Grand achievements still raising profile of game

Four players think back to that magical – if glacial – day in Milan, when they beat Italy 6-3 to seal the Grand Slam

Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 13:00

A day in the life of the Irish rugby squad. Up at the crack of dawn for a session in the gym, a full day of work or studies, then a training session in the evening, the Leinster contingent on duty at Old Belvedere Rugby Club in Dublin. Home for a few hours sleep and then off again.

You remind Fiona Coghlan, Niamh Briggs, Sophie Spence and Jenny Murphy that they could be at home with their feet up, watching TV with a cup of cocoa on this chilly night, but they wouldn’t have it any other way, they say, even if their international rugby careers consume their lives.

Usually it all calms down for a few months after the conclusion of the Six Nations, but this being a World Cup year, it’ll be late August before they get a break of any substance.

“But we have two weeks off in May,” says captain Coghlan, like that’s a treat. “Well, one full week and the other is ‘active rest’.”

Is that not a contradiction in terms? “It is,” she laughs, but she’s been doing this for 11 years, when she first came in to squad, so active rest is better than no rest at all.

All those mornings in the gym and evenings spent training paid off in some style last year when the team won the Grand Slam. That there was only one retirement from the squad (that of Joy Neville), when more might have been expected to choose to go out on the highest of notes, is a sign of their eagerness to maintain the momentum.

And if they ever need a fillip, they just think back to that magical – if glacial – day in Milan, when they beat Italy 6-3 to seal the Grand Slam.

Be honest, how many times have you watched the recording? Dozens?

“I’ve never watched it,” says Briggs, whose two penalties that day won the game.

Never?!

“No, I can’t,” she says.

Why?

“She missed a kick,” Coghlan laughs.

“I did! And a try too. No, it’s just because I have memories in my head that I don’t want to change,” says Briggs. “I’m afraid if I watch it they will change. It wasn’t a good game of rugby, let’s be honest, the conditions were awful, but in my head it was the most amazing game of rugby ever.”

You’ll never watch it?

“Ah, I will some day, but not yet.”

Jenny?

“I haven’t watched it either. I saw the documentary [RTÉ’s Making History – Ireland’s Grand Slam], but not the game itself. I missed it, I tore my calf in the game before so it was all bitter sweet. I was just in tears through the whole match, emotions up and down, watched it through my fingers.”

“I actually watched it about two weeks ago,” says Spence, “I had to get the tissues out. You knew what was going to happen but still, I just got really excited.”

Fiona? “My mother watches it over and over and over again!”

It was a dizzying time for the squad in the weeks after Milan, from receiving the minimal of media coverage until then, suddenly their phones never stopped ringing. There was even an appearance on The Late Late Show.