‘We play for each other. People on the outside looking in fail to grasp that sometimes’
Our main motivation as a group has never been goal-orientated, we are what motivates us.
The Irish women’s team celebrate their victory over Italy which clinched the Grand Slam in Parabiago, Milan last year. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
When our coach Philip “Goose” Doyle came before us last Thursday evening with “This lady doesn’t need any introduction...” a ripple of excitement went around the room. It had to be Katie Taylor.
Sure enough in walked Katie for our jersey presentation ceremony before the Six Nations match against Wales. It was immediately noticeable how small she is, only 60kgs, so a few of our forwards squared up to her! That broke the ice.
This has become a pre-game ritual over the years and Goose never disappoints. Dan Sheridan, our adopted Inpho photographer, did it before Scotland. Dan’s part of the furniture now. He’s been among us for the past three seasons, quickly learning our routine and style of play which enables him to catch some incredible shots. There’s a great picture of us glamming up having just captured the Grand Slam in the dank dressing rooms of Parabiago last March.
The presentation of jerseys is special. When you hear your name called out you go up and collect the jersey that becomes your responsibility to fill the next day. The message is simple, “All the work is done, all the talking is done, this is yours now, go out and do the job.”
So, we like to make a big deal out of it, but when Katie Taylor takes the time out of her busy sporting life to hand them over to us we feel really privileged. Katie was honoured and even nervous beforehand. We had to tell her that she is our inspiration. Don’t be nervous among us! Jenny Murphy, Jackie Shiels and Grace Davitt all played football with her so she was surrounded by friends.
Our Olympic champion spoke to us in her gentle voice about how proud she felt whenever we won last season. The speech was all about us but we wanted to hear all about her!
The jersey presentationevokes a lot of emotions. As a younger player, often unbeknownst to myself at the time, I played below my full capabilities for Ireland because I feared making a mistake.
I realised that if making a mistake or messing up is the worst that can happen, so be it. Move on to the next pass, the next tackle and they will eventually stick, although it took a awfully long time in the howling wind and rainy surrounds of Ashbourne RFC last Friday night.
But we got there.
We learned so much from an error -strewn performance against Wales and so little from our 11-try dismantling of Scotland. The encouraged mentality in Ireland is to accept that when you leave your comfort zone, mistakes will happen – but you have to at least try.
Over the years we’ve had some incredible presentations, perfect for each occasion. Last season we had Joanne Moore, who played in the first ever Irish ladies game, come in and before that the Coghlan and even the Cantwell parents have done the job. Fi and my parents handing over the jerseys represented our support structure, our backbone.
For about three years we stayed out in Roganstown hotel in north county Dublin. My home turf. As a kid I used to play out there – running up and down the golf club stairs. Goose grasped the significance of this, asking Peggy and Tom to come in to do the jersey presentation.
I was uncomfortable about it all but I understood they represented all the friends and family who got us there. Because you can’t do this on your own. You need the constant support of loved ones, who put up with your moods after losing and forgive the missed birthdays, hen parties, weddings and christenings because of games or training camps.
Before our Triple Crown victory in Scotland last year Declan Kidney paid a visit. This added the right amount of gravitas to a potentially historic occasion. His message was simple, direct and unemotional, which was a perfect pitch as we needed to stay extremely grounded to get the job done. That said, we made awfully hard work of that win.
Declan also made the trip to England to watch us win our last pool game of the 2010 World Cup in London. We were blown away by his interest and this gesture which was the start of people recognising us.
Before the French game, which proved to be the Six Nations title decider, the incredibly articulate Fiona Hayes (nee Steed) spoke to us about the important mix of experience and youth on our team. Fiona soldiered with us for many years so the message hit home.
Throughout the 2013 campaign, a lot of emphasis was put on what we had gone through to get where we were. Fiona grasped this, saying just because we went through hardship doesn’t mean the younger players have to go through the same hardship to become champions. The struggle over the years was tough as hell but so what? We are where we are because of it, sure, now let’s move on. What those experiences did create was a deeply rooted team culture.
Our main motivation as a group has never been goal-orientated, we are what motivates us. We play for each other. People on the outside looking in fail to grasp that sometimes. Katie Taylor gets it. Fiona Hayes gets it. Our parents get it. Dan and Declan too. And Goose definitely gets it.