“I’ve been involved seven years now. Every year there’s been a massive improvement – beating France for the first time and nearly beating Wales away. I’ve no doubt in my mind that we’re going to keep on improving up the ladder.” Ireland Women’s captain Joy Neville reflects on a successful Championship campaign.
Ireland’s Women’s team may have ended their season with a 13-10 defeat to Triple Crown winners Wales in Cardiff, but team captain Joy Neville still has plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
In recent weeks Neville skippered the side to their first ever win over France and victories away from home against Italy and Scotland helped the girls in green to their best ever finish in the RBS Women’s 6 Nations – third.
Their 23-0 win over Scotland in Edinburgh also secured automatic qualification for them for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup.
Steven Hennessy, in his first season as coach, has added much to the set-up and while experienced hands like Neville, Lynne Cantwell, Joanne O’Sullivan, Tania Rosser, Fiona Coghlan and Orla Brennan are always to the fore, new players like Niamh Briggs and Amy Davis have also been very impressive.
Speaking straight after the Welsh defeat, Neville told IrishRugby.ie: “As I said to the girls just there, we should still be proud of ourselves. Going into the second half, 10-3 down, I thought we did extremely well to get a try and come back to 10-10.
“It was a good kick (by Non Evans) to bring them to 13-10. I’m very proud of the girls for the effort they put in, especially in the second half.
“Again we’ve learnt an awful lot. We’re looking forward to next season. We made history – third in the Six Nations.
“We’re happy. Obviously we’re disappointed we lost. But we’re happy with the overall tournament.”
After improving the side’s Six Nations ranking from fourth to third, Neville is already setting her sights on further achievements in next year’s tournament and also the much-anticipated World Cup in England.
Ireland finished an encouraging eighth at the 2006 World Cup in Canada and Hennessy’s charges will fancy their chances of bettering that position in the London event.
“We’ve the World Cup and Six Nations next year. We’ll just train hard the next couple of months and come back again,” Neville added.
“(In the mean-time) we’ve interprovincials, club games, lots of training and then warm-up games in December for the next Six Nations.”
The 25-year-old Joy, who is a sister of Paul Neville, the Garryowen captain, says there is a great bond and sense of camaraderie in the Irish squad which has obviously been a factor in their improving fortunes on the pitch.
“I couldn’t ask for a better bunch, that’s truly from my heart. They’re like sisters to me.
“What we go through both on and off the pitch, the training, the dedication. They’re a great bunch of girls and I’m very proud of them.”
Reflecting on the matches of the past few weeks, the UL Bohemians and Munster number 8 gave a special mention to the increased numbers of supporters who are turning out for women’s internationals.
“The support we get is improving every year, bit by bit. I’m happy with the crowd overall.
“Even in St. Mary’s (on Templeville Road), where we play our home matches, there’s a great crowd – up to thousands – and I can see it improving.”
Although amateur, a determined Ireland are clearly closing the gap on the likes of England, who became the first team to win four back-to-back Women’s Six Nations titles last weekend.
An Irish President’s selection only lost 19-8 to England at St. Mary’s last December and Neville and company actually led England 13-5 at half-time in their Six Nations tussle last month before the pre-tournament favourites ran out 29-13 winners.
“England get paid and are semi-professional. But we have the same dedication as them…we’ve a 9-5 job, train before and after and that’s not going to stop up. We’re just going to continue that way.
“We’ve got a great management team, headed by Steven and Rachel Reid (our manager). We couldn’t do without them.
“The amount of organisation, they get us here and get us focused. Without them, we wouldn’t be half what we are today. I must give a special thanks to them.”