4 Dec, 10:19
Grand Slam winners Fiona Coghlan and Nora Stapelton have returned the Women's RBS 6 Nations trophy to Chief Executive John Feehan at the Six Nations offices in Dublin.
It truly captured the extent of just what had been achieved and heralds the arrival of Irish women's rugby as a truly formidable movement.
As the ladies lifted the gloom of an otherwise disappointing Six Nations period, what strikes me about the group's many virtues is the professional manner in which they go about their business, the close knit and strong team spirit that is plainly at the core of their endeavours and the personal sacrifices they each make.
One little example was when I sought out Claire Molloy to offer my congratulations she was not to be seen amid the celebrations. Instead she had found a quiet corner to concentrate on her medical studies, which she had been doing behind the scenes throughout the championship; the finals of which she was taking this week before packing her bags again and heading off to Hong Kong to join up with the Sevens squad.
The support from parents, employers and friends is also truly extraordinary. The goodwill is highlighted by the huge numbers who travelled to cheer the team on at the home games at Ashbourne, and then the away games to Wales and Scotland and then on to Italy at considerable expense.
The increasing profile for women's rugby in Ireland is a tribute to coach Philip Doyle and his management, together with team manager Gemma Crowley, inspirational captain Fiona Coghlan and her determined and ambitious playing squad. It is also important to recognise the work being done by Mark Blair and his team in the UK in building up a strong and talented Exiles women's group.
I also attribute the healthy state of affairs to the help of the Irish Sports Council "Women in Sport'' grant, together with the in-put of the IRFU's Domestic Game Committee, including Scott Walker, Stephen Hilditch and Mary Quinn.
What matters now is to capitalise on this season's success. I wish the IRFU and the Irish Sports Council every success in their drive to enhance the long term success in 15-a -side and Sevens rugby.
What has been achieved can truly be the catalyst for greater things to come.
The 6 Nations
Sadly it was a fairly miserable time for our men's team. To win only one game is not a true reflection of our worth. The frustration of it all is underlined in the harsh statistic that we lost by four points to Scotland, by just six to England and by seven to Italy.
Of course fundamental to it all was how the squad was ravaged by injury. I think at one point we could not call on up to 16 players.
But then I take the positive point that we were able to introduce many new faces. This is important at a time when it is obvious that the team is going to undergo great change in personnel over the next few seasons.
What was also evident and most pleasing to me was the enduring level of spectator support for our National team brand and for the Six Nations championship. The theme of my speeches throughout the Six Nations was the need to ensure that all the structures relating to the Heineken Cup and RaboDirect PRO 12 must at all costs be preserve so as to ensure that the Six Nations continues as one of the most competitive and entertaining in World rugby.
On behalf of the IRFU I thank you all for your presence at the Aviva Stadium. To have sell-out 102,000 spectators present for our two home games illustrates the primacy of International rugby over everything else and how precious tickets are for big match days.
I hope you enjoyed your experience. We've introduced some new ideas designed to make your Ireland match days all the more memorable - providing street theatre and entertainment and promotional giveaways on the roadways leading into the Stadium and then spectacular pyrotechnics shows to welcome the teams to the pitch.
Thank-you again for your support. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Aviva for the Guinness series in the autumn.
All-Ireland Police Team
In between my Six Nations commitments, I was delighted for the opportunity to accompany the All Ireland Police team to Cardiff for their match against their Welsh counterparts and later to attend their game on the back pitch at the Aviva Stadium against their French opposites.
May I emphasise that the IRFU is delighted to formally recognise the All Ireland Police team. It is made up of members of An Garda Siochana and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. The Union is also pleased to endorse their All Ireland Police team jersey crest which incorporates the symbols of the four provinces of Ireland with those of the Garda and the PSNI.
The emblem is a proud expression of how rugby on this Island has always been seen to successfully advance relationships and promote greater understanding and respect between communities. I might add that the All Ireland team won both games.
Long may they thrive.
Another significant development I was delighted to be a part of was evidence of the strengthening links between the IRFU and the Exiles in Britain.
We all remember fondly the days when players based in Britain, such as Simon Geoghegan, Simon Easterby and Jim Staples adorned the Irish provincial scene here and subsequently went on to play for Ireland. I am glad to report that a new generation share the same passion for Irish rugby.
Evidence was to hand when I travelled to London for the annual IRFU - Exiles inter-regional finals at under 16, 17 and 18 levels. The wonderful occasion was superbly organised by IRFU Exiles Development Officer Mark Blair and a huge and widespread team of volunteers.
They had scoured the length and breadth of Britain in search of talented players who could represent Ireland in the future. It is a measure of the strengthening links between the Exiles and the IRFU that there were around 300 players involved in the 12 teams and hundreds more eager parents in attendance. It was heart-warming to note that they had come together with the shared passion for Irish rugby.
Representatives from the four provincial Academies were on hand to see the next generation of the Irish Diaspora in action.
So watch this space for developments!
Heading into the last quarter of the season, the rugby menu is fulsome with lots of appealing games to come as we arrive at the business end of the Heineken and Amlin Cups and the climax of the RaboDirect PRO 12. I am greatly enthused also by the fare on offer at club level. The issue of promotion and relegation always adds spice to the Ulster Bank League and there are a multitude of other league and cup issues to be determined through all the grades.
On the domestic front I am delighted that my Presidency enables me to visit a great number of clubs and in the last few hectic weeks I attended functions at Bective Rangers, St. Mary's College, Wanderers, Terenure College, Kanturk and Cork Constitution. It also pleased me that a privilege of the President permitted me to invite representatives of clubs to our Six Nations match functions. This allowed me to recognise the contribution to Irish rugby by junior clubs, so that members of Killarney, Youghal, Enniscorthy, Dundalk, Cavan, Clogher Valley, Tuam and Ballyhaunis could join in these special occasions.
My visit to Temple Hill for the opening of Cork Con's new "pavilion''coincided with the playing of the Club international between Ireland and England. Ireland won by 30-20 and I was greatly taken by the high levels of skill and fitness demonstrated by our non contracted players who perform each week in the Ulster Bank League.
It greatly enhanced by faith in our club game.
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