Niamh Briggs is determined to add to her 62 caps for Ireland as she deals with the disappointment of being left out of the Ireland squad for the upcoming Six Nations.
For Briggs, it’s been a turbulent two years hampered by injury which has denied her the opportunity to play her best rugby on a consistent basis.
She worked diligently to get herself back into the frame ahead of the 2017 Rugby World Cup on Irish soil after suffering a serious hamstring injury only for an Achilles tendon issue to rule her out of the tournament just over a week away from their opening clash with Australia.
Nearly 18 months on from the World Cup, Briggs still believes she may never get over the disappointment of missing out.
“I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get over missing out on the World Cup, to be honest,” Briggs told Pundit Arena.
“The last couple of years were obviously incredibly difficult, mentally and physically.”
Briggs previously stated in an interview during last year’s Six Nations that “there was some really dark days” in the aftermath of the World Cup, questioning whether she wanted to continue playing rugby.
Thankfully, the Dungarvan native is now in a good place, which is what makes her omission from the upcoming Six Nations all that more frustrating.
“I was disappointed but I’ve just kept my head down, I’m training away, playing away with the club and see what happens then. It’s a bit frustrating I suppose when you consider, realistically, I probably shouldn’t have been there last year.
“I was only back. When you’re playing well and you’re not in there, that’s probably the most frustrating thing.”
When Briggs states she “shouldn’t have been there last year”, she refers to her lack of game time and fitness coming into the 2018 Six Nations after recovering from the Achilles problem which ruled her out of the World Cup.
The competitive nature which drives a top athlete such as Briggs means that she’s never going to turn down the opportunity to represent her country but looking back, she wasn’t happy with how she performed in that tournament which yielded just two wins over Italy and Wales.
“I think it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to put consistent training sessions, consistent games under my belt and since the start of October this year , I’ve played 80 minutes every week and trained every day.
“That’s probably what my body was craving and what my mind was craving in terms of…looking back on last year’s Six Nations and just so unhappy with how I performed in the sense that my body wasn’t up to scratch. My mind was going quicker than my body and I wasn’t able to keep up.”
Unfortunately for the 34-year-old, that wasn’t the end of an injury-hampered year. She suffered a “big illness” during the summer which required surgery, again putting her in a situation where she was rushing to get back playing for her club and her province as the 2018/19 season began.
“After the injuries I’ve had, I picked up quite a big illness over the summer and had a big operation at the end of July.
“You just don’t learn I suppose. I came back, played the Interpros four or five weeks after that and I probably shouldn’t have ever have played. It was to my own detriment because I was only back training that previous week and then you don’t play as well as you want.”
With injuries and illness now firmly in the past for Briggs, a new challenge is dealing with the disappointment of being out of the Ireland picture which saw her left out of the November internationals and the upcoming Six Nations.
The out-half is determined to do her best at club and provincial level in order to give Ireland head coach Adam Griggs some food for thought.
“I feel now I’m back into a good rhythm, playing well. Look, I’m keeping myself fit and trim and I’m playing well.
“If I get a call, great. If I don’t, well that’s it, so be it, in terms of for me, it was important to get back playing to a level that I know I can play at. If it’s not what the IRFU and Adam and them are looking at, while it’s very disappointing, I’ll still be their biggest supporter and I’ll still back them all the way.
“For me, it was important for my own self, my own personal well-being that I got back to a level that I knew would have competed on.”
The challenge for Briggs is to figure out what exactly she needs to work on to get herself back into the Ireland frame.
As she reveals, Griggs didn’t speak to her to give reasons why she was left out of the upcoming Six Nations.
“No, I haven’t had a conversation with him. I spoke to him in September when he told me I wouldn’t be involved in November and I didn’t speak to him prior to the Six Nations squad. I got an email from them alright just to say that I wouldn’t be included for the Six Nations and that was it, really.
“Look, that’s the direction that he wants to go and as I said, I made it very clear I’ll absolutely back them and support them 100%. I hope they’ll go well over the next few weeks.”
You would be forgiven for thinkings Briggs would be annoyed at the lack of communication so that she might know where she needs to improve her game but she admits it’s something which she isn’t angry about.
“For me to be able to do that [improve], you would have liked some sort of direction. I think Adam is concentrating on developing the squad and that’s fine, that’s his priority and he’s got a job to do with Ireland. That’s his number one focus, not to keep everyone happy which is incredibly difficult.”
Briggs continued: “I don’t dwell on that, to be honest. It’s not something that drives me insane or makes me angry or anything like that. That’s how Adam has done his business and that’s fine in that sense.”
The UL Bohs clubwoman is keen not to mull over things she cannot control. For her, the happiness which comes with playing rugby again and to a level which she is content with is the most important thing.
However, she admits that if her Ireland career has come to an end, she doesn’t want to be remembered for her injury-ridden final two years in a green shirt.
“For me, I think I’m just happy to be back in a place where I absolutely love playing rugby again. I love training. It’s given me good perspective in that I’m not defined by it.
“The one thing that disappoints me is that, if I don’t ever get back playing with Ireland, that I don’t want to be remembered really as, you know, the last two years being injury prone or playing poorly, that’s probably the hardest thing.”
For now, it’s very much a case of unfinished business.
“I obviously have ambitions to keep playing and to play again for Ireland. I feel like I missed out on a huge chunk of rugby in the last couple of seasons. I’m not ready to walk away yet.
“From that perspective, I’ll just keep playing well and keep trying to throw my name into the hat. If I get picked brilliant and if I don’t…I’ve had a great time and great memories in that green jersey. So, I’m not walking away but it’s out of my hands.”
When you think of the extreme challenges which Briggs has had to deal with over the last two years, both physically and mentally, training and playing rugby with a smile on her face is the important thing.
“Yeah, look, sometimes there comes a time in everyone’s career and maybe this is mine but, to be honest, I’m just really enjoying being back playing and I know I keep saying it, but it was so hard, I never thought I’d get back.
“I bound into training in the mornings when I’m training by myself or any sessions in the evenings and when I go to play with my club I love it. I don’t see why I’ll stop as long as I keep loving it and enjoying it. my body is fit and healthy again.
“I’ll just keep trying and playing, whether happens down the road happens and if it doesn’t that’s ultimately out of my hands.”