HERE’S my top five sporting moments in Irish women’s sport in 2015 as another season draws to a close.
1. Six Nations glory
Ireland’s Sophie Spence in action against Scotland in this year’s Six Nations tie. Credit: INpho (internet)
With a new coach fast-tracked for the senior Irish women’s rugby team late last year, Tom Tierney had big boots to fill. Of course, there was Ireland’s success at the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup in France, during which they beat the All Blacks and reached the semi-final under the guidance of head coach Philip Doyle and Cork-born manager Gemma Crowley. With a number of high-profile players retiring in the aftermath of the World Cup, including the likes of Lynne Cantwell, captain Fiona Coghlan, Cork’s Laura Guest, Siobhan Fleming and Grace Davitt, then the thoughts of winning the Six Nations wasn’t really on anyone’s radar.
But, under new captain Niamh Briggs, and Highfield RFC veteran Heather O’Brien, Ireland gradually found their feet under Tierney’s new system.
It all went down to the last day, during which the women of Ireland crushed Scotland by 70 points to claim both the Triple Crown and championship on a glorious weekend for Irish rugby, which saw the men also win to complete a historic first double in the history of the IRFU.
2. WGPA launches
The executive of the WGPA at the launch of the association in Dublin last January. Picture: Inpho
In January, the Women’s Gaelic Players’ Association was officially unveiled in Smock Alley in Temple Bar, Dublin.
Among those on the executive making history was Cork footballer Valerie Mulcahy and former Cork camogie player Anna Geary. The duo joined chairwoman Aoife Lane, secretary Fiona McHale and treasurer Kate Kelly in launching the WGPA in front of a packed audience.
Each county team across both camogie and ladies football appointed a player representative who communicates the views of the players on their squads to the WGPA executive, who to-date have done fantastic work in not only promoting female GAA players, but also with regard to running scholarships and a 24-hour help line for members.
It was an extremely brave move by a number of individuals to create the WGPA, but with their first birthday just around the corner, they can be proud of not only how professional they’ve gone about their business, but with the improvements they’ve helped bring about in the game in such a short timeframe already.
3. Hockey heroics
The Irish women’s hockey team’s performance against the United States in Valencia this summer stands out, not least because former CIT graduate Cliodhna Sargent was leading the way in defence. The 2-0 victory over the fifth ranked team in the world was one of the most significant wins in Ireland’s history after claiming the top spot in Pool B of the World Hockey League in Spain.
Megan Frazer and Anna O’Flanagan netted the two crucial goals but it was the defensive display by coach Darren Smith’s side, and the likes of Sargent in the rearguard, that kept the treacherous USA out of sight.
The chances of playing at the 2016 Olympics in Rio was now within their grasp, but losing a penalty shoot-out against China in the quarter-final saw those dreams dashed. The win over the USA however cannot be underestimated, and it bodes well for young rising hockey stars in the game in Ireland.
4. Headed to the World Cup
At the beginning of December, the Irish women’s cricket team headed to Bangkok for the T20 Women’s World Cup qualifiers. Their aim was to qualify, which they did, upon beating Scotland in the semi-final of the tournament amid 30-degree heat.
The victory by captain Isobel Joyce’s side saw them qualify for the T20 World Cup in India next March, however their sights were now on winning the tournament outright when facing a much-fancied Bangladesh side in the final.
The Irish would claim victory in dramatic fashion, scoring the eight runs required off the last over to record a two-wicket victory, with 16-year-old Lucy O’Reilly hitting the winning runs off the last ball. So, keep an eye out on how they progress at the T20 World Cup in March.
5. Baku ballers
In July, the first Irish women’s 3X3 basketball team competed at the European Games in Baku, and they put the nation on the map again. Having not had a senior Irish women’s basketball team for some years, this set-up was the closest Ireland could come, and leading the way was Cork woman Orla O’Reilly.
Joining her in Matthew Hall’s side were Team Montenotte stars Grainne and Niamh Dwyer, and Liffey Celtics’ Suzanne McGuire.
They finished third in Pool C scoring an average of 13.7 points, but none-the-less qualified for the bracket stages. Then the were drawn against a hugely fancied Czech Republic side, but thy beat them 17-13 in an impressive team display, before losing to the eventual goal medallists Russia in the quarter final (21-15).
It was a key moment in the history of Basketball Ireland, and the team’s success has seen the senior women’s national side programme reinstated under Cork coach Mark Scannell next year.