Lockdown has changed the pace for Ciara Griffin. A daily routine no longer defined by speed, nor a pressing need to balance the moving parts of a demanding schedule. Instead, an uninterrupted period spent at home has, in many ways, taught the Ireland Women’s captain a number of life lessons. The fluidity of time has been a welcome change, allowing her to reflect and reset, but stay as busy as ever.
Not one to slow down at any juncture, Griffin has had to readjust in the months since the Women’s Six Nations campaign was brought to a sudden halt with two fixtures to play back in March. As schools and gyms were also shut down amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the handbrake on the 26-year-old’s everyday purpose was applied overnight, the pause button pressed indefinitely.
Griffin, by her very nature, is a beacon of positivity and resilience, both on and off the field, and she has had to lean on those characteristics during months of change and uncertainty to come out of this period as focused and motivated as ever. The serenity and tranquility of rural Kerry has no doubt made it easier to recalibrate and enjoy the slower pace of life in lockdown, with the flanker using the opportunity to step off the treadmill and take stock.
Speaking during an online leadership session hosted by Ireland Women’s team sponsor Aon this week, Griffin reflected on the past four months and outlined how lockdown has taught her to adapt and overcome, no more so than in her job as a primary school teacher in CBS Tralee, while maintaining her training programme.
“Like everyone, it has been a massive change to my routine,” she said. “I used to be always rushing and racing around and I love being busy. When everything just stopped during the middle of the Six Nations, it was tough and a shock to the system.
“One of the big changes for me was not being in the classroom and it was a challenge to move to online learning. It took an awful lot of time for me to get my head around the different ways we can teach students online to ensure they’re getting the best education but it has been a good learning curve. I always try to take the positives out of any situation and being pushed outside of my comfort zone in work forced me to adapt and overcome.
“Those lessons also helped me overcome the challenges for my personal training business that I recently set up. I went from having clients and coaching in the gym to no teaching, no rugby and no personal training sessions. I had no other choice but to find a way and do classes over Zoom call, which was definitely outside of my comfort zone but that’s what lockdown has done for a lot of us. It has taught us how to adapt and shown us how resilient we are.”
Living in the moment has also offered Griffin a unique and refreshing opportunity to push back against the need for speed and enjoy time spent with family at home. The 32-time capped international has used reading, yoga and walking as a means to switch off, while farm work in lieu of the hours spent commuting and racing from one place to another has allowed the Ireland captain to catch up on jobs she’s had to put on hold for years.
“You always think you should be busy or somewhere else but I’ve learned to enjoy what is around you and take that time to appreciate the moment you’re in,” Griffin continued. “Kerry is such a lovely county and getting out for a walk every day is something I’ve really enjoyed. There has been no end goal, no target or no distance I had to hit, I’ve just being doing it for me and I’ve used that time to reflect on what I’ve done that day or to plan out the next couple of days.
“Between reading, yoga and walking, those aspects have really helped me and actually relaxed me. My family have said they’ve never seen me so relaxed as I have been in the last month so that’s been great and something I’ll continue to do when life gets a bit busier again.”
As for training, Griffin is no stranger to the practice of working through her gym programme alone and access to a home gym has been hugely beneficial during this time, ensuring the Munster blindside has been able to make incremental gains and improvements across a number of metrics, while there has been a team focus on the analysis of opponents ahead of what promises to be a busy restart to the season.
Two home victories over Scotland and Wales at Energia Park underlined the exciting growth and development Ireland have made under Head Coach Adam Griggs and while the pandemic has forced the postponement of the 2021 Women’s Rugby World Cup qualifying tournament scheduled for September, the picture for the rest of 2020 and beyond remains vividly clear in Griffin’s head.
“Our goal this year has always been World Cup qualification and regardless of the pandemic, that is still our target,” she explained. “We still have our same goals and we’re training away ourselves, working hard with our own individual programmes and then collectively in terms of detail on opponents. We’re still really focused on what is ahead and all of the girls want us to be the best team possible going into that tournament so we can represent our country to the absolute best of our ability.
“Mental resilience has been key for us as a team during this period and while the break means we’re not sure when the remainder of the Six Nations and the World Cup qualifying tournament will be played, there have been positives to take from it. We have had time for injuries and niggles to heal and also look at those areas we need to improve on. We’ve all been working with Adam and the coaches through this and it has required a lot of mental toughness and discipline to keep motivation high but we all want to be back as the best versions of ourselves.”
Griffin only has to look up at her gym wall when motivation levels are waning.
“Yeah my very first Ireland cap and my World Cup jersey are hanging on the wall. To be honest, when you see that every day you’re motivated to keep training because you want that chance to be in the jersey again and you want to be back fitter and stronger. I also have a brilliant support unit at home and they’ve always been there for me.
“For all the girls, family are a massive motivating factor. My Mum and Dad drove me the width and breath of the country for training when I was younger and to get the chance to make them proud is something I never want to stop doing. To see the pride on their faces as you walk out and when you’re in the line for the national anthem, it makes everything worthwhile and pushes you to keep going.
“But also apart from family there is a lot of younger generations at the matches. They look up to us as role models and you want to keep pushing yourself to be the best possible role model for that young girl watching on. We always say we’re just caretakers of the jersey, it’s not ours and we’re just minding it for the next player to come. It’s a real motivation for us as a squad and has kept us going through this tough period. We want to be better, we want to lead by example.”
During a wide-ranging and engaging Q&A with Aon staff, Griffin concluded by using the platform to give a first-hand account of what the company’s support of Irish Women’s rugby means, recalling the Family Day at the IRFU High Performance Centre before the Six Nations as just one example of Aon’s invaluable contribution to the team.
“Aon’s support has meant everything over the last couple of seasons,” Griffin added. “To know we have your support and backing is huge for us and it gives us the belief when the name is on the front of the jersey.
“The Family Day run by Aon was brilliant because we’ve never done that before, bringing family in to watch us train and have a meal with us. What was great was that we got to meet our team-mates’ families properly and sit down with them and chat. We were so lucky to have that opportunity and that was all thanks to Aon, who continue to support us on our journey.”