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'There were some really dark days' - Niamh Briggs finds a new lease of life

The Ireland out-half suffered with serious injury issues and missed last year’s home World Cup.

LAST YEAR’S WORLD Cup on home soil was a hurtful experience for everyone involved with the Ireland Women’s team – players, coaches, backroom staff, and supporters.

What made it all the more difficult for Niamh Briggs was the feeling of helplessness.

Having worked diligently to recover from a severe hamstring injury that had forced her to miss the 2017 Six Nations, the Dungarvan woman was cruelly struck down by an Achilles tendon injury in training less than a fortnight out from the tournament.

Niamh Briggs Briggs is enjoying being back in the green jersey. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

As Ireland’s hopes unravelled into an eighth-placed finish, Briggs had to endure the pain of watching on, going into what she calls “survival mode” to deal with it.

That feeling continued even after the tournament, as she questioned whether she really wanted to come back to rugby at all.

“There were some really dark days. I found it really difficult to cope with the fact that I hadn’t played in that World Cup,” says Briggs.

“I found it difficult that the tournament itself didn’t go well and you’re just an innocent bystander watching it. You know what’s gone into it in terms of management and players in trying to get there.

“So it was really difficult and I took some time away from work and stayed at home for a little while.”

Briggs says she “definitely fell out of love a bit with the game” after the World Cup and she seriously weighed up whether or not she would attempt to make a return.

Her parents, Geraldine and Mike, were important positive influences in those times of doubt. Their sense was that their daughter would rediscover her love for rugby if she could simply get back on the pitch.

It was a major struggle for Briggs but she has come through on the other side.

“I’d still go into the gym [when she was injured] and do what I needed to do, but it’s not with the same vigour that you’re doing it pre-World Cup when you know you’ve got a World Cup to come into,” she explains.

“At that stage, I didn’t think I’d come back to play, to be honest, so you’re wondering ‘why am I rehabbing this?’

“I’m glad I stuck with it and a lot of people have helped me with this along the way, in terms of the rehab.”

Niamh Briggs Briggs went through some tough times. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Briggs highlights Marc Beggs in Munster and Kathryn Fahy – “who basically patches me up and puts me on the pitch every week” – as the key drivers in helping her to eventually get her body right.

“There were many dark days and I honestly didn’t think I’d get back and didn’t think I wanted to get back, but my family were great, my father in particular and my mum,” continues Briggs.

“I think there’s a little bit of stubbornness as well, I didn’t want to walk out on those terms either. There was also a huge part that I had achieved so much and if I was coming back I was coming back for me and not anything else, and coming back with no pressure almost.

“It’s been a big journey but I don’t want to keep looking back and talking about it. It’s very much looking forward now.

“We have a brilliant bunch of girls in the squad that are here now and a really good management that we’re learning under. The future is definitely bright in terms of where we want to go and what we want to do as a squad.”

Briggs’ new-found energy and excitement are obvious as she sits in Ireland’s team hotel ahead of Sunday’s Six Nations clash with Scotland in Donnybrook [KO 1pm].

The 33-year-old has been best known as a fullback for Ireland in recent years, but new head coach Adam Griggs rang Briggs over Christmas and raised the idea of her moving to out-half following the retirement of Nora Stapleton.

Briggs had played plenty of rugby for Munster at out-half but her most recent experience in the 10 jersey for Ireland had come in the 2008/09 season.

Three games into the switch and with wins over Italy and Wales having given Ireland momentum, Briggs is loving her new role.

“It’s like a new lease of life,” says Briggs. “I’m learning loads. Having been out for so long and then coming back into a new position, it was almost like my first cap again.

Niamh Briggs during the national anthem Briggs showed her emotion before her return against France. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“So many things have changed in terms of me personally and then the game has evolved a little bit as well. It’s been great, it’s definitely a challenge. I’m not used to being stuck in there not having a lot of space but I’m enjoying it.”

There was a natural rustiness in Briggs’ game upon her return from injury but her class shone through in the impressive win over Wales two weekends ago and the UL Bohemians club woman is hoping to continue in that vein against the Scots.

“I only got back running at the end of December. I’d love to have come in fitter and sharper. But it wasn’t to be, so I’m learning and trying to get up to speed as quickly as I can.

“I think every game has been a little bit better. I’d love to be fitter and sharper in terms of rugby but I’m kind of using this one now for what it is – I’m trying to learn as much as I can.

“Hopefully, I have a good pre-season next year and come back in better shape. Then I’ll have a huge amount of experience at this level and then be able to make it better again next year.”

With Ireland’s performances on the pitch improving under Griggs’ coaching and with several new faces in the squad, Briggs has also been encouraged by the progress being made further down the women’s rugby pathway in Ireland.

The World Cup led to many questions about the depth of playing quality and the structures in Irish women’s rugby, but Briggs is already seeing positive growth.

“There are some really good girls playing who have not been selected [for the Six Nations] and that’s cool because we’ve got some strength in depth. Then there’s another generation.

“I went to watch a college match yesterday in UL and there were 18-year-olds and 19-year-olds that made me glad I’m not 18 or 19 now because I probably wouldn’t stand near a squad because there’s some really good talent out there. It’s positive in that light.

Niamh Briggs The out-half is excited and enthusiastic about playing for Ireland. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“A lot has been made about the structures that have been in place before. The pathways haven’t really been there for girls. I think it’s changing now and it’s brilliant to see that.

“After the France game I came back and there was a Talent ID thing in Munster, so I went down to do a bit of kicking with some of them.

“I was absolutely blown away by what was on show. It’s brilliant, it’s great to see it, and that’s what you want. You want to just keep building more girls to play so that they can come into a stage like this and then perform.”

Having a role model like Briggs will be important for those young rugby players in the years to come.

While the out-half is aware of her position as that figure within the game, she is now just enjoying the feeling of being healthy and happy on the pitch again.


Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

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Murray Kinsella

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