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'She was so far ahead. She had the cheeky chappy attitude of a scrum-half, and the skills to back it up'

Former Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan recalls coaching Nicole Cronin – one of Ireland’s uncapped WRWC players – when she was 12.

WHEN THE IRELAND squad was first announced for the Women’s Rugby World Cup two weeks ago, there was one player with an asterisk beside her name on the list.

Nicole Cronin Nicole Cronin. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The asterisk, indeed, denotes an uncapped player. And the name was Nicole Cronin.

Those within international rugby circles will have heard of her before though, through her involvement in the Sevens set-up.

Pitted as ‘a girl that will take the World Cup by storm’ by Ireland head coach Tom Tierney, the Limerick native has previously made waves on the soccer scene.

She took some time away from rugby to don the Ireland jersey at U17 and U19 level, before moving to Hutchinson Community College in Kansas on a scholarship. Before heading Stateside, she had played rugby with Richmond and Shannon as a youngster.

Screen Shot 2017-08-05 at 09.30.56 Source: Fiona Coghlan Twitter.

“Knew she had the talent and mouth to make it as an Irish International,” former Ireland captain Fiona Coghlan tweeted a few days after the announcement, with a picture of the two beaming from ear-to-ear, side by side on the trophy tour.

In the replies, she mentioned that she had coached Cronin at a session in UL, and remembers her as ‘the cheeky, skillful one’.

Coghlan — who lined out for Ireland at three World Cups — recalls the day vividly.

“In Bohs, we were trying to get an underage thing up and running and we just opened the session up to any girls out there,” she tells The42. “She was playing mixed underage. She must have been only 11 or 12, and playing with Richmond Rovers in Limerick.

“She was just so far ahead of anyone else that was there. She had the little cheeky chappy attitude of a scrum-half, but she had the skills as well to back it up as a 12-year-old. At that age grade, she was far beyond.”

Nicole Cronin 'She was just so far ahead of anyone else that was there.' Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Then came the hiatus.

“We didn’t get that underage thing up and running,” Coghlan says. “There was nowhere for her to play rugby, so she went back to focus on soccer. She went to the USA on a soccer scholarship and then came back into the Sevens programme.

For two years, she played in midfield for the Blue Dragons. She was pivotal as they won a Jayhawk Conference title and a Region 6 title in 2011.

In 2012, Cronin was noted as one of the best midfielders in the conference, scoring two goals and assisting 13 times.

And then came her return to home soil.

“When she came back into the Sevens game, I remembered her immediately — the name, and then I saw her,” Coghlan recalls. “She’s only small, she’s only like 50kg, but she has that little terrier bite.

“When I heard the name and I saw her, I was like ‘Ah, that’s the little one!’”

In 2014, Cronin was named Sevens Player of the Year, and following her success there, she was called into the following year’s Six Nations squad.

Currently playing her club rugby with UL Bohemians, the 25-year-old is indeed related to Sean Cronin.

The scrum-half will be hoping to push on, earn her first cap and play a role in this year’s tournament. And Coghlan has no doubt that she can live up to the ‘bolter’ title.

“Obviously she hasn’t played a lot of 15s at senior level, she hasn’t been capped so it’s a rude awakening.

“But obviously the coaches see something in her as well, that she might add something different. They’ve seen enough of her from Sevens to think that she can bring something. So, hopefully she can.

“Every squad needs a bolter. When you talk about the Lions and stuff, it’s ‘Who’s the bolter going to be? Who’s going to make it in?’ So it just adds to it a little more.”

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Of course, Ireland were hit a blow this week as news emerged that Niamh Briggs will miss the World Cup through injury.

Louise Galvin with Oumayma Dziri Louise Galvin is also uncapped at 15s for Ireland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The subsequent reshuffle means that Claire Molloy will take over the captain’s role and a second uncapped player — Louise Galvin — has been drafted in.

Another Sevens and multi-talented sportsperson (she’s played inter-county football for Kerry and Superleague basketball), Galvin will be hoping that she can also break into the squad.

Coghlan admits that her former teammate Briggs will be a big miss, but knows that the squad will pull together in her absence.

“I suppose she’s been out since November. In November, she only played one international so squad-wise, they’ll just go on as they did in the Six Nations.

“But for her to work so hard to get back from the hamstring and then get a, I suppose, supplementary injury in the Achilles and miss out on a home World Cup is horrific. For someone to come back and then get injured is horrible.

“At the end of the day, at the last World Cup, she was nominated for Player of the Tournament and that — she is a big game player. They’ll miss that, and kicking and stuff, but the girls just have to get on with it. They can’t dwell on it.

“They won’t, they’ll get on with it. Claire Molloy has now been announced as captain, she’s experienced captaining before with the Sevens and that, she’s a world-class player as well and guaranteed her start almost.

“They’ll be fine. Girls have really stepped up in leadership roles in the last couple of years, so it’s good to see that there are people stepping up.”

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