Ashbourne victory marks a watershed for the girls in green
Philip 'Goose' Doyle rallies the troops before the recent 25-0 defeat of England in Ashbourne. The remarkable turnaround shows just how far this team has progressed in 10 years. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
After their win over England, Ireland now face Scotland for Triple Crown glory, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
When it came to out-and-out thrashings, England always took an egalitarian approach to the whole business. The last thing you would have accused them of was discrimination. You turned up with your palms facing the floor and you got the ruler across the knuckles. Nobody was picked on. Nobody wasn’t picked on.
The first time Lynne Cantwell played for Ireland, she stood on the wing for every minute of a 79-0 defeat in Worcester back in 2002. “Did I touch the ball?” she laughs. “No I didn’t. Are you mad?”
Fiona Coghlan wasn’t in that side, mostly because she’d only started playing rugby the previous year at college. She was in the one that lost 46-3 in Thomond Park the following year though. And the 51-0 at Twickenham in 2004. And the 32-0 at St Mary’s in 2005. And on and on and ever on.
You’d call them gluttons for punishment but then you’d have to reassess the term once you met Philip Doyle. Before last Saturday, Ireland had played England 17 times in international women’s rugby and had lost every last game. He can’t be 100 per cent certain but Doyle would be willing to bet a reasonable amount that he’d been to all 17, some as a supporter and the rest as the coach.
His first game in charge was that 51-0 in 2004. For years, their best day was a 29-10 defeat in 2006. “The girls were over the moon because we scored two tries. I was fuming but as far as they were concerned we might as well have won the World Cup.”
Even in the past three years when he felt they were finally getting somewhere, they played England four times and lost 22-5, 27-0, 31-0 and 23-6.
So when the clock was ticking dead last Saturday in Ashbourne and they were 25-0 ahead, nobody would have passed the slightest remark had England snuck in for a late score. The final whistle would still have sounded to the same level of delirium, the Irish squad and their supporters would still have melted into the same puddle of hugs and tears. Even their coach would likely have only brought it up to tease them.
“But they didn’t do it,” says Doyle. “They defended for 29 phases in a game that was already won and they didn’t give up a try. Twenty-nine phases. They gave a way one penalty that the English girls tapped-and-went from but the girls kept them out. They didn’t give up the try.” Ireland had the ruler now. They weren’t of a mind to spare anyone’s knuckles.
Everybody calls him Goose. Philip Doyle cringes when you ask why, as well he might. “It’s, eh, it’s, well, it’s a Top Gun thing,” he says finally. Back in the mid-90s, Doyle was one of Ireland’s best Paintball players. If you didn’t know that there was an All-Ireland championship for that sort of thing, well the fact that the current coach of the Ireland women’s rugby team won five consecutive titles will be news to you too.
They used to play a Five Nations tournament against like-minded boy-children from across the water and when they suited up for Ireland, they gave themselves names to sew onto their uniforms. So he became Goose and it stuck. Maverick lives in Canada now.
Twenty years ago this week – on Valentine’s Day 1993, to be exact – he and his wife travelled to Edinburgh to watch Ireland’s first ever women’s rugby international. Since it was Scotland’s first as well, someone hit on the idea of staging it at Raeburn Place, site of the first ever men’s international against England away back in 1871.
Scotland won 10-0 and if anybody felt history’s hand on their shoulder they kept it to themselves.
“I remember that the girls had to buy their own kit,” says Doyle. “And what they got was men’s kit, obviously. There was no such thing as kit for women – it just didn’t exist. Last year, before one of our internationals, we had Joanne Moore in to present the jerseys the day before the game. Joanne was Ireland’s first ever outhalf and she’s tiny. She brought with her that day the jersey from that first international and it was this massive men’s jersey. I swear to God, Paul O’Connell would find it a bit on the baggy side. So not only had she to wear this huge, wide yoke playing for Ireland, she had to pay for the privilege as well.”
That’s just how it was back then and time didn’t change an awful lot. Doyle remembers being dragooned into coaching the Irish team three weeks before the 1998 World Cup. They paid their own way to Amsterdam and slept on floors when they got there. They lost to Australia, to The Netherlands and to Kazakhstan (twice) but dug out a win over Italy.
“It was a completely unknown world for everybody back then. Not just us, everybody involved in the whole tournament. It was very disorganised and that’s not me giving out – we were very disorganised ourselves. We didn’t know what we were doing. I have great memories of Amsterdam but we were right at the bottom of the food chain out there.