BRENDAN O'BRIEN: Heroics of Ireland Women's rugby team inspires next generation

Big tournaments can be noisy, rude affairs. Whether it’s an Olympic Games, a Fifa World Cup or a Ryder Cup, these operations tend to pitch tent, plaster posters, and plant flags all over town. 

They make a great, big hullabaloo about who they are and how their presence is going to make life so much more exciting for the lucky locals.

Traffic is expected to stop or, in the case of the Olympics, give over one lane exclusively for the easy transport of athletes and those committee bigwigs in flashy sponsored motors. 

If the gig is big enough it may even require the local parliament to tweak a few competition laws and the like here or there.

But it’s all worth it, right? Isn’t everyone a winner?

Sooner or later, some stat emerges from the ether claiming the whole shebang to be worth X-million euro to the local economy and there isn’t a sports event worth its weight in isotonic drinks that doesn’t make a song and a dance about the long-term advantages these things will leave behind when the circus moves on up the road.

But legacy is a tainted currency these days.

The World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, as well as the Olympics in London and Rio de Janeiro, have exposed this catch-all concept as all but bankrupt and yet it was impossible to walk away from the UCD Bowl on Wednesday night and not believe that what you had witnessed was an agent for change.

David Corkery’s controversial Facebook post, in which he wrote about the idea of women’s rugby ‘not sitting right’ with him, had already done the rounds by the time Ireland and Australia took to the field for their World Cup Pool C opener and yet hundreds of young girls and boys watched that enthralling game as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Which, of course, it was.

The village feel to this tournament on the Belfield campus was a definite plus at the final whistle as kids queued up for autographs and the pictures captured by the professional snappers as players and fans mingled in a mixture of delight and relief will adorn many a sitting-room wall long after the papers that carried them yesterday are yellowed and worn.

Marie-Louise Reilly, the 6’ 3” second row who was head and shoulders above every other player on the park, had spoken the day before about how the idea of female athletes playing rugby had been, for want of a better word, normalised for her nieces by the fact that they had been brought to the previous World Cups in England and France.

Here was further proof of that, on home soil, and the need for it was emphasised again yesterday when Shane Beatty, a presenter on KFM radio, tweeted that the “vast majority of listeners contacting us today agreed that women shouldn’t be playing rugby (or boxing) and quite a number were women”.

This isn’t a new debate.

Remember, the first women’s marathon wasn’t held until 1984, in Los Angeles. It had taken decades for the Games’ authorities to divest itself of the belief that longer distances were simply too much for the female half of the population so rugby and boxing are simply new hooks for the same old argument.

If there is concern among some people about women participating in boxing and rugby then well and good but it is a stance that should be expanded to take in men given the growing fears over concussion and the potential for long-term health problems that can accrue from repeated blows to the head.

Concussion is the curse that stalks all levels of the game. The ‘Recognise and Remove’ message was carried on the bibs worn by water carriers and on billboards on the side of both pitches as the tournament opened amid a welter of tries and under a sky that delivered blazing sun one minute and a dull canopy the next.

Ticking scoreboards shouldn’t be viewed as a positive.

Ireland’s two-point defeat of Australia was countered by a 98-0 humiliation of Hong Kong by Canada and the average winning margin over the six games was a distinctly unhealthy 42 points with an average of over 10 tries. 

There were three hat-tricks claimed, England’s Kay Wilson managed four and Canada’s Magali Harvey touched down for five.

Lopsided games will continue to stack up until the tournament hits the knockout stages and like begin to be paired with like. 

By then the cavalcade will have reached Belfast and, in the case of the semi-finals and final, the Kingspan Stadium with its 18,000-capacity. Like it or not, women’s rugby is only going to get bigger and better.

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ie
Twitter:
@ByBrendanOBrien


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