Team SBC’s David Kelly discusses how the meteoric rise of Ireland’s rugby team can help fuel and inspire a generation of future sportswomen, with bookmakers and TV companies finally waking from the slumber.
Philip Doyle’s charges have set the standard, winning their first ever Grand Slam last year and achieving a record fourth place finish at the Rugby World Cup in France. Buoyed on by a large contingent of ecstatic fans, friends and family, they defeated the USA in a keenly contested affair. UL Bohs and Munster full back Niamh Briggs scored 18 out her side’s 23 points, ensuring a perfect start. In a historic clash against the Black Ferns, Ireland held firm to run out eventual 17-14 winners, denying New Zealand progression to the semi-finals and a chance to win their fifth consecutive crown. Despite a 40-5 win against minnows Kazakhstan, England overcame the Girls in Green in a one sided contest, before hosts France pipped them again in the 3rd/4th Place Play-Off.
Nevertheless, the sheer determination, skill and camaraderie helped endear the side to the Irish public. Irish TV channel TG4 said it reached almost a half a million viewers, adding that it was the third biggest rugby audience figure for 2014. Three Irish players also made the IRB.com ‘Dream Team’, the ever present and outstanding Niamh Briggs, Marie Louise Reilly, and Gillian Bourke. While results and performances ensure the spotlight is on women’s sport, the respective organisations and departments must overcome this honeymoon period and push for funding, a deserved and equal share of the pie. Too often, the real winners are praised and then sidetracked, removed from the agenda. Take Katie Taylor’s heroics at the London Olympics for example. The challenge is to overcome gender stereotypes, increase participation, and compete for titles on the greatest possible stage, given proper training facilities.
When asked about the interest from punters, Feilim Mac An Iomaire, Public Relations Officer with Paddy Power said: “With the live TV coverage from Sky and TG4 we saw some really good interest throughout the tournament, particularly in the latter stages. The punters had a lot of faith in the Irish girls early on in the tournament and continued to support them through their pocket all the way through. We had underestimated Ireland and some shrewd customers managed to collect on Ireland @13/1 beating New Zealand Women in the Pool stages.
“Turnover wise it surpassed expectations, the industry would have seen over six figures in the Semi-finals with the Final attracting close to €200,000 worth of bets across Ireland’s bookmakers. The only other women’s team sporting events that come close in terms of turnover/interest are the Women’s Gaelic Football and Camogie All Ireland Finals. We will be wary of the girls in green performing similar heroics when the Women’s 6 Nations comes around at the start of 2015!”
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring TD, also congratulated the squad on their highest finish: “On behalf of the Irish people I am delighted to congratulate the Irish Women’s Rugby team on achieving 4th place at the Women’s Rugby World Cup. An historic group stage win over four-time winners New Zealand and a first ever semi-final appearance in a World Cup was a fantastic achievement. Throughout the tournament, the team showed a great sense of team spirit and self-belief and I commend team captain Fiona Coughlan and each of the team players on their superb performances.
“By your achievements in the Rugby World Cup and the Six Nations in recent years you have raised the profile of women’s rugby in Ireland and gained the respect of the rugby world. I am sure that your World Cup journey will inspire many more women and girls to take up the game in Ireland.
“Great credit is due to Head Coach Philip Doyle, Team Manager Gemma Crowley, Assistant Coach Greg McWilliams and Forwards Coach Peter Bracken for all their work in preparing the team for the tournament. Philip is stepping down after the tournament and I want to thank him for the wonderful job he has done as Irish Head Coach and to wish him the very best for the future.”