Pro is the way to go for Ireland international women players

IRELAND international forward Paula Fitzpatrick believes that the idea, however unlikely, of the nation’s senior women’s squad being given, even temporary, professional contracts could have untold advantages for the side when it comes to this summer’s World Cup.

While she appreciates that such a prospect is unlikely, Fitzpatrick, who captained Ireland to second place in this year’s Six Nations Championship, believes the IRFU and the team could really benefit from such a course of action as the country prepares to host the eighth edition of the Women’s World Cup.

Ireland captain Paula Fitzpatrick 2

The Tallaght woman has pointed to reigning World champions England and the benefits the newly crowned Six Nations winners have enjoyed from turning pro.

“I know they [England] only really turned professional in January but you can already see the benefits” the St Mary’s College player told The Echo. “They have more time together, more time to rest and recover.

“I don’t think it will happen, but it might be something that the IRFU could look at [professional contracts for the Irish team] even in the short term, up until the World Cup.

“I don’t know where the money would come from and I’m not even certain if it has been suggested or discussed. It’s probably so far beyond the realms of possibility that it hasn’t even been talked about.

“But I suppose it all comes down to whether you want to be just participating or you want to be competitive.

“Going into the World Cup you want to be potentially challenging for the title.

“I’m not saying we can’t do that regardless, because, on our day, we’re capable of beating any team. We showed that when we beat New Zealand in 2014.

“But against Kazakhstan we underperformed and against England in the semi-finals we under-performed.

“Having played in such long campaigns I know how difficult it is to compete at such a high level consistently.

“You find that underdogs can get that one big win, but then underperform in the games after that because they’ve put so much into that first performance.

“I think when you’re hosting a World Cup it makes sense that you put everything into it.

“The IRFU could be looking at this World Cup as a template for 2023 and, for this tournament to be a success, you want Ireland to stay in it so that you keep the crowds on board.

“It’s not like we’re miles off, and when you see that you’re so close it can come down to those small margins. Those fine lines that determine whether you win or lose” she stressed.

There were certainly some small margins in Ireland’s very encouraging Six Nations run this year as they surmounted the challenge of Scotland, Italy, Wales and defending champions France with some gritty performances.

And while they remained well in touch with England for much of last Friday’s Grand Slam decider in Donnybrook, fitness definitely proved a factor as the Red Roses powered to a 7-34 victory with last quarter tries from Amy Cokayne, Emily Scarratt and substitute Lydia Thompson.

“There are definitely a few issues there like the difference between us and England in terms of strength and depth, the quality of players they have on the bench,” stressed Fitzpatrick.

“I’m not taking anything away from our players on the bench when I say that.

“It’s just that when you look at the amount of caps England have on the bench. So much experience. That’s invaluable to a team.

“And even outside the 23 girls they have in the squad there are some sitting at home with so many international caps that they can call on.

“In terms of this World Cup it’s too late for us to develop that sort of strength and depth. Those structures have been in place in England for the past eight to ten years, but it’s something we can aim for” she insisted.

Looking back at Friday’s match, the Ireland skipper said: “I think we did well up to halftime and then to that 60-minute mark.

“We did well to hold them out in the first half and we had chances ourselves which, had they been converted, I think would have sown a seed of doubt in their heads.

“Coming back in the second half we had the wind, but we didn’t really execute the kicking game we wanted and they capitalised on our mistakes.

“And when you’re chasing the game against the English it’s very difficult.

“They’re very good at going through their processes and holding on to the ball. It makes it very hard to claw anything back.

“The defensive effort in the first half took its toll, fatigue set in and they were gaining parity in the scrum” she added.

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