21 November 2020

Ireland’s Ciara Cooney on World Cup qualifier heartache: ‘The goal remains the same, it’s the goal posts that have shifted’

Ciara Cooney and the rest of the Ireland squad had one goal at the start of 2020 - to qualify for the 2021 Rugby World Cup.

Their qualifying tournament was originally scheduled for September but due to the pandemic it was pushed back to December. It’s now been postponed again, with no date pencilled in, and Cooney feels ‘devastated’.

She told NewsChain: "Honestly it was absolutely heartbreaking, it was really just heartbreaking to hear that the World Cup qualifiers were postponed, particularly for teams that haven't qualified it's the monkey on our backs. 

“We are desperate to qualify for the World Cup. I mean it's every player’s dream to play in a World Cup and to go to New Zealand and perform and medal, that is the ultimate goal. The goal remains the same, it's the goal posts that have shifted.”

Despite the setback, Cooney watched the World Cup draw in anticipation, looking to see who they would face if they get through.

The pool they would be placed in features the USA, Canada and the team who will qualify from Asia.

“It was a significant moment for women’s rugby and indeed hugely exciting for all those watching. It certainly gave me goose bumps watching the draw live and ignites the desire to continue to strive for that Europe 1 place in pool B.”

It’s not just the World Cup qualifiers that have been disrupted, the remaining Women’s Six Nations matches - Ireland were due to face France - have been cancelled.

"We were all acutely aware that we are living through unprecedented times and [there’s] the importance of perspective but it was hugely disappointing for us as players having the remaining Six Nations fixture cancelled.

"I suppose it's even more difficult when you're seeing rugby being played every weekend, international women's rugby being played. 

"We had re-grouped, it was great to be able to return to the Six Nations and play Italy at home after a number of months away from the game and away from each other due to the Covid restrictions. I suppose that gave us an opportunity to see where we were at as a squad having not been together for so long. 

“Getting a feeling for where we were at and what we needed to improve on ahead of the World Cup qualifiers. Momentum is so important. Another game for us following the game against Italy would have provided us with the opportunity to build on our performance and ultimately help us to prepare for the ultimate goal which is to qualify for the World Cup.”

While the women’s remaining fixtures have been cancelled, the men’s tournament was finished in full but Cooney says you cannot compare the two.

"It's disappointing that our fixtures weren't fulfilled in full and we understand that we are living through a global pandemic. I suppose the difference is between the men's side and the women's side is that element of professionalism, with their game being able to go ahead.

“But it does feel hugely disappointing that those fixtures couldn’t be fulfilled particularly, it’s more difficult, when you see England [women] playing France in the autumns and also a return fixture where France come and play England."

Cooney’s passion for the game is clear but it comes into focus when she explains her reasoning for uprooting her life from Ireland to move to England to play in the Premier 15s for Wasps.

"I moved over here in July for pre-season and I suppose for me Wasps is where I felt at home, Wasps represented my values. I had met with the coaches, a number of players and spoke to a number of the players.

“I knew from speaking to the coaches what the club was about, their ethos, the environment that they wanted to create, the culture they already had within the club and wanted to build on and for me that resonated with my values and was hugely important for me in making the decision to come to Wasps.”

She signed for the club back in the summer but as the league is not professional she still works full- time as a research scientist for a company based in Galway.

"The game isn't professional and it impacts every part of your life. Every decision that you make in regards to your career, education, family, where you're going to live, your life goals - all of those decisions are based around playing rugby right now.

"I suppose for me ultimately wanting to be on a plane going to New Zealand with my team-mates having qualified for the World Cup, that was the decision I made to move over here to get better and to improve. To be the best that I can [to give myself] the best opportunity to be selected for Ireland for the qualifier. 

"But how has it impacted me? I'm living in London now. I work for a company that is based in Ireland, a medical engineering company in Galway, I work from home here in London. That's partly Covid-related but I suppose the global pandemic also gave me the opportunity to work for this company because I could work remotely. 

"So I work full-time from home and then we train with Wasps daily. So we'll have a schedule for those working 9-5, then we'll have a schedule for those on part-time work. I try to fit my full-time hours around my training which also means I'm working on a Sunday and Saturday and late into the evenings or early mornings before training or after training.

“So it becomes a cycle of working and training or playing rugby really. There's absolutely no way you would do this if you weren't passionate about women's rugby and about the game. You'd be insane to do what women's rugby players do if you weren't passionate.”

Her passion for the game is now being displayed in the Premier 15s as Cooney made her debut against DMP Durham Sharks earlier this month where Wasps inflicted their biggest ever victory in the league to date with a 105-0 win.

"It was really nice to make my debut at home at Wasps because obviously I had spent a couple of months there and it's always nice to have a home game for your first game. There’s that element of knowing the pitch and knowing the environment that you're playing in and it gives you that little bit more comfort.

"At half time the result was sewn up but we still wanted to work on our systems in the second half. In the second half, and all match, we wanted to work on what we had been doing in training and for our training to translate into a performance on the pitch. That was satisfying for us to keep the foot down and get that result and add scores to the scoreboard.

“We were getting scores from different areas of the pitch, particularly our wing when we worked the ball wide and to use the game across the board because we are very lucky in the players that we have and the skill set of our players. To be able to utilise that to get our scores on the board that was hugely satisfying.”

Wasps, who last time out suffered a 33-27 defeat to Saracens, will be back in action against Exeter Chiefs on November 28 and Cooney says the club are raring to go.

"We've started to look at Exeter now, we've obviously reviewed our game against Saracens we know the areas that we need to be better on ahead of Exeter. We’ve already started to work on the areas that we identified against Saracens and we are looking to build on that performance, particularly on that second half performance. 

"For us we definitely want to start the game against Exeter strong from the first kick off, we want to start the way we finished I suppose against Saracens. We really want to use that as an opportunity to look at ourselves, look at translating what we do in training onto the pitch from the minute go. 

“We know that travelling to Exeter will present its own challenges and of course for a team that's new to the Prem this season there is a little bit of that unknown about them as well of what they may bring to the game. They've got some world class players as well so we're certainly not going down there under-prepared or under any illusions, we know it will be a challenge.”

Exeter v Wasps will kick off at 1pm on November 28.

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