The back-rower loves keeping busy both on and off the field

Ireland captain Ciara Griffin on her packed schedule

Ciara Griffin was only three years old when Chumbawamba released their hit Tubthumping, but the opening lines could easily be the Ireland captain’s mantra.

I get knocked down but I get up again; You are never gonna keep me down.

That’s the crux of Griffin’s career. The back-row is the epitome of perseverance.

Take her start in rugby. Her earliest memories of the sport are playing in the back garden with her sister, but it wasn’t until she was 16 that her local club, Castleisland, launched a girls’ team – after a decade of “pestering” by Griffin.

Then there’s her drive to play at Test level. Rejected at her first two Ireland trials, she asked for feedback and set to work to make improvements ahead of her next opportunity. “Looking back I was very small in terms of size, so I got fitter and stronger,” she says.

The third time proved the charm as she made it into the Ireland squad – only to break her leg in the first training session. But she didn’t let that halt her progress, quickly returning to the gym.

She focused on her upper body and came up with novel ways to use the equipment with one leg out of action. For example, she would place her broken leg on a skateboard so it would still travel back and forth as she used the rowing machine.

It’s little wonder that the moment she did finally win her first cap, against Wales in the 2016 Six Nations, is etched firmly in her mind. “It was my dream since I was small to play for Ireland and it was amazing,” she says. “I still remember crossing the whitewash. I came on in the 63rd or 64th minute and I loved it.”

Two years later Griffin became Ireland captain and last season she was named Women’s Player of the Year by the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland. It’s her leadership as well as her physicality that stands out.

As Munster and Ireland team-mate Eimear Considine says: “What she does on the field inspires you to do better. She just changes the game and you want to do things for her.”

The above illustrates the work ethic – instilled by her parents on the family beef farm – that Griffin brings to her rugby, but her drive is evident in all she does. Alongside her rugby commitments, she is a primary school teacher and has her own business, CG Fitness.

She fits her personal training sessions around school and works with clients online. On top of that, she will help out on her dad’s and uncle’s farms as and when needed.

“I love being busy,” says Griffin, whose best holiday involved hiking and cycling around Ireland last year. “I like doing the PT with the teaching. My mum was a teacher and growing up I always wanted to be a primary school teacher. They’re two very different challenges but I like it.

“Mum and dad raised us really well and I got my work ethic from a young age. It came from my grandma and grandad as well. I’d spend all my summers farming with them. I’d love going out with my grandad and doing fencing or welding. I loved always having something to do.

“I struggle to sit down on the couch and watch a TV show. I always have in my mind that there’s something to do.”

Griffin’s busy lifestyle will be even more hectic for the rest of 2020. Ireland will play their postponed Six Nations fixtures against Italy and France in October, then have the European qualifiers for the 2021 World Cup in December. The winners book their spot at the tournament in New Zealand and the runners-up going into the repêchage.

Ireland will be competing alongside Italy, Scotland and the winners of the Rugby Europe Championship – expected to be Spain.

“That’s the big target for the group and me personally. We’ve got confidence following our performances in the Six Nations, we put good phases together, but there’s plenty to build on so we’re in a good space to push forward.”

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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