Jump to main content



Cronin And McInerney Eager To Launch Munster’s Title Defence

Cronin And McInerney Eager To Launch Munster’s Title Defence

Captain Nicole Cronin is pictured during a Munster training session at the University of Limerick earlier this week ©INPHO/Bryan Keane

It has been a long time coming, so understandably there is a sort of Christmas Eve feeling in the Munster camp ahead of the return of the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship.

With a new head coach on board in Niamh Briggs, Munster launch their title defence on Saturday when they host Ulster at Musgrave Park (kick-off 4.45pm) in the opening round.

Out-half Nicole Cronin was vice-captain when Munster overcame arch rivals Leinster to lift the trophy back in September 2021, her contribution as the tournament’s top points scorer helping her to be crowned last season’s Munster Women’s Player of the Year.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

The Limerick native returned from injury for UL Bohemians in November and is fighting fit as Munster aim for back-to-back Interpro crowns, something which they have not achieved since Briggs kicked them past Leinster back in 2015.

“There’s an air of giddiness around us because we’re off the back of a really good year. We’re just looking to build on that,” admitted Cronin, who is set to pair up with her club-mate Muirne Wall at half-back.

“We would like to go the same distance again, so we’re excited. Those scenes last year in Donnybrook, for a good chunk of us, it was our first Interpro (title) win.

“You can’t replace days like that, and that’s why you come out on these cold evenings to kind of get that medal at the end of it. We’re really looking forward to giving it our best shot.”

The corresponding first round fixture in 2021 saw Munster blow Ulster away in Belfast, scoring eight tries with Cronin and Wall getting amongst them and Chloe Pearse, their captain that year, running in a hat-trick.

Cronin’s thoughts are far away from that 50-5 victory, knowing the quality of players that Ulster have in their current squad – including Energia All-Ireland League winners Beth Cregan, Maeve Liston and Ella Durkan – and that they have played a training game against Leinster.

“I don’t think you can ever look too far beyond the first game. You need to get everything right for that first game and, most importantly, you need to get a win.

“We’ll take it game by game, because the worst thing you can do in a sport like this is to look too far beyond what you need to do. We know what Ulster have thrown at us in the last couple of years, and we know it’ll be a game.”

Despite UL Bohs falling short to Blackrock at the semi-final stage, Cronin says the assembled Munster squad, largely drawn from Briggs’ own Red Robins side, have come into this Interprovincial block with a pep in their step.

Apart from the silverware on offer, there are added incentives with the Interpros – moved to a New Year slot – now leading into the inaugural Celtic Challenge competition where a Combined Provinces XV will play teams from Wales and Scotland.

Players from all four provinces are keenly aware that Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams, who will take charge of the Combined Provinces squad, will be keeping a close eye on form in the coming weeks, especially with the TikTok Women’s Six Nations drawing ever closer.

As for Munster’s preparations, Cronin noted: “We’ve had a good few weeks together, so we’ve just been kind of building into it to get what structures we want to play, but it was just about getting back together really.

“We’ve been able to come out of club season and completely go into interprovincial season, which gives us more days together, more sessions, the gym, and it just gets us together a lot more than we would have been.”

The Reds have a good deal of continuity in the coaches’ box and on the field, with Briggs assisted by Matt Brown, last season’s head coach, Fiona Hayes and Mike Storey. 18 players are retained from last season’s successful squad.

Among the newcomers in the playing group are Ireland Under-18 starlet Kate Flannery, who has gained AIL experience with Bohs in recent months, Ballincollig speedster Heather Kennedy, and back rower Ciara Farrell who has made the switch from Connacht.

“It’s a little bit like last year, we had a good chunk of young players come through last year that have now essentially ended up becoming senior players,” added Cronin.

“We’re hoping that they help bring the younger girls through the way they were brought through. I think it’s to have a little bit more patience than you would with some of the older players.

“When you’ve been around for a while, sometimes it’s easy to lose your patience, but with them, you’re wanting the best out of them because ultimately if you can get the best out of them, they give the best performance of themselves.”

Meanwhile, young centre Alana McInerney is relishing her second senior Interprovincial campaign with Munster, having debuted against Connacht in September 2021 and then started in the decisive 19-7 final round win away to Leinster.

The 21-year-old from Ennis has been juggling her University and rugby commitments in recent weeks, and is enjoying having her club coach take the provincial reins.

“I was on the squad last year and knew Niamh pretty well, and Niamh’s my head coach at Bohs too. So I probably know the coaches inside out,” she acknowledged.

“Going from AIL into Munster, it’s been very seamless. It’s very similar trainings and I know the way ‘Briggsy’ talks and how she coaches.

“It’s been a busy couple of weeks, in the middle of my (college) exams as well. When you’re training three or four times a week, it’s nice to get a release just to go training and not think about college.

“We’ve loads of people (back) from last year, but the new girls look like they’ve be here for a long, long time. They know exactly what they’re at.”

McInerney and her team-mates are hoping to turn Musgrave Park into something of a fortress, with their opening two fixtures against Ulster and Leinster taking place at the Cork venue.

She is keen for a strong turnout of support from across the province, adding: “Hopefully there’ll be a big crowd going down to Musgrave to the two games.

“Musgrave’s a beautiful pitch, I love playing there and have always had good, fond memories of playing there. We played against Connacht there last year so two (games) there will be great.

“We’ve a very settled team, we’re looking at the first game and then we’ll work on from there, fix our mistakes and hopefully improve as the three weeks go on.”