Ulster are Cork bound for the opening game of the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship, as they get to measure their progress against defending champions Munster.
It is a tough first-up assignment for Neill Alcorn’s charges, but their inspirational captain Beth Cregan, who is in her third season in the role, is relishing the challenge ahead of them.
“We are really looking forward to it, Munster are the champions from last year, so we know what we are going into,” said the versatile forward, who will pack down at hooker, between promising teenager Sadhbh McGrath and former Ireland international Ilse van Staden.
Niamh Briggs is the new head coach of Munster this season. The Ireland great has already got an impressive coaching CV as assistant coach with Ireland and head coach of UL Bohemians.
Fresh from winning the Energia All-Ireland League title in her first year with Blackrock College, Cregan is full of praise for Briggs and is very aware of her coaching ability.
She expects to come up against a very tactical and technically strong opposition on Leeside, although she emphasised the importance of her team making the most of the occasion and putting their best foot forward on the day.
“We are confident in ourselves and we back ourselves completely regardless of who we are playing. It’s just going to be a really big opportunity for us to be playing against the likes of Enya Breen and Dorothy Wall,” she highlighted.
The Ulster Women have a few All-Ireland League winners of their own in their travelling squad, including Maeve Liston and Ella Durkan who are two players to watch out at full-back and out-half respectively.
They have also got the experienced Fiona Tuite who has switched positions this season, catching the eye in Old Belvedere colours as a very effective back rower having previously played most of her rugby in the back-three.
However, between herself, Brenda Barr and Stacey Sloan, they will have their work cut out for them given Munster’s stellar back row combination of Wall, Maeve Óg O’Leary and Tuite’s ‘Belvo team-mate, Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird.
Cregan hopes that the players can carry their good form into the Interpros, noting: “We’ve all had good seasons with our clubs. We have a really good feeling in the camp and can’t wait to get going.”
Alcorn, who has been part of the Ulster coaching team since 2019, added: “Heading to the champions to start the series is a big challenge, but it’s one we will embrace and meet head-on.
“Our preparations have been going well, and we want to kick on and continue to build on the progress we’ve made. We’ve got an exciting mix of youth and experience in the squad, and they’re all keen to test themselves, representing their province at the highest level.”
August and September 2021 was the last time the Women’s Interpros were played. In that campaign Ulster suffered two defeats and managed a 12-all draw with Connacht in the final round, a result that Cregan is determined to turn into a win when they meet again.
“We really got momentum towards the end of the last Interpros and, to be honest, we were bitterly disappointed with the draw with Connacht. We’ve been really wanting to push on.”
The squad share the same goal of doing the best they can to achieve good performances in every game they play. It is very clear that this is not a team of just a few standout players.
“It is so cliché, it’s not one person leading the team, there is a leadership group there that is constantly driving on standards in training and in matches,” added Cregan.
“It’s an honour for me and my family to be representing Ulster in that (captaincy) role, however it doesn’t change much in my own individual perspective of you take it one game at a time.
“One performance at a time and it’s a squad performance at the end of the day that we’re looking for.”