‘Unbelievable’ journey at an end as retirements set to spark new era

Head coach Philip Doyle, captain Fiona Coghlan and fellow veteran Lynne Cantwell led the Irish women’s rugby team out for one last time last night, through Dublin Airport’s arrivals hall and into a welcoming scrum of supporters.

‘Unbelievable’ journey at an end as retirements set to spark new era

All three are calling time on their lengthy involvement with the squad on the back of the display at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France where they shocked the world champion Black Ferns and finished a record high of fourth.

They arrived home to a raucous reception of 200  or so screaming fans, but two of their number made directly from Paris to Cardiff. Work and college beckoned. Most of their colleagues will follow suit in the coming days.

Days and weeks had been begged, borrowed and stolen from employers to fulfil their dream on the continent and they broke up last night – after a deserved stint at Keogh’s watering hole off Grafton Street – knowing one era is over and another about to start.

More retirements are expected from a squad well-stocked with players aged 30 or over or approaching it. Many of the management staff, aside from Doyle, are moving on as well. The dreaded ‘transition’ word was aired.

“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” said UL Bohs and Munster hooker Gillian Bourke. “There have been so many highs and so many lows. I don’t know how to sum it up. They are just the best group of girls, the best management and the best craic.

“It’s very emotional knowing we won’t be together again as a group. It’s tough. People like Lynn have been the role models for us. I have been playing with them since I started playing rugby in 2003. We’ve tried to convince them to stay.”

Cantwell, who aired her intention before the tournament, last night confirmed that the decision to stand down hadn’t changed, but there was some good news for Bourke on landing.

Along with second row Marie Louise Reilly and place-kicking full-back Niamh Briggs, Bourke was named on the player of the tournament, the news dropping just as phones were reconnected on Irish soil.

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