'It was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in terms of my sporting career'

Ireland captain Niamh Briggs discusses the injury which sidelined her for much of the season

'It was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in terms of my sporting career'

Ireland Women’s Rugby Team captain Niamh Briggs pictured at the Aon Thought Leadership Series on the topic of wellbeing. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Niamh Briggs has reached a milestone that she feared was beyond her at times during the season.

A serious hamstring injury had sidelined her for seven months overall. It deprived her of lining out in any of Ireland's Six Nations games, but with a Rugby World Cup on home soil in August, her return is well timed.

There's still some ground to cover but she's undertaking extra skills sessions to get herself back up to speed.

Injury comebacks are always a complicated journey, and Briggs encountered many challenging moments along the way.

The struggles began in October. A month later, she lined out for Ireland in one of their November Internationals against the Black Ferns in Dublin. By January, a tendon in the muscle had fully ruptured.

She was given assurances that the rehabilitation plan would work out, and that she would make it back to the pitch. And yet, she couldn't help but feel disheartened that the progress wasn't moving at a pace of her liking.

Speaking to Newstalk.com at the launch of Aon's Women's Rugby World Cup #JourneyToGreatness campaign, Briggs explains how the injury impacted on her. 

Image:  Ireland Team captain Niamh Briggs, Head Coach Tom Tierney and fly-half Nora Stapleton are pictured at the Aon Thought Leadership Series on the topic of wellbeing. Picture Credit: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

"There were days when I wasn't sure whether I was going to get back. It was a serious injury and we didn’t know where it was going.

"It was a very difficult year, I’m not going to lie. Mentally, it was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in terms of my sporting career.

"I went into Santry for a few weeks and did full-time with the best in the country - Enda King. He assured me along the way that I'd get there but sometimes it's difficult to see it when progression isn't as quick you want it."

Since earning her first international cap in 2008, injuries have been a rare burden for Briggs, meaning she was usually available for selection for competitive games.

A Rugby World Cup year is not an ideal time to break the habit of a lifetime, and it robbed her of a Six Nations championship that went down to a Grand Slam decider between Ireland and England.

Adjusting to the role of supporter was a difficult transition to make. 

"It was very hard. I've been really fortunate that even though I was injured, it was always kind of during the off-season. Ever since my first cap in 2008, this was the first game I'd ever missed and it was really hard. It was nothing to do with the girls, they were really good. But when you're out of it, you're out.

"You go from being so involved in a squad, and being captain, to not being involved at all. That was kind of hard to comprehend at the time. I'm not a very good supporter, I get very nervous, so it's almost easier playing.

"I learnt a lot from it. We're a lot more resilient than we think we are and that I'm ready to give up playing any time soon that’s for sure."

In recent years, Briggs believed that her international career would come to a natural conclusion after the 2017 Rugby World Cup.

Having spent some time reflecting on things during her time on the sidelines, she realised that she still has more to give. It makes sense for her to keep going, but the injury lay-off has also given her a chance to think about life after sport.

Image: Ireland Women’s Rugby Team fly-half Nora Stapleton, Head Coach Tom Tierney, and captain Niamh Briggs are pictured at the Aon Thought Leadership Series on the topic of wellbeing. Picture Credit: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan.

"I maybe thought three or four years ago that I’d go out after the 2017 World Cup but this year showed me, 'why would I go out when I’m fit and healthy and can still play to a level? Why would I stop it?'

"I definitely know that I have to take up something else [after rugby] that's less taxing on the body and that's going to keep the adrenaline juices flowing.

"That's the type of person I am and I'm not very good at being idle. There was of idle time and I think that that can be dangerous.

"It was difficult but I think I came out of it a better person. I look favourably on it. Obviously, you're disgusted to be missing games and training sessions but I think that you learn so much about yourself and I probably learned to cherish it a bit more because there were days when I wasn’t sure if I was going to get back."

Ireland are working through their training camps at the moment, with some uncapped games against Japan to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Ireland head coach Tom Tierney has some choices to make to trim the squad down from 48 to 28 in time for the tournament in August, and there's no easy spots on offer.

There won't be any reruns of the games from Ireland's 2014 World Cup campaign for Briggs. It remains an important experience for her, but this World Cup is about the current squad, and the opportunity that lies before them.

"I tend not to look back. This is a different squad and the game has moved on from 2014. Those memories I'll cherish forever and that's a bond we had together in that 2014 squad. This is a new squad that's moving forward."