A day or two late with this one but 2013 was such a memorable year personally and on the rugby pitch that I couldn’t let it slip away without recording and recognising some of the highlights, so here goes.
The Front Row Union Team of the Year: Ireland Women XV
There really only was one contender for Team of the Year and that was the fabulous Ireland Women’s side who “Grand Slammed” the RBS Women’s Six Nations in some style.
I was lucky enough to cover the Girls in Green throughout their journey, culminating in a never to be forgotten weekend in Parabiago just outside Milan, though I must admit, thanks to the owner of the Lion’s Heart Pub and their 9% beers, I spent most of the weekend pretty drunk!
My journey with the Ireland ladies started many years ago and it was extremely rewarding to see this team that had worked so hard for so long finally get the rewards and recognition that they deserved with their remarkable achievement. Even better was that the team featured six Ulster girls – our highest representation for some time.
IRELAND Women 2013: Niamh Briggs, Ashleigh Baxter, Lynne Cantwell, Jenny Murphy, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Larissa Muldoon, Fiona Coghlan, Gillian Bourke, Ailis Egan, Sophie Spence, Marie Louise Reilly, Siobhan Fleming, Claire Molloy, Joy Neville, Stacey-Lea Kennedy, Fiona Hayes, Lauren Day, Leigh Dargan, Laura Guest, Amy Davis, Grace Davitt, Niamh Kavanagh.
Special mention to Queen’s University Women’s side who swept all before them in Ulster winning the League, Rosie Stewart Cup and the Carrick 10’s in a hugely impressive first season playing with the big girls!
The Front Row Union Player of the Year: Niamh Briggs
It says something that our Player of the Year goes to woman, but a Munster woman at that! However , Munster and Ireland’s Naimh Briggs has been one of Ireland’s under appreciated rugby superstars for some time and 2013 certainly was her year!
The FRU started touting Briggs sublime talents over five years ago and indeed she was our first ever “Weekend Warrior” way back in 2010 following an all too rare appearance at Ravenhill for her beloved Munster.
While 2013 has been spectacular for Briggs she has undoubtedly been the Women’s player of her generation having as big an impact on the Ireland Women’s side as O’Driscoll has had on the Men’s, I can pay her no bigger complement.
I love the above picture of Briggs, just after she scored against Scotland in the Six Nations, and long may she continue to take such joy out of the game, though if she does ever retire I’m sure, following her coaching of the Garda’s Women side to success in the 2013 World Police and Fire Games, that she will continue to have a huge influence on the Irish Women’s game when she does finally hang up her boots.
Special mention to Paddy Jackson, who thrown in at the deep end in 2012 bounced back in some style in 2013. The best is yet to come from this talented youngster but he could be Ulster and Ireland’s go to player for years to come.
The Front Row Union Picture of the Year. Celebrations in Parabiago.
So many pictures to chose from but I always smile when then this picture pops up in my photo organiser. The sheer joy and relief, as the final whistle went in Parabiago and Ireland Women were crowned Grand Slam Champions, was something I wanted to catch as the clock ticked down in a tense match.
You sometimes forget that the management team feel the pressure, perhaps more than the players as they watch from the sidelines, but as I stood there cold, wet and very hungover, Peter Bracken and Gemma Crowley gave me a picture to warm me up!
So there you go, for an Ulster Rugby Supporters site it’s a pretty un-Ulster awards list but it would have been criminal to let 2013 pass without a reminder of the outstanding achievements of Ireland Women.