Back in 2008, I interviewed Anna Caplice for the Evening Echo to mark her appointment as the captain of the Munster women’s U18 rugby team.
Even then, there was a maturity to the teenager, who expressed the hope that an Ireland women’s team at U18 level could become a reality before too long.
“There’s none yet, but they are looking into it, and even though I’ll be too old for it, it would be a very good development,” she said back then.
“The sport is definitely on the rise, though. Last year with Mallow, we only played three or four games, whereas this year we had seven.
“Girls are reading and hearing about it and then deciding to take it up, which can only be good.”
Obviously, since then, the popularity of women’s rugby has grown exponentially, helped by the success of the Ireland senior women’s side. There is now a national U18 squad, as Caplice hoped, and she herself has been capped 14 times at senior level while playing her club rugby with Harlequins in London.
Unfortunately for the Mallow native, the opportunity to add more caps will have to wait. While the men’s Six Nations Championship starts next weekend, the women’s version has been postponed to an as-yet undecided date. It is likely to be late spring or early summer. Then there is the U20 championship. This after last year’s competitions were left unfinished.
It’s completely understandable that such a decision would be taken, given the way the COVID-19 situation is at present and, for those involved, it would have been a case of disappointment mixed with reluctant acceptance.
Obviously, not everybody is going to be interested in every sport. To give an example, my sleep on Saturday night/Sunday morning was only broken by a teething toddler rather than Conor McGregor’s UFC clash with Dustin Poirier. I’m not an MMA fan and I’m unlikely to ever be, but I appreciate that others like it. To that end, I don’t post derogatory things about the sport on social media.
Oddly, though, there are those that take full advantage of the chance to air their dislike or perceived superiority. So it was that Sky Sports’ article on the postponement of the Women’s Six Nations brought the usual wit-laden responses: “Thank God for that”, “Not elite sport”, a few “No-one cares”, one “No cares” [sic] and, of course, a “No-one cares” accompanied by a ‘crying laughing’ emoji, the ultimate winning of any online argument.
The best online advice is not to feed the trolls – it’s basically the same as what our mothers told us about ignoring the empty vessels that made all the noise and they’d eventually go away. It is of course advice easier dispensed than taken on board.
For Anna, these jibes were too much but she channelled her frustrations perfectly in a tweet which summed up the level of commitment involved.
“If you only knew what it takes,” she wrote.
“The early mornings and late evenings; the 10+ sessions you attend outside of your own job; the almost unbearable exertion you put your body through; the heartbreak of a selection that doesn’t go your way and the toughness it takes to come back even stronger; the time away from family and friends; the cards sent with apologies because you can’t be at your best friend’s wedding or birthday.
“If only you had a fraction of understanding of what it takes to play in the Six Nations you wouldn’t dare comment so flippantly. We don’t just care about rugby: we are rugby.”
Thankfully, there were far more messages in support of her than the know-it-alls who denigrated the announcement. She’s certainly not one to be messed with, as she showed last November when British writer Rachel Hewitt canvassed online for stories of harassment towards women who were exercising.
“I experienced cat-calling while running/cycling mostly in Dublin – almost every single time I cycled to work,” Caplice wrote.
“I slammed on my brakes one day when two guys in a van shouted at me. When I turned around, they nearly s**t themselves because actually ... they were normal fellas.”
Hopefully, she and the Irish women’s team will be back on the field before too long. CL
Plenty of complications for GAA fixture planners
While the GAA’s Allianz Leagues are still set to commence at the end of February, there must surely be some doubt attached to that aspiration now.
The decision has been made to reverse the schedule compared to last year, with county activity set to be completed first before club championships take place.
Even if the adult calendar remains unchanged, there are major question marks as to what will happen with the minor and U20 inter-county championships. Of the four All-Irelands – hurling and football at each age-grade – for 2020 only the U20 football has been completed, with the U20 hurling Leinster final and All-Ireland final yet to take place, while the minor championships have yet to reach the provincial final stages.
Any delay in finishing off these championships has the knock-on effect of eating into the schedule for the 2021 events, with the attached implications for the development of younger players who need game-time in order to progress.
Tricky times could yet be in store for the fixture-planners.