Snapshots of the day Ireland’s women beat New Zealand

A lot of work and emotion went into the IRB Womens’ Rugby World Cup victory

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 08:00

The day begins at different times for everyone and for some, like Ireland’s video analyst Lenny Browne, it never ends at all. For most it became a day that could go on forever.

The 11th arrondissement pre-game

For the reporter, it begins with an Irish breakfast in Patrick’s Le Ballon Vert. It was supposed to end there too. It didn’t but this story will.

Over an hour later, after two trains and a bus to reach Marcoussis, on entering the leafy, manicured headquarters of French rugby a distinct London accent is trying to gain entry.

No more tickets for public sale, Monsieur. The 5,000 capacity seems ridiculous with six matches rolled out over eight hours across three pitches.

The man’s shoulders sag. He tries the next gate. Same result. The sun was beating down. He had the look of someone who had travelled an awfully long way for nothing. The French, he muttered in resignation. Turns out the reporter had a spare ticket as Donal, the barman in Patrick’s, couldn’t leave his post.

“You here to see England play Spain then?”

“No, my daughter Hannah is in the Ireland squad.”

Hannah Casey from Saracens!

John Casey works in films. Construction. Needs that new Bond film to commence. Like many living off the UK film industry.

We gain entry.

“Let me buy you a beer, mate.”

“Can’t. Working all day. Well, typing all day. Maybe back in Paris later. There’s a decent Irish pub in the 11th arrondissement . . .”

Lenny never sleeps

Lenny Browne used to be a bookbinder. Like his father’s father’s father before him. Browne’s bookbinders in Cork.

Before that, straight out of school in 1988, he became a deck officer in the Merchant Navy. So long ago he doesn’t think about it anymore. But it shaped him, changed his perception about life in general. At sea you learn to deal with isolation. You learn to live with yourself.

Makes him perfectly suited to his current profession.

Late Tuesday night, as some management deservedly enjoyed each other’s company after this historic victory (the girls didn’t drink at all), Lenny could be found in the team room at his multiple screens preparing the debrief footage for the morning meeting. Inpho photographer Dan Sheridan, embedded with Ireland, was the same. Their chosen professions, which really chose them, are for the owls of the human race.

“I could hear them both going to bed but Lenny was back there when I went down,” said Lynne Cantwell. “I can never sleep after games.”

“Neither can I,” added Fiona Coghlan.

Thinking about the game too much?

“Yeah,” said Coghlan. “You go back over it again and again. I can never sleep.”

For Lenny, Kazakhstan was already on his mind and on his screens.

Earlier that day, about an hour before kick-off, Lenny leaves “Lansdowne Road” - the team room (the training pitch is “Ashbourne” and “Enfield” is their accommodation) to stroll the few yards to the main stand and calmly wait for “the game of chess” to unfold.

“Goose (head coach Philip Doyle) is down on the pitch but when the game starts he is up with me. We have a few feeds then I give him specific information that he takes down at half-time. Some of it’s subjective, some of it is objective so you are able to say, very briefly, this is the story of the game.

“I have no doubt New Zealand did the same because they changed after half-time.”

Before the girls even leave the field afterwards, Lenny is already in the team room.

“I don’t need to be going onto the pitch celebrating.”

Highlighting the flaws instead?

“There is more emphasis on the positive. You would almost go three to one, positive to negative. So you are going, ‘Look ladies, what do you think of that decision?’

“You open end it.”

‘The winning qualities of this team will be reflected by the standards we set’

That’s the banner bagman Andy Weir puts up in the dressing room. This is not the Bangor man’s first tour of duty. Andy is responsible for all the little things.

“I use the same air freshener in the changing room as Ashbourne,” he says. “Just a memory thing. The flags are in the same place on the wall. I am the first face they see when they come in. In case there is a problem. When they arrive there must be no stress, no pressure. Spare everything for them.

“The heat was a challenge. We filled up a large ice box with sprays and cloths so they had them for their heads and back of their necks.

“What I noticed was the intensity of the warm up. The communication. The Black Ferns were beside us. They were silent. I watched them watching us. They seemed interested.”

A few Kiwi girls turn sharply on hearing a collective huffing up behind them. Peter Bracken is overseeing Ireland’s final scrummaging session.

“We were just doing what we do before every game,” explained the Offaly man. “I don’t want the girls scrummaging on astroturf so we just found a bit of ground. No harm that they saw us.”

‘All about the boots, Jack’

Coghlan’s parents, Mary and Mick, are joined by her brother Shane, his partner Julie and grandchildren Charlie (9) and Jack (5).

Mary Coghlan: “I had butterflies. I’m always hoping nobody gets hurt. Did you see the Samoa tackle on the English girl? Aw, I just hoped there wouldn’t be any of that.

“But there was just this air of confidence around. You could sense it in them because they were all so calm.

“And then just being there realising this is happening right in front of my eyes. And for Fi, to be on a pitch somewhere with a haka in front of her. That’s one of her dreams. Her dreams have come through. So far.

“But the belief, it just trickles its way down and has such an effect on everybody. They are like one big happy family. As I said to Mick the other day there is not one in the camp . . . you know you will always get one! But there is nobody like that. They are wonderful.”

When did you really start to believe?

