SHE may have had one of the most coveted tickets in the world at her fingertips, but Fiona Steed - wife of rugby legend John Hayes – gave up her pass to the Royal box at Twickenham for an Under-10 county camogie blitz.
The mother-of-three was invited to the opening of the 2015 World Cup as a guest of her husband John, who was one of 20 rugby legends invited to take part in the spectacular ceremony last Friday.
“We had to keep it to ourselves,” Fiona explained this week. “An email was sent that it was to be a surprise. It was the same people who were doing the Olympic opening ceremony and they requested that we kept it to a bare minimum of need-to-know people. We needn’t really tell anyone,” said Fiona, who is the former Irish women’s rugby captain. Fiona, a physiotherapist manager in Nenagh hospital, had a number of prior commitments last weekend. “I am doing a diploma in healthcare management in UL which is on every second Friday and the county blitz was on Saturday,” she explained
Fiona is coaching the Under-10 Cappamore team with Josephine Blackwell and Mary Theresa Caher.
“I do all the organising and things like that. I thought, ‘I can’t expect other people to spend the day in UL’. Then there was the logistics of getting the kids minded for two days. The girls are at Tineteriffe school in Cappamore. Now at that stage I didn’t know it was Royal box or anything like that,” she added.
Fiona suggested to John that he take his great pal, Mike Fogarty from Cappamore, who was his best man at his wedding. Mike jumped at the chance.
Then on Friday morning, she realised that the invites included two fancy VIP passes with ‘Royal Box Enclosure’ written on them.
When a picture of Prince William came through on her phone on Friday night from Mike Fogarty’s wife – which he has sent to her – Fiona realised what she was missing.
“I thought ‘OK, I have just given up swapping fashion advice with Kate for my Under-10 camogie,” she joked. “When I went in to UL on Saturday morning, all the girls were there and they were all a bit giddy. I was saying, ‘Ye better be good today because I gave up my seat with the Duchess,” she laughed.
Fiona watched the ceremony with her own mum Maureen and John’s mother Marie, and her three children – Sally, 9, Roisin, 6 and Bill, 3.
“We all sat down and watched it and my two girls made me rewind it five times,” smiled Fiona.
“Bill was watching Tractor Ted in the playroom and I asked him to come out and see daddy. He came out and went back saying ‘I’m watching Tractor Ted’.”
John said it was an “absolute” honour to represent Ireland at the ceremony.
“It was a huge shock at first but it’s a huge honour and another chance to represent your country. I was delighted to get the call.”
He was thrilled to get to shoot the breeze with some of the legends of the game.
“Some of them I had met before or played against them – like Raphaël Ibañez and Martin Johnson but I had never met Sean Fitzpatrick from New Zealand before. He is one of their legendary All Blacks so to get to meet him was great and I met Chester Williams from South Africa, who was the face of the 1995 World Cup.
“Everyone of them were down-to-earth. We were in the green room and we were all sitting around and chatting the same as if we knew each other years.”
Members of the Royal family including Prince William his wife Kate and brother Harry were also in attendance in the royal box
“I shook hands with them alright, I’d met them before. They are real down-to-earth, you could see them chatting away to people.”
Harry, he said “seems to be good craic”.
And was John impressed with Ireland’s opening performance?
“Absolutely! There was energy and intensity. I think they would have beaten most teams on Saturday because they were just on fire.”
He thinks they have what it takes to overcome France. “We have another game coming this weekend – there might be a few changes. The standard has been set now and I think they are all going to rise to it and then it will get bigger the week after against Italy and then the big one is against France. France look OK as well. They could be difficult and after that then you just wait and see how things go.
Is it possible, could Ireland win?
“It’s possible alright, but look at all the things that could happen between now and then. You look at Wales at the weekend and the injuries and that’s really going to make them struggle to even get out of their group. We had a good game on Saturday.”