Enjoy good times for what they are

Why is there, in some instances, an inability or at the very least reluctance to do exactly as the above words suggest? Within minutes of Ireland’s exasperating, historic retention of the Six Nations Championship, utterances were heard that this triumph was better than last season’s.

Temptation was initially to agree with such sentiments. Mostly owing to this year’s squad being shorn of the influence of BOD, not to mention the perhaps undervalued Gordon D’Arcy. Were there a determination, though scarcely needed, to differentiate between the two, the emergence of Robbie Henshaw and – to a lesser extent – Jared Payne could also be pinpointed.

Now, in some cases, to overstate the role played by the coach may in some way detract from the contributions of those on the field. However, as laudable and undoubtedly important as the emergence of the latter named pair has been, perhaps the greatest manifestation of Joe Schmidt’s incalculable influence has been in maintaining the interest and productivity levels of possibly the most decorated bunch of players Irish rugby has seen when few could’ve quibbled if they were sufficiently sated to stand aside.

Irish women's rugby captain Niamh Briggs lifts the Six Nations Trophy as her team-mates

It may be, mind you, that the biggest legacy of the Schmidt era – which the IRFU are hopefully doing everything in their power to prolong – will be in the future generations it inspires to go to the highest levels in the game. At present, there appears to be a nice supply of young talent coming on stream. Fluctuation of fortunes in other prominent sports close to home are drastically underlining the dangers of laxity when matters appear to be in good order.

Whilst assertions that a surge in rugby’s popularity might be worryingly detrimental to the future of GAA might be slightly of the kneejerk variety, the – albeit heretofore understandable – view of Ladies Football as the fastest growing sport in the country may now have, to some degree at least, competition for that title from its oval counterpart.

It’s surely certain that the success accomplished by the nation’s top male rugby stars – both with province and country – over the past decade or so has attracted new entrants to the sport. My cognisance of ladies rugby goes back a fair while, though admittedly it has become decidedly more attuned.

When the remarkable progress that was made under Philip Doyle and continues in his wake was in its formative stages, when Dunboyne’s Orla Brennan was a key member of the team. When games were, unfortunately, poorly publicised, thus played in front of sparse attendances at subsidiary venues.

Success brings profile and when anything or anybody becomes prominent and recognisable is when youngsters find their heroes. From a local perspective, then, you’ll find that some will no doubt have become aware of the achievements of Jackie Shiels and Marie Louise Reilly in being part of what must rank as the most consistent ladies rugby team in the world. Therefore, an increase of some sort in the numbers taking up ladies rugby is surely only to be expected and indeed admired.

Paul O'Connell celebrates with his team-mates after lifting the Six Nations trophy

Now, welcoming such an increase may be decried by some owing to the physical nature of the sport (I know of parents who weren’t keen on their daughters playing GAA for similar reasons) but, in rugby’s case, such fears should easily be assuaged by the necessary acknowledgement that there is hardly a better governed sport in the world. Watch somebody like Nigel Owens admonish a colossus like Paul O’Connell or the affable Welsh man’s counterparts being similarly frank in a ladies game and you quickly grasp how the thing works!

All of which makes the one utter disappointment in this all the more glaring – namely that it took the national broadcaster so long to afford the Irish ladies team the recognition they merit and deserve. To such an extent that when they did – extremely belatedly – show some of the ladies’ internationals that it smacked of bandwagon hopping.

Disappointing enough at any time but, perhaps especially so, given how prevalent issues of equality have, rightly, been on the broad national agenda in recent times. It’s not the first time ladies sport has been subjected to shabby treatment.

I remember being in Croke Park on All Ireland Finals day in Ladies Football in the early 1990’s and suffice to say an acknowledgement that things have improved by eons in the interim merely spares the blushes of those who oversaw the malaise of the period in question. And that’s without delving into Camogie being 13-a-side and on shortened pitches!

To get back to the broadcasting, it has to be said that the ladies rugby isn’t the only event which RTE has been slipshod in their treatment of. There has been a disappointing alacrity in negligence towards many events. Thankfully. And to their immense credit, TG4 has been to the fore in picking up the slack.

Had they ignored the unprecedented success of the ladies rugby it would’ve been an incomprehensible gaffe. These are times of unprecedented success for Irish rugby on all fronts. There’s a danger, however, they may not be fully appreciated until they’re consigned to history.

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