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'I think it degrades the system itself to post something as "casual" and "part-time"'

Recently retired Ireland prop Ruth O’Reilly spoke to The42 about her reaction to the advertisement for a new Women’s head coach.

RECENTLY RETIRED RUGBY international Ruth O’Reilly has expressed her disappointment in the IRFU, in relation to its advertisement for the position of Women’s XVs head coach.

Ruth O'Reilly Ruth O'Reilly. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The announcement to fill the vacancy comes seven weeks after a disappointing Word Cup campaign for Ireland, which resulted in Tom Tierney stepping down from the role.

Ireland suffered a 7th/8th – place play-off defeat to Wales at the end of that tournament, which marks a drop from their fourth-place finish in the 2014 World Cup.

The new head coach position is being offered with a six month contract on a part-time and casual basis. Tierney had a full-time, three year deal with the IRFU.

The decision has sparked outrage, with Ireland’s Jenny Murphy and retired international Ailis Egan publishing their dismay on Twitter.

O’Reilly, who retired due after sustaining an injury at the World Cup, says this is a ‘degrading’ decision for women’s rugby in Ireland.

“It was actually laughable, I think, was my first reaction,” she told The42.

“For a long time, I would have had a fair idea of how naive the IRFU can be when it comes to their dealings and particularly their public communications about the women’s team.

“But I thought even for them, this was a step beyond where they’ve been before. I think it highlights their naivety to have published so publicly a job specification that clearly degrades the post.

And maybe that’s a slight overstepping or an exaggeration on my part, but I think it does — it degrades not only the position that Tom would have been in prior to that, and the previous coaches, but I think it degrades the system itself to post something as ‘casual’ and ‘part-time.’

She continued:

“The language used just seemed crazy to me for an organisation that has a communications department and a PR department. You would have thought they would have at least ran that through someone before putting it up publicly.

“What it speaks to me is a complete lack of strategy by the IRFU. They clearly haven’t completed their review it would seem and as a result they don’t have any concrete strategy that they can start implementing  before the 2018 Six Nations. So this is very much just a stop-gap solution that they’re looking to find.

“I think that speaks volumes for the organisation and the priority that this holds for them, in that it’s not a priority at all.”

In a statement issued to The42 with regards to the advertisement, the IRFU explained its reasons for making this decision.

The decision to return the coaching role to a part-time basis follows feedback from coaches the IRFU has spoken with and a further review of the nature of this role will be completed post the 2018 Six Nations.”

O’Reilly, however, believes that amending the job specification in this way is disrespectful to the players.

“It makes it seem like they only thought about this once the World Cup finished, and that’s just hugely disrespectful.

“That’s really the only answer, and it just speaks volumes for the lack of strategy within the IRFU when it comes to women’s rugby. And the lack of strategy speaks to the lack of interest and support for it. That’s hugely disappointing.

“All of us would put our hands up, and many of the players have gone on record since the World Cup saying that we didn’t deliver as players. None of us are disputing that but I think the system didn’t deliver for us either and it’s continuing to do that.”

Following her injury-enforced withdrawal from the World Cup squad, O’Reilly gave a revealing interviewing to Gavin Cummiskey of the Irish Times, in which she detailed the problems that were festering within the camp ahead of the tournament.

The article was published on the morning of Ireland’s last World Cup game, and although some questioned the timing of the interview, the feedback she received was largely positive.

Ireland players dejected after the game Ireland players after their defeat to Wales. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Reflecting on her decision to go public with her grievances, she says that her sole purpose was to stimulate a positive change for women’s rugby in Ireland.

“It’s always disappointing when you see it in text, to be the person that is attacking the sport that you love in some way. That was never my intention and it’s still not my intention.

“I don’t like to use that aggressive term but what I’m trying to do is influence change and make the powers that be, sit up and listen, and to invest some time, some thought and ultimately some resources in putting the strategy in place that needs to happen, to get us where we want to go.

We were competing with these teams four years ago but they’ve gone light years ahead of us because they’ve put the structures in place.

She added:

“I love this game, I’ve had so much rewards on and off the pitch as a result of this. I want this game to grow, so what we need to do is define the objectives of where we want this to go and how do we get there? And set the obtainable objectives, set the expectations at a level that is achievable for the IRFU and the resources that they’re willing to put into it.

And then no-one is pissed off and annoyed when stuff like this happens.”

Despite Ireland’s poor run of results in the World Cup, they enjoyed some success in the Six Nations and reached a Grand Slam decider, where they lost out to England.

Earlier in the championship however, the IRFU made the controversial call to pull Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller and Hannah Tyrrell to go on Sevens duty.

Sene Naoupu Sene Naoupu. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

This meant the trio were unavailable for the Six Nations home tie against France, which Ireland managed to win in their absence.

Anthony Eddy, the director of the women’s XVS and sevens programme, defended the decision at the time, although it triggered a negative reaction considering that the 15s side were preparing for a World Cup on home soil.

Based on how the IRFU handled that situation, O’Reilly suspects that the XVs programme is possibly not getting the same attention as the Sevens system from the IRFU’s high performance director David Nucifora.

“I always felt, rightly or wrongly, my perception of it was that his  priority was Sevens. I can’t point to any action or discussion that would lead me to believe that but I think the actions of the last Six Nations and the three girls being pulled to go to Vegas, speaks volumes for that.

“We assumed that there would have been a shift from that in the World Cup year, that’s why the issue with the girls going from the France game was so galling.

“Similar instances had happened in previous seasons but you rationalise it because they were gunning for Olympic qualification in the Sevens or a World Cup qualification.

“You assumed that the priority would shift to the XVs structure in that final year before  the World Cup for us but it didn’t seem to, or certainly that weekend didn’t indicate that.”

O’Reilly is unsure what the future holds for women’s rugby in Ireland, and believes that finding someone to succeed Tom Tierney as the next XVs head coach, will be a difficult task.

“Hopefully this little bit of backlash to the advertisement might make them sit up and realise that maybe they do need to look at this and put something together a little less rash.

It’s going to be hard to attract a coach and that’s really disappointing for me to have to admit that. To attract a coach into a position, that should be quite enticing to someone, but you would wonder how they’re going to fill that role now.”

“Unfortunately, it’s a bit of poisoned chalice now possibly following the World Cup and that’s an awful shame.”

– Additional reporting by Ryan Bailey.

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