This time two years ago, Ciara Griffin had yet to be capped by Ireland. Seventeen caps later and the Munster and UL Bohs flanker was this week named Ireland captain.
Q: You got engaged, had your birthday and got the Ireland captaincy recently. Is it fair to say it’s been a dream month for you?
A: (Laughs) Yeah, it’s been a busy few weeks. I got engaged over Christmas to my partner, Damien, which was a lovely surprise. Then, my birthday’s the 10th of January and the day after I got the call to offer me the captaincy. It was a whirlwind two or three weeks!
Q: Will you have to shed the nickname ‘Junior’ now that you’re Ireland captain?
A: Oh no, I’ll always be Junior alright. I respond more to Junior now than I do Ciara. It’s gas.
Q: How did you get that nickname?
A: My first year with Munster, there was a bit of an age difference between myself and the oldest player. I was only 18 at the time, so she was Senior and I was Junior. Heather O’Brien and Ben Martin christened me and it’s stuck since.
Q: You’ve achieved what you called the “ultimate honour” of being Ireland captain but, given everything you’ve achieved so young, do you take that in your stride?
A: No, you never take anything for granted. You’re always training hard because you’re always fighting for that jersey. I’m very grateful and it’s always nice to get those opportunities.
Q: Adam Griggs said you’re a “natural leader”. Did he tell you what moment convinced him to make you captain?
A: As the girls know, I’m not one for talking a lot. If I talk, I talk for a reason. My way is I’ll just play. I’ll never give up. I’ll play until I physically can’t play anymore. I wouldn’t ask my teammates to do anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. I pride myself on that. Whether he saw those attributes, I’m not too sure, but it’s a massive honour and a massive opportunity.
Q: Brian O’Driscoll got the Ireland captaincy at the same age and he asked himself after accepting it, “What have I done? How am I meant to captain all these guys who have played for so many years?” What was your reaction?
A: I can see where Brian was coming from but with this team, there are so many leaders in the squad, Claire Molloy, Niamh Briggs, Paula Fitzpatrick, so I’ve a lot of people to support me, which is a massive boost. I’ll gain a lot of experience through that in my first year as well. That was one thing that was made clear: I’m not on my own. It’s going to be a big team effort. It’s something I wouldn’t be as daunted by because I know there are such great players there and they’re always willing to help.
Q: O’Driscoll decided he’d to do it his own way and lead by how he played, rather than being vocal. Will you be the same?
A: Yes, I’ll just go out and do it my way. I’ll put my head down and play for 80 or 85 minutes. My big thing is hard work. It’s impossible to beat hard work. Hard work is always going to beat talent if talent isn’t willing to work hard enough - that’s a motto I got at a very young age and something I’ve lived by. That’s not going to change now with the captaincy. I’m going to play my game and just work harder at it.
Q: You’ve had a change of head coach with Adam Griggs and Mike Ross has come on board too. What difference have you noticed so far?
A: I suppose a fresh start is welcome at times. I know things didn’t go our way (at the World Cup), things happen and that’s sport, unfortunately. It’s really exciting now that we have new management, nine uncapped players, which is amazing, and 10 different clubs represented. Each club brings their own different way of playing and each player brings their own strengths. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a new phase for Irish rugby, especially after the World Cup. The rebuilding phase.
Q: What lessons have you taken from that tournament heading into the 6 Nations?
A: The things you’d take from it are to keep working hard, support one another and just look out for your teammates. We’ll probably take more from this weekend against Wales because it’s brand-new ways of playing, new ways of practice, new team, new combinations. This weekend will be really valuable for that.
Q: As well as playing at the World Cup, you won the AIL and the interpros last year. How would you assess the state of the game in Ireland?
A: It’s always building. It can be difficult for clubs at this time of year with players away on international duty but the fact that they’re still fielding teams with players away shows that there’s numbers there, which is great. Everything needs to be improved, nothing’s perfect, but it’s going in the right direction.
Q: There were some great pictures of you celebrating Munster’s interpros win last month. What were you thinking in those moments?
A: That was absolute relief. I wear my heart on my sleeve and the girls give me a bit of slagging for it. I can be an emotional player at times but that’s just because I give everything to the game, I give everything to my jersey. Last year we lost to Leinster in the final match and it was sickening. Then, this year, to be in Thomond Park, the home of Munster rugby, and to be in such a gripping, tight match, it was so physical and fast, so when the final whistle went, there was that split second, ‘did we win?’ It was down to points difference. When we won, it was utter relief and joy. All the hard work by the whole squad paid off.
Q: You gave up alcohol in your late teens. Do you think you’d be where you are in your sport without having made that decision?
A: I’d say not. Not that I was a drinker or anything but it didn’t suit me. Damien, my now fiancé, supports me in that and he’s anon-drinker as well, which makes it so much easier. It just focused my mind so much on my training and what I want to accomplish. That’s just my opinion. I know loads of girls who can go out and have a social drink and still play amazing rugby, so I’m not saying you can’t accomplish anything if you drink. It just didn’t suit me and it didn’t work. It’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
Q: What are your hopes for the 6 Nations, personally and for the team?
A: I hope we perform, put into practice everything that we’re doing in training and enjoy it and express ourselves on the field. Just to be competitive too. And put Irish rugby back on the map.
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