamh Briggs & co played out of their skins for the green jersey.

The English women’s team may not be professional in the strictest sense of the word, but then again, neither was the senior men’s game up to the mid-90s.  Ahem. 

My observation above is not meant to be sour grapes however, rather an acknowledgement of the bar England have set for this sport and the question I want to ask is this - are we ready to devote the resources necessary to get our players to that level for the next World Cup, particularly if it is to be staged here in Ireland?

Any of us who were around to appreciate Italia 90 can remember what an incredible summer that was for Irish soccer - it was the first real golden opportunity for a team sport to capitalize on nationwide public attention. 

Well, although viewer figures for the Premier League & FIFA World Cup may be as strong as ever here these days, things like attendances at League of Ireland games and quality of players coming through the ranks most certainly are not.

Then there’s men’s cricket.  Remember how Ireland beat England at the last World Cup?  Surely a result to at least come close to matching the girls’ triumph over the Black Ferns?   Well, for many people, even big sports fans, that would be the last game of cricket they remember, even though it was well over three years ago now.

Now I don’t wish to point the finger at anyone person or organisation in particular for the failure of sports like soccer & cricket to capitalise on Irish success…let’s just say I see it as a collective (lack of) effort.

Yet with men’s rugby, the story has been very different. 

The graphs for things like facilities for the players and general exposure to the wider public have been on an upward curve here in Ireland every bit as much as has the success of the national team & provinces since the turn of the millennium.

I guess all I’m saying is that now our women’s team have deservedly gotten themselves amongst the top four teams in the world, if they are to ever fall from that status, please, please don’t let it be for lack of support, whether it be from their union, the media, corporate sponsors or the wider general public.

For this isn’t just an issue of rugby.  Nor has Katie Taylor’s success merely been an issue of boxing. 

We all want our children to succeed, and we all want our children to have people to look up to no matter what path they choose to follow.  And not all of our daughters want to be sporting icons, but then again nor do all of our sons. 

But when our daughters do show an interest in sport, let’s at least be able to show them heroines they can emulate.  And make no mistake, there were 26 in that Irish squad in Paris, and in actual fact both boys and girls hoping to take up sport can learn much from their efforts.

Yes, I know this was meant to be a match writeup.  Normally I do one after watching the match over again.  But to be honest, the emotions are still raw for now I can’t add much more to the tweet I put out there around full-time.

Sure, I was a long way off with my prediction but I won’t make apologies for believing in a squad that had come so far.  No team in this sport can expect to play four matches in a fortnight without at least one off day, and while England had theirs against Canada at the weekend, unfortunately this was ours.  Plus, our opposition were as close to unstoppable as you could possibly get - I was reminded of Toulon v Leinster back in April.

What I want to do now is work out what I can do in future to help promote the women’s game.  The site isn’t called Harpin On Men’s Rugby, after all!   

In the past we have had regular columns from Sarah Lennon on the game in this country from grassroots level right up to the national team, and hopefully we will hear more from her and other contributors soon.

Personally I will continue to harp on the Irish team as I have done throughout the World Cup, and I will do all I can to cover interprovincials as well as our home Six Nations matches, giving them the same treatment we afford to Leinster & Ireland men’s teams.

Hopefully those with far better resources at their disposal can do more.  And you can help too by letting everyone who will listen know that you want to see more of women’s rugby in the media, both mainstream and social.

And let us not forget that Philip Doyle has one more game in charge of this Irish team on Sunday against the host nation France.  We owe it to the girls who have given their all over the past few years to offer them the very same encouragement we did going into this semifinal.  

We also owe it to them to make sure women’s rugby never gets frozen out. JLP

PS - Never, ever thought I’d be quoting from Disney in a writeup but I guess there’s a first time for everything!

Published August 14, 2014

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