12 Dec, 14:42
Prop Cian Healy is expected to miss the start of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations after undergoing surgery on his injured ankle on Wednesday.
Last month's European Championship in Holland marked a milestone for the Irish Women's team, who recorded their highest ever finish at the tournament, but it was also a significant marker in the career of Ireland centre-cum-winger Cantwell, who won her 50th cap during the competition.
Cantwell has been a stalwart in the green jersey since her first appearance in 2001 when Ireland were hammered by England, but she has had far better days since then as Ireland have evolved into one of the most competitive sides in Europe.
"I remember the game against England because we lost 79-0 and I was on the wing marking Chris Diver who is over six foot tall," she recalled.
"At one stage, myself and Sarahjane Belton were trying to tackle her but I don't even think she noticed we were there."
Thankfully things have improved for Ireland since then and Cantwell recalls some great days for the girls in green.
"Highlights so far for me would be beating countries for the first time in the Six Nations.
"We beat Spain in 2004 and then we beat Wales for the first time in Cardiff in 2006 to qualify for the World Cup.
"That same year we beat Scotland for the first time, leading up to the World Cup. The recent game against France at the Europeans was also a big day for us," she added.
Over her 51 caps, her favourite personal moment was scoring a try against Wales in that win in 2006 and Cantwell, who is at home both on the wing and in the centre, said she would play in any position for her country.
"I don't mind, though I would prefer playing in the centre and being just that bit closer to the action.
"I don't think there's any better feeling on a pitch than running a good line and slinking through a gap in a defence and topping it off with a pass that makes some yardage.
"I've really enjoyed working on different skills like my passing, support lines and defence in the centre."
Ireland's women players have improved year on year, not just at national level but also on the domestic scene, with playing numbers increasing every season.
Increases in fitness amongst the Irish players have also had a big impact on performances on the pitch.
"Individually, we are a lot more skilful and take a lot more responsibility for our own skills and performance.
"The girls in the squad are so much stronger, faster and fitter than we have been before and it's testament to the fact that we've scored in the last two minutes in our last two matches against England," Cantwell explained.
"(Our flanker) Orla Brennan puts us to shame by training 10 or 12 times a week, but we all can't live the life of a teacher!"
Ireland have plenty of work to do if they are to improve on their fourth place finish in this year's Six Nations, but the desire is certainly there to break into the top-three and Cantwell and her team-mates are also targeting the 2010 World Cup.
"Looking to the next World Cup, I think we have to aim for a top four position. Next year's Six Nations performance will be a huge indication as to whether we can achieve this or not," added Cantwell, who was part of the Irish squad that finished eighth at the 2006 World Cup in Edmonton.
- Next week, we will be chatting with Munster and Ireland prop John Hayes as he looks back on Munster's successful Heineken Cup campaign and a season of highs and lows on the international scene.
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