The second annual 15-a-side series of IRFU Under-18 Girls Interprovincial rugby takes place over the next three weeks, with Ulster aiming to defend the title they won in impressive fashion last year.
IRFU UNDER-18 GIRLS INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMPIONSHIP – ROUND 1: September 23-24
Saturday, September 23 –
MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS v LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS, Ballincollig RFC, 2.30pm
Mallow’s Emily Lane will captain the Munster Under-18 Girls team for their Interprovincial campaign. The talented out-half recently led the Combined Provinces side to the UK School Games Sevens title and was skipper last week in Vichy where Ireland finished sixth in the Rugby Europe U-18 Women’s Sevens Championship.
Munster head coach Eugene McCarthy has an experienced squad at his disposal, including 13 players who were part of the 2016/17 panel. The Munster girls have been training three days a week since the beginning of May throughout various venues in the province.
Notably, the Munster back-line features Lane, Stephanie Nunan, Enya Breen and Dorothy Wall who all represented Ireland in the European Sevens last week, while Lane’s sister Gemma is on the bench and the family links continue with former Ireland Under-20 prop Ben Betts’ sister Hayley (pictured above) starting at tighthead.
Speaking ahead of the series opener in Cork, McCarthy said: “The girls are looking forward to the first Interpro match after putting in a long summer of intense training in various regions throughout the province.
“The Interpro series is now into is second year of existence and is providing a great stepping stone to progress from underage club rugby to possible selection for the senior interprovincial standard and possible national stage.”
Meanwhile, Tullamore duo Megan Burns (pictured above) and Jane Waters will lead the Leinster back-line in Ballincollig, with out-half Burns starting opposite her Ireland Under-18 Sevens team-mate Lane in a fascinating individual duel.
Naas have the biggest representation in the Leinster starting line-up with Annie Maguire and Ali Miley selected on the right wing and at outside centre respectively, while Casey O’Brien will pack down at tighthead. The visitors are captained by Garda/Westmanstown lock Judy Bobbet, with Railway Union’s Aimee Clarke – a recent Sevens gold medallist at the UK School Games – selected on the bench.
MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS: Muirne Wall (Listowel), Maggie Boylan (Carrick-on-Suir), Stephanie Nunan (St. Mary’s), Enya Breen (Bantry Bay), Dorothy Wall (Fethard & District); Emily Lane (Mallow) (capt), Ciara Clancy (Shannon); Andrea Stock (Bantry Bay), Orla Curtin (Shannon), Hayley Betts (Shannon), Sarah Garrett (Fethard & District), Clare Bennett (Fethard & District); Katelyn Fleming (Cashel), Mary Hilda Hurley (Bantry Bay), Rebecca Hayes (Bandon).
Replacements: Annie Laffan (Carrick-on-Suir), Caroline Downey (Bantry Bay), Sarah O’Connor (Shannon), Rebecca Reilly (Listowel), Sarah O’Gorman (Newport), Lea Turner (Iveragh), Gemma Lane (Mallow), Jennifer Fogarty (Fethard & District).
LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS: Bethany Sharpe (IT Carlow/Carlow Coyotes); Annie Maguire (Naas), Ali Miley (Naas), Natasha Behan (Gorey), Molly Fitzgerald (Navan); Megan Burns (Tullamore), Jane Waters (Tullamore); Meadbh O’Callaghan (Dundalk), Jess Keating (Old Belvedere), Casey O’Brien (Naas), Judy Bobbet (Garda/Westmanstown) (capt), Jessica Schmidt (Wicklow), Katelynn Doran (Port Darra), Grace Kelly (Tullow), Tess Meade (Ardee).
Replacements: Niamh Tester (Boyne), Ciara Moughty (Mullingar), Aimee Clarke (Railway Union), Nikki Gibson (Garda/Westmanstown), Maeve Scally (Mullingar), Zoe Valentine (Dundalk), Orlaith Murray (Garda/Westmanstown), Orla Molloy (Gorey).
Sunday, September 24 –
ULSTER U-18 GIRLS v CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS, Virginia RFC, 3pm
It will be a proud day for Virginia RFC on Sunday when they host the opening match of the Ulster U-18 Girls team’s title defence. Indeed, 10 of the Ulster players are members of the Co. Cavan club, including starting half-backs Lisa Mullen and Amanda McQuade.
Dungannon’s Grace Shrestha, who captains the Ulster girls from the front row, is one of 12 squad members who were part of last year’s all-conquering team. Backs Ellie Ingram and Kelly McCormill join up with the squad having returned from international duty with the Ireland U-18 Sevens side.
Hooker Shrestha commented: “This is my third year in the squad and I am loving the sport more and more every time I play. I’ve got so much more confident and it’s a great honour and privilege to be named as Ulster captain.
