World Cup captivates prospect Leah

Thursday, 31 August 2017

ARMAGH girl Leah McGoldrick's dream of featuring in the next women's rugby World Cup will now be dependent upon Ireland pre-qualifying for the 2021 tournament as well as the Madden teenager continuing her impressive personal progress in the sport to date.

Ireland's 27-17 defeat by Wales in Saturday's seventh place play-off at Belfast's Kingspan Stadium rounded off a deeply disappointing home World Cup campaign for the girls in green, who had hoped to at least sign off on a winning note.

The hosts came into the tournament determined to at least emulate their fantastic top four finish last time but missed out on the semi-finals by losing their key group game against France in Dublin and then lost to both Australia and Wales when the tournament moved north.

The Aussie defeat ended Ireland's hopes of finishing fifth but securing seventh still had an important prize at stake in the shape of automatic qualification for the next tournament, which is expected to be held in either Hong Kong or Wales.

Having to qualify in advance could prove problematic enough for Ireland, with more of an ageing golden generation expected to follow legendary lock Marie- Louise Reilly and lynchpin prop Ailis Egan into international retirement.

To compound matters, with Ireland having qualified for next year's sevens World Cup and hoping to make the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, many of the country's best backs may prioritise that form of the sport for the foreseeable future.

Hong Kong struggled at this World Cup but they will have a ring-fenced place next time if they host the tournament, which could leave Ireland scrapping for one of four places with the likes of Italy, Spain, Japan and three teams who didn't qualify this time, South Africa, Scotland and Fiji.

So the Ireland women's team is at a real crossroads but for now the full focus of Armagh camog McGoldrick, who turns 19 this Friday, will be on making the Ulster side for December's interpro tournament having made her debut last season while still at school.

"Of course I'd really love to pull on a green jersey one day but I'm still very young so the target at this stage is to keep developing as a player and become more established in the Ulster squad. Seeing the standard on display at the World Cup has been a real eye-opener as to what is required at the top level," she says.

She was involved last weekend when Ulster handed out a 50-point pasting to an American touring side of questionable quality, but a lot of hard work will be needed to lift the northern province from their place of recent years at the bottom of the interpro pile.

"Obviously this World Cup didn't go as Ireland would have hoped and no doubt that's tough to take for the experienced players who have given so much and achieved fantastic success in the green jersey over recent years," reflects Leah.

"Like every Irish supporter I was so disappointed for them but this tournament as a whole will have a positive effect for the future of women's rugby in this country because seeing it up close can only inspire young players like myself to push harder to get to that level in future.

"New Zealand and England served up a wonderful final at a packed Kingspan Stadium on Saturday night, which was shown on prime-time television, so it was a fantastic showcase for women's rugby and the level this sport can be played at."

New Zealand, England and France have been outstanding at this World Cup but, ahead of the tournament, McGoldrick got to meet the inspiring woman who has captained Ireland to victory over all of them in recent years, Grand Slam winning skipper Fiona Coghlan.

RTE co-commentator Coghlan has been an impressive pundit at this World Cup and, as its official ambassador, had the honour of carrying the trophy onto the podium for Saturday night's presentation to New Zealand after their 41-32 victory.

The previous evening she had captained the Irish Legends side to a 12-12 draw with their English counterparts at Malone.

Meanwhile, the multi-talented McGoldrick was disappointed to miss out on a second successive September appearance at Croke Park when Armagh camogs were narrowly beaten by Westmeath in this month's All Ireland Premier Junior Championship semi-final.

However the teenager is currently looking forward to the Orchard club championship semi-finals in which her club Madden, who won the title in 2014 and 2015, will face Keady on September 17 after receiving a bye into the last four.


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