Mary: “When half-time came.”

When they ran off like a GAA team, bumping black jerseys out of their way?

Mick Coghlan: “No, earlier. When they didn’t get that penalty try in the 16th minute. They just kept going, going, going.”

Joe Schmidt said the same thing.

Mick: “Yeah, see, great minds . . .”

What did you say to Fiona afterwards?

Mary: “You know the first thing she said? ‘Dad, you need a haircut.’ Ha ha ha. He went this morning and got it done.”

Mick: “It was all fuzzy. Like your beard!”

Mary: “But she was very calm. Fi never gets carried away. She’s very grounded.”

Who does she get that from?

Mary sits up like a hawk, eyebrows raised.

Mick (shrugging): “We’ll agree to disagree.

“Three or four weeks ago she was sitting at home and I said, ‘Well Fi, what do you think? Fourth place?’

She goes, ‘Dad, I’m going to win the cup and that’s it.’”

Mary: “To think they have achieved what no Irish team has achieved at any level. It’s incredible.”

Where’s the rest of the family?

Mick: “They are staying in the camp site. Nicola Doyle (Goose’s wife) is having a BBQ for everyone tonight.”

Mary: “Oh, Jack is in love with Niamh Briggs. ”

Mick: “When they won the match Briggsy came up into the stand to find Jack. ‘All about the boots, Jack.’ They have this thing going on that it’s All About The Boots.”

It certainly is.

Gordon Hamilton eat your heart out

Niamh Briggs created Alison Miller’s try in the 60th minute when gathering a chip out of defence by New Zealand wing Renee Wickliffe. Galloping past two tacklers before drawing a third, she gave the Laois winger a one-on-one with Black Ferns scrumhalf Emma Jensen.

“Just get Miller some space and she’s world class,” Briggs recalls.

That made it 12-11 to Ireland. The touchline conversion seemed out of her range.

“Look, back at the World Cup in 2010, I felt I really let myself down. I’ve worked really hard with Ian Costello from Munster and Greg McWilliams here.”

Two deep breaths. Charts her line. Belts it inside the near post.

Only way to get respect from New Zealand is to beat them?

“We came in here respecting everybody but fearing nobody. That’s the way we are going to stay,” says Briggs.

Concussion protocols

With 60 minutes played the match day doctor overrules, incorrectly as it turns out, Ireland’s Dr Bridget Collins.

“I love rugby but when you are working on the sideline you are always a play behind,” Collins explains. “Until the last person gets up from that ruck your eyes don’t move on. We are tracking injuries. Mags Reilly didn’t get up. She was lying flat on her belly so to someone in the stand it looks like she is knocked out cold when in fact she felt a little pain on her neck and was being sensible by lying still. When me and Dominic [Hoban, the physio] went on, we were happy she was okay.

“The match day doctor came up and said ‘No, no, concussion test’.

“’No, no, she’s fine’. But I knew we had to do it. The test can take 10 minutes but she went through it in about three or four minutes because she was fine.”

She was off the field over five minutes.

“I completely agree with the concussion protocols.”

Seventy-six minutes gone and Heather O’Brien clears out the massive frame of Rawinia Everitt. Play goes on. Collins stays with Heather.

“I could see the agony on her face. She is so tough you knew something was wrong. I took her to hospital for an X-ray so the whole post-match celebrations past us by. I got back at 20 to twelve and then you are doing the rounds with the team, checking the knocks. So it was only when I woke up this morning that I went, ‘That actually happened.’”

The driver of the machine

Mick Coghlan: “If you talk to anyone else for this it has to be Gemma. She is the . . .”

Mary Coghlan: “She is the machine behind it all. She drives the whole thing.

“Do you know what she did? Shane and Julie and the boys were staying out in the camp site, right? There are loads of people out there. The day they arrived she had milk and butter and all this stuff for them along with a little note from the IRFU welcoming them. Not alone is she responsible for the squad, and on 24-hour call, but she’s concerned about the parents and family. She is amazing.”

Gemma Crowley is the Ireland team manager. After the tournament she moves to London to take up a job with the 2015 England World Cup in Twickenham where she will be in a management role for Pool D (Ireland’s group).

What’s the song you recently learned on the guitar?

Gemma (laughing): “John Legend, All of Me.

“My favourite thing about the day was having Marian Earls, our S and C coach, on the bench beside me. The Grand Slam over in Italy was obviously massive but I didn’t have the feeling I had in my stomach. Being able to share it with Marian was so great.

“But when she turned around to me and said, ‘Gemma, SIX minutes left.’ I said, ‘I know Marian, I can see the clock!’ [laughs infectiously]

“But otherwise there was a real sense of calmness around us all!”

“Afterwards, Joe Schmidt, Scott Walker (IRFU), Colm Moran from Aon and David Nucifora had dinner with us. That was really nice. Then we had a bit of sing song.”

And she played All of Me with Greg McWilliams supporting on piano.

The 11th arrondissement revisited (late Tuesday night)

Man walks into Patrick’s. Donal the barman hears a distinct London accent.

“Pint please, mate”

A few ciders later, Donal, the barman, goes, “Did you hear? The Ireland ladies beat New Zealand today.”

“Yeah, I got your ticket, thanks.

My daughter, Hannah . . .”

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