Miller’s scenic route to Paris

Like thoroughfares all over Ireland, Portlaoise’s Main Street has seen its fair share of window displays declaring support for local sporting heroes.

Miller’s scenic route to Paris

Decorations supporting the regional Rose of Tralee qualifying pageant have been commonplace in recent times though the GAA is the normal occupier.

It’s prime real estate, basically, so it was with a slight air of incredulity yesterday that Alison Miller spoke about how one chemist in the Laois county town has apparently dedicated its shopfront to the local rugby heroine and her comrades. Not that she has had time to digest it completely.

“I’ve never been to a World Cup before so this is all different and new to me. The games are so close together, recovery strategies and preparing as well as you can before the next game is so important. Moving on quickly from one day to the next is the key.”

It’s a process made significantly easier by dint of the fact that coach Philip Doyle has been in situ so long and Ireland have collected a bunch of players that has travelled many a path together in recent years.

The Ireland squad that faces England in this evening’s World Cup semi-final is one that has been gathered from all sorts of unlikely backgrounds, but the influence of the GAA runs through the 26 like a DNA strand.

Miller is no different, given her late father Bobby played with and managed Laois, and guided Éire Óg and Athy to success in Carlow and Kildare before passing away suddenly while managing Arles-Killeen eight years ago.

She was a student in Waterford IT at the time and had already featured at a high level in Gaelic football, athletics, gymnastics and volleyball. But her dad had always kept a passing brief on the oval code.

Rare would be the Ireland game that passed without Bobby Miller taking it in and though Alison, isn’t sure, she thinks he may even have togged out for Athy one year as he touched 40.

Anyway, it was his passing that pointed her belatedly towards the sport.

“I remember thinking ‘jeez, life is very short and maybe you should try different things’. I went back to fourth year in college and two of the guys in my class, Andy McBride and Shane O’Rourke, were the rugby coaches on the team. They said I should give it a go. They said I was strong and fast, but I didn’t go initially. Then I went down and loved it. I played for a whole year.... I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I loved it.”

She drifted away from the game for a short spell again before moving home and wandering down to Portlaoise’s grounds in Togher and her form there led ultimately to invitations to play for Connacht and Ireland. From such innocuous roots has Miller embedded herself into the fabric of a team making history. Her hat-trick in the 25-0 defeat of England in 2013 and the 60th-minute try against New Zealand last week have been the icing on her cake thus far. Not that she planned any of it.

“When I take up a sport, I always think I am going to have fun, and then I take it more seriously. That has always been the way I am with anything. I took up Gaelic football and went and played with Laois for a year.”

She won a Leinster medal, while she was at it, and Miller’s adaptability is merely a personification of that which Ireland bring to the table today as they face a powerful English side in Paris.

“You never really know what a team will do, but they will bring that traditional English style. They could do something different, but we are able to adapt if they do. That’s not a problem. We’ve done it before. It’s a matter of going out and playing our own game.

“Everyone is able to play rugby and is able to adapt to different situations. It has a lot to do with our coaches and how they coach us. We are not programmed, we know if things aren’t working out, that we can change them.”

O’Reilly to ref World Cup semi

Ireland’s interest in the second Women’s Rugby World Cup semi-final this evening will extend beyond that of spying mission, with confirmation that Helen O’Reilly will referee the meeting between hosts France and Canada.

O’Reilly, a Dubliner who lives in Ashbourne, Meath, was one of eight elite referees chosen by the IRB to officiate at the tournament.

Her nomination for the semi comes on the back of being the first Irish female referee to take charge of a Women’s Six Nations fixture last year.

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