Grand Slam team come home to a rousing welcome
Up to 300 fans greet Irish women’s rugby team at Dublin airport
Family and friends waiting for the return of the Ireland Women's Rugby team that won the RBS 6 Nations Cup and secured an historic first grand slam. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
Unsuspecting passengers in Dublin airport this afternoon would have been forgiven for thinking the St Patrick’s celebrations hadn’t yet ended as they were greeted with cheers from scores of rugby fans awaiting a Grand Slam winning team.
The Irish women’s rugby team were late but it didn’t dampen the atmosphere as between 200 and 300 family, friends and fans crowded around the arrivals area, the sounds of Olé, Olé, Olé and Ireland’s Call rising louder as their heroines’ arrival came closer.
Then came the moment the crowd had been waiting for as captain Fiona Coghlan and coach Philip “Goose” Doyle entered the arrivals area, the Six Nations trophy aloft between them. Behind them the Irish team donned smiles and medals which said it all: “Winners 2013”.
Coghlan said she was “absolutely shocked” at the reception that awaited them in the arrivals hall of Terminal 2.
“I didn’t expect that many people at all. It’s kind of humbling,” she said.
“To be honest I think the whole nation has been behind us in this campaign so it has been brilliant”.
She praised the dedication of the team who have become just the third ever Irish team to experience Grand Slam success: “You ask them to do anything and they do it in spades...The organisation and commitment of the girls during the week and in the lead up to games and getting themselves back recovered again after games while going into work is just testament to them, testament to our squad...Just everyone has worked so hard to get here”.
Doyle meanwhile said he was “overwhelmed” by the reaction: “It’s something exceptional in anyone’s sporting career coming home to a home crowd in your home city - amazing,” he said.
He said that, setting out on this campaign, he knew there was “something special” in the team and said that, while the team’s success might appear like a “rags to riches” story, that it had been building for a number of years.
Doyle said he now hopes to see women’s rugby go from “strength to strength”: “Our goal is the world cup,” he said, adding that he was hopeful of getting sponsorship on the back of the team’s success.
Asked if he would like to see women's rugby go professional he said: "why not?"
“Sports women in Ireland have to be backed an awful lot more. I think it’s about time. We’ve seen it with Katie (Taylor) and we’ve seen it with other sports and now the Irish women’s rugby team and I think it’s time the whole country get behind women’s sport. We’re obviously doing the business, it can’t all be about the men.”
Among the crowd were dedicated supporters who have been following the team for years. Kate McCarthy who travelled back to Milan said the achievement was “unbelievable”.
“It’s such a small sport in this country...The publicity they’ve gotten now, they’ve shown everyone what they’re capable of. They’ve shown that they can play rugby - this isn’t tokenism - these girls are fully committed, they’re training like professionals, they’re in the gym every morning, they have diet plans and everything. This is just a reward for all their hard work.”
Ollie and Geraldine Hayes from Woodview Park in Limerick whose daughter Fiona is on the squad said the were “over the moon” at the team's success.
Liz and Janine Power, a mother and daughter from Maynooth, said they were rugby fans regardless of gender and had come down to celebrate the women’s great achievement.
“I hope it gets them sponsorship and...help them become professional,” Janine said.
Lucy Keaveney from Ratoath who has been following the team since Ireland’s 25-0 defeat over England in February, had first gone to watch the team “to support women in sport”. She is now an out-and-out fan.
“This is started as an equality issue but the rugby and the team have grown on me,” she said.
Sophie Kilburn, Casey White and Molly McDonough, all of who are 14 and play rugby in Ashbourne. “We are big fans of the Irish women’s rugby team. We go to all their matches,” Sophie said. “They’re all so nice and such brilliant players. They put in so much time and effort”.