Claffey: It’s Going To Be A Great Day For The Club
She has made waves on the provincial and international stages in 2018 and now Michelle Claffey is hoping that the presence of a familiar face at Stradbrook can spur the Blackrock Women’s team onto greater heights.
In an effort to improve on last season’s fifth place finish in the Women’s All-Ireland League, Blackrock have drafted in former Ireland head coach Philip ‘Goose’ Doyle to take charge of the squad for the 2018/19 campaign.
A former player at the club, Doyle famously led the Ireland Women’s team to an unforgettable Grand Slam in 2013 before guiding them to the semi-final of the following year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in France.
He was in Energia Park recently to see Michelle Claffey and her Leinster team-mates claim the IRFU Women’s Interprovincial title, and the Offaly native, who made four appearances off the bench for Ireland in last season’s Six Nations Championship, believes Doyle will prove to be a perfect appointment for the south Dublin club.
“He’s brought a very different type of voice,” admitted Claffey. “He’s a very strong coach, strong personality and he’s going to make us play the way we should play. It’s fantastic. He has such good experience. He knows his rugby inside out and all the sessions are planned so well.
“We’re building each week and people don’t have to ask as many questions as well. Because they remember what we did last week and it’s just a little build on.
“Girls like to ask questions in training sessions! ‘Why are we doing this? I don’t understand why!’ It’s nice to have someone there who has coached women before and can understand where we’re coming from. We’re not asking to be smart, we just don’t understand at times.”
The Women’s All-Ireland League was launched in conjunction with the men’s competition at the Aviva Stadium, which was symbolic of an exciting new initiative for the domestic game. For the first time, clubs will stage double headers for their senior sides – beginning with Blackrock and Galwegians at Stradbrook today with 2.30pm and 5pm kick-offs.
Claffey is excited to be facing the Galway outfit who she likened to defending champions UL Bohemians. “The guys are playing against Galwegians (in Division 2A) and then we’re on afterwards. It’s going to be a great day for the club,” she said.
“I’m very excited we’re playing against Galwegians, it’s always a hard game. Their forwards are so strong and again it’s up there with UL Bohs. They’re a threat from all over the pitch as well.
“The first game is always kind of shaky, you don’t know what to expect from yourselves or from them. You could have a great start or, ‘right, second game here we go’. I’m looking forward to it. We have the right systems in place now.”
As they head into the new season in search of a third consecutive league crown, UL Bohemians are unquestionably the standard bearers in Women’s club rugby. Blackrock last featured in a Women’s All-Ireland League final back in 2014 when they suffered a 26-5 reversal to Old Belvedere at Donnybrook.
Heavily back-boned by their international stars, including past and present Ireland captains in the shape of Niamh Briggs and Ciara Griffin, Claffey acknowledges that teams will need to adapt a ‘smart brand of rugby’ if they have designs on knocking Bohemians off their considerable perch.
“We will have to play a bit smarter, to our strengths, and not play their brand of rugby against them because they are very good at it. Last year we came pretty close to beating them (they eventually lost 39-24). It was the day after the Barbarians match, but we won’t talk about that! You have to play a very smart brand of rugby to get around UL Bohs.
“They are very strong everywhere on the pitch. Their backs, their forwards, their maul, their scrum…you have to be very clinical in your approach to things. When you have the ball, hold onto it because once you give them a chance at the breakdown they are going to take it.
“Two passes and they are under the posts. That’s the hardest thing. To get up off the ground, look around and they have scored,” added the dynamic 30-year-old centre, who captained Blackrock to All-Ireland Plate success in March.
After getting a taste of international rugby in the spring, Claffey is understandably hungry for greater exposure in the green jersey. She has been included in the Ireland panel for the upcoming November Tests against the USA and England, which are ideal opportunities for her to cement a permanent position in Adam Griggs’ squad.
“To get the phone call from ‘Griggsy’ at the end of last year to say I was involved in a training camp – I couldn’t believe it – because I kinda thought I’m getting on now a bit and over it…’don’t think I’m ever going to get this opportunity again’.
“It’s great to have the autumn internationals coming up again because it’s nice to have that standard. It’s very difficult to have the All-Ireland League, the Interpros and then into your Six Nations. It’s an incredible step up. I can’t even explain it.
“Last year against England (in the final round of the Six Nations), the last five minutes of the match, I was like, ‘come on, you’ve got to pick yourself up’, because the step up is massive. So having those games (in November) and keeping you at a certain level will benefit Ireland going into the Six Nations.”