“I’m a little nervous but really excited to be leading the girls out for my province this year. We have a young squad, but the girls are eager and very keen to play and put on that white shirt. Our first match is a home game and knowing there will be lots of support helps boost squad morale.”
The Ulster girls are coached by Zoe Templeton (backs) and Charlie Farrell (forwards). They have five new caps in the selected team for this round 1 game – tighthead Ella Garland along with backs Ruth Gilsenan, Mya Alcorn, Lucy Turkington and McQuade.
“Our squad has a good mix of youth and experience this season and the girls have worked extremely hard over the past few months in preparation for this year’s series,” said Farrell. “We are excited to get stuck into the matches now, hopefully the girls’ hard work will pay off and we will be able to hold onto the trophy for another year.”
Meanwhile, Ballinasloe Rugby Club provide seven members of the Connacht U-18 Girls team which will face defending champions Ulster in the opening round of the Interprovincial Championship.
The back-line is dominated by Ballinasloe RFC players – there are five in all, including Meabh Deely and Aoibheann Reilly who were in Sevens action with Lucy Mulhall’s Irish squad at the UK School Games and European U-18 Sevens this month.
Number 8 Sarah Dent, who also hails from Ballinasloe, will captain the province. She was the Connacht U-18 Girls Player of the Year for the 2016/17 campaign. Connacht have placed a big emphasis this year on the fitness and athleticism of the squad, with Jarleth Naughton, the Connacht Women’s head coach, overseeing the girls’ strength & conditioning programme.
The Connacht U-18s held their first training camp in Ballinasloe back in May, coming together under head coach/backs coach Sinead Cosgrave and forwards coach Dermot Tierney. Training regularly throughout the summer in Ballinrobe, Ballinasloe and the Sportsground, the westerners played two warm-up matches and posted wins over Canadian outfit New Brunswick and Tullamore.
ULSTER U-18 GIRLS: Ruth Gilsenan (Virginia); Mya Alcorn (Letterkenny), Kelly McCormill (Monaghan), Lucy Turkington (Dungannon), Ellie Ingram (Enniskillen); Lisa Mullen (Virginia), Amanda McQuade (Virginia); Emma Kearney (Armagh), Grace Shrestha (Dungannon) (capt), Ella Garland (Monaghan), Megan Brodie (Virginia), Caolinn McCormack (Virginia), Bethany McDowell (Malone), Katie Hetherington (Clogher Valley), Keelin Brady (Virginia).
Replacements: Aoife Cahill (Malone), Ava Fannin (Virginia), Tammy Millar (Enniskillen), Sorcha McCormack (Virginia), Ciara Byers (Virginia), Amber Redmond (Virginia), Ellie Rix (Enniskillen), Holly Brannigan (Malone).
CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS: Aine Gavin (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe); Aoibheann Reilly (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe), Niamh Kenny (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe), Beibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe), Meabh Deely (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe); Shona Kennedy (Westport/Sacred Heart School, Westport), Muireann Cawley (Westport/Sacred Heart School, Westport); Claire Coghlan (Westport/Sacred Heart School, Westport), Mia Fahy (Galwegians/Glenamaddy Community School), Kayley Mannion (Galwegians/Glenamaddy Community School); Sarah Walsh (Westport/Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh), Jordan Hopkins (Galwegians/Calasanctius College Oranmore); Lily Brady (Westport/Sacred Heart School, Westport), Georgia Codyre (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe), Sarah Dent (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe) (capt).
Replacements: Claudia McNicholas (Galwegians/Colaiste na Coiribe, Galway), Mary McLoughlin (Westport/Sacred Heart School, Westport), Sarah O’Rourke (Buccaneers/Our Lady’s Bower, Athlone), Vanessa Finnan (Buccaneers/Our Lady’s Bower, Athlone), Eva McCormack (Westport/Sacred Heart School, Westport), Chloe Staunton (Westport/Sacred Heart School, Westport), Rachel Cox (Westport/Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh), Aisling Murphy (Ballinasloe/Ardscoil Mhuire, Ballinasloe).
IRFU UNDER-18 GIRLS INTERPROVINCIAL CHAMIONSHIP – UPCOMING FIXTURES:
Saturday, September 30 –
LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS v ULSTER U-18 GIRLS, North Kildare RFC, 1.30pm
CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS v MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS, Ballinasloe RFC, 3pm
Saturday, October 7 –
LEINSTER U-18 GIRLS v CONNACHT U-18 GIRLS, MU Barnhall RFC, 1pm
ULSTER U-18 GIRLS v MUNSTER U-18 GIRLS, MU Barnhall RFC, 3pm