Fiona Hayes: On a mission to finish job for UL Bohs

Fiona Hayes: On a mission to finish job for UL Bohs
Fiona Hayes. Picture: Inpho

It was the announcement rugby clubs the length and breadth of Ireland had been waiting for when the IRFU published its plan for the 2020-21 season ahead last Thursday to signal the resumption of elite domestic rugby after the Covid-19 shut down.

So many hard-fought league and cup campaigns had been brought to a shuddering halt when Ireland went into lockdown on March 12 and the governing body cancelled the 2019-20 season with immediate effect a week later.

Yet the sense of unfinished business can hardly have been more keenly felt than among the women of UL Bohemians. 

Unbeaten in all competitions over 20 games, Bohs were 11 points clear at the top of the Energia All Ireland League with 12 games gone and cruising towards the play-offs, and had taken their defence of the All Ireland Cup all the way to a consecutive final appearance.

It is why head coach Fiona Hayes and assistant, fellow former Ireland international Niamh Briggs were so desperate to return for 2020-21 and the mission of getting the job done.

“Absolutely. We won 20 games and were flying. We played Galwegians just before everything was cancelled and myself and Niamh Briggs thought that game was our best game to date,” Hayes told the Irish Examiner.

“We had been building momentum and were integrating our Ireland players back in for the play-offs. We had definitely made the semi-final and reached the AIL Cup final and we were all getting pretty excited. 

"I suppose our biggest aim is to get that AIL Cup back and that’s what we were going for all season. I played in that (2019) final myself and it was absolutely heartbreaking not to get the chance when it was all stopped. Nothing could be done about it but now we’ve definitely got some business to finish.

“We actually went back to do a bit of training three weeks ago. We knew something might be coming up so we went back to get the girls together so the actual roadmap and letting us know what’s going to happen is the next step. We know what’s going to happen now and we can start planning our pre-season.”

With UL Bohs’ task incomplete, the desire to reach their objective has also persuaded some senior players to give the team one last shot before hanging up the boots, Hayes explained.

“We had a couple of girls who were maybe thinking about retiring at the end of this 2020 season but the way this season ended they didn’t want to finish it off like that so we’ve got them to stay on for one more season.

“We’ve actually had no-one leave the squad so far, which is great and this year we’re trying to get a second squad up and running so we’re still recruiting.

"The AIL wants clubs to have a seconds team playing in their provincial leagues so we’re really trying to get that up and running. We’ve maybe about 32 players on the books so we will have to recruit up to 40 or 45 to give us a bit of leeway with that.”

Hayes said recruiting fresh blood has not proved as straightforward as you might imagine for the pride of women’s rugby in Limerick.

“I actually find that sometimes our success is a bit of a downfall for us because a lot of people who just want to play rugby socially think we’re at too high a standard to come and train and play with and they don’t bother coming out to us.

“Teams have folded in the area that would have played at a lower level and we’ve tried to get their players and some of the better players have come out to us but we try and cater for all levels, especially now we have a seconds team we want to start up. We tried to do that last year but fell short so hopefully this time around.”

One thing is for sure, potential new recruits to the UL Bohemians cause will not find a more enthusiastic coach than Hayes, who juggles her career as a youth worker at the Glen in Cork City with a fledgling coaching career that sees her also serves as head coach to the Munster U18 women, the UCC women’s rugby club and help out with Dolphin’s U20s and J2 men.

It is a broad grounding she hopes will eventually take her to the peak of the coaching ladder.

“From day one, my interest in the game is the detail and I suppose I wouldn't got as far as I did in my career - I was a good enough player but never excellent and what I did have behind me was my knowledge of the game, my cuteness and an ability to see situations ahead. I think that’s what got me my caps with Ireland and got me that far. It wasn’t natural talent so I was happy to get into that coaching aspect.

“I coached Dolphin’s Men’s J2 team last season and enjoyed it having been unsure how I’d get on coaching lads but it was brilliant and I loved every minute.

"So I want to kick on, I want to coach the Munster men’s team, the Irish men’s team, the Irish women’s team, whatever, I want to go to the top of the game and coach the best teams around the world.”

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