An Attempt to Remedy the Insult of Niamh Horan
The media largely shapes the public’s perceptions of women in sports. According to the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in the UK, it is estimated the media coverage of women’s sports is about 5% of total sports coverage. So it is most upsetting and infuriating to see that the petty 5% of coverage that we do get is wasted on articles such as that published in the Sunday Independent on 10th August 2014, written by Niamh Horan, on “Women in Rugby”.
With such tripe being published in the media, it is no wonder that women are not taken as seriously in sports, and are still struggling to gain the same recognition of accomplishments and achievements to those of our equal counterparts. Thanks a bunch Niamh.
I am no journalist, so I am not going to attempt to write a witty rebuttal (which you can find here, here, here, and here). Instead I am going to attempt to write a positive article, to provide some information that Niamh could have brought away with her from her training session, promoting women’s rugby in light of Ireland’s world cup heroics.
Hopefully it reflects the sport and its values ahead of tomorrow’s significant Women’s Rugby World Cup Semi-Final against regular rivals England in Paris (kick-off at 5pm Irish time).
Ireland has qualified for the Women’s Rugby World Cup Semi-Finals for the time EVER, after wins over the USA, New Zealand and Kazakhstan. Their win over New Zealand was a momentous one as it was the first ever win by a senior Irish international rugby team over an All Black side.
The International squad is led by Fiona Coghlan, who is only one of three Irish Captains to ever lift a Grand slam in Rugby. She was also awarded the Irish Times Sportswoman of the year in December after captaining the Irish women’s rugby team to a historic first Grand Slam and Six Nations Championship in 2013. She has an accomplished media profile and is committed to promoting women’s sport, with rugby steadily growing in popularity as a result.
Fiona is joined by another 25 women to make the 26-(wo)man squad for this year’s World Cup. A squad that is right on track to becoming the best in the world, if they maintain their standards and performances to date.
It is a well balanced team with youth and experience throughout, ranging from 23 years young to 36 years young. All members of the squad also play at both provincial and club level. Nine of the squad tog out for Leinster, four for Munster, two for both Connacht and Munster, and five for Exile. The Irish women’s rugby team is professional in everything but name. They juggle their jobs – the squad includes Garda, physiotherapists, maths teachers, and mums – with strenuous commitments to Ireland, effectively spending all their spare time either training or playing rugby.
Just to reiterate the accomplishments of this squad to date - New Zealand had not been beaten in a Women's World Cup match since 1991. Their 20-match run was brought to an end last week by an Irish squad that had a well-executed game-plan and an unrivalled intensity from the players on the pitch.
It was a proud moment for everyone involved as they triumphed in their first ever meeting with the Black Ferns and did what no other Irish international, men’s or women’s, 15s team had done before. But that’s not the end of it. Ireland has a shot at the Women’s Rugby World Cup title, and they are bang on track to win it.
After their win last Tuesday, they were on cloud nine. However, the bubble was shortly burst as their recovery regime began and training preparation for the next match commenced, led by their coaches; Philip Doyle (head coach), Peter Bracken (forwards) and Greg McWilliams (backs).
Rugby involves short high-intensity bouts combined with low to moderate periods of activity. The physicality of the game is intense for both men and women, demanding speed, strength and power. Women’s rugby is a sport identical to the men’s game. It has the same rules, the same size pitch, and the same sized ball. Therefore, women train the same as men.
Pre-season training comprises of functional movement tests and basic strength testing. In addition, stretching and mobility drills are used to improve overall performance of the body, by correcting and addressing poor posture and functional movement.
The next phase of training focuses on strength and conditioning, followed by a phase focusing on speed and power. Both of which develops overall athleticism.
The S&C training includes high intensity workouts, resistance workouts, as well as steady state workouts. Big compounds movements, such as squats, deadlifts, weighted push-ups, pull-ups, and rows are performed.
To progress the training further, more ‘functional’ exercises for the legs are introduced, including lunges and squat jumps, as well as an element of power work. A power workout includes agility drills, with a focus on side-step skills and acceleration techniques, and resisted sprinting using a sled or resistance ropes, which are extremely effective at improving running technique and leg power. These workouts are combined with bodyweight plyometric-type exercises, such as box jumps, which involve maximum speed during the movements, to reflect the speed of movements involved in the sport.
Training routines like this require commitment, focus, drive, determination, and pure grit. They can benefit women and female athletes for so many reasons, and not just at an elite level. You achieve something you never thought physically possible (a chin-up for example), which is extremely empowering when it dawns on you that you have just as much to gain from strength training as men. It develops a sense of confidence, empowerment, and promotes mental health. Physical strength is one of the greatest gifts women can give to ourselves.
It is so enlightening and heart-warming to have a sport such as rugby that promotes equality in training for men and women. No longer are women spending every waking second slogging it out on a treadmill. Women all over the world are empowering themselves and becoming physically strong as they become to realise its importance for health, sports performance and overall well-being.
Girls, Give it a Try
There are so many opportunities for young girls to get involved in the game of rugby now; with 21 clubs in Leinster alone that currently have girls sections. Hopefully, with the recent increase in media attention, more girls will be encouraged to join their local club and to give it a ‘try’. Participating in sports such as rugby will emphasise the importance of developing ‘strong, functional, happy human beings’ (courtesy of Maria Moran). Creating an environment where girls can grow up and train where they don’t care what they look like, what size they are, or what shape they are, is invaluable.
Women’s sport in general, not just rugby, needs media coverage, because without it, there will be no sponsorship or even any fans. The Irish media need to do more to showcase women in sport and not to demoralise it, like it has in recent days. The fact is that Irish women in sport, in particular the Irish women’s rugby team, are good enough to be, and should be, at the centre of the media’s (positive) attention.
Tune in to TG4 on Wednesday at 5pm to see Ireland play LIVE in the Women’s Rugby World Cup Semi-Final!
Go on, give rugby a try!
To find a rugby club in your area, check out the following provincial websites: