In the space of just under five months, Aoife Dalton has enjoyed winning debuts at senior level with Ireland, Old Belvedere and now Leinster.
Dalton combined with her club-mate Jenny Murphy in Leinster’s midfield as they ran out 38-10 winners over Connacht on the opening day of the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship.
With every new challenge, the Clara teenager has stepped up to the mark. She was one of ten new caps in Tania Rosser’s matchday squad for the first round match at Energia Park.
On the day that Leinster lost the senior Interprovincial title to Munster back in September 2021, Dalton was part of the Leinster Under-18 Women’s team that lifted the age-grade Interpro trophy.
Notably, three members of that U-18 side graduated to win their first senior caps for Leinster on Saturday, with Tullow talent Dannah O’Brien impressing at out-half and Enniscorthy’s Katie Whelan coming off the bench to score a try.
Her involvement with Ireland and Old Belvedere, coupled with her becoming a contracted player within the IRFU High Performance Programme, had Dalton well prepared for her senior bow in blue.
“I loved it. This is my first (Leinster senior) cap and it’s so much better than I thought it would be,” she said, speaking after the game to TG4. “The group have been so good over the last couple of weeks.
“It’s been hard, we didn’t know when we’d get to play these (Interpros) and then we finally got dates. It’s a new squad, there’s plenty of new caps in the squad.
“The older girls have just welcomed us in. I’ve enjoyed it so much, genuinely.”
The 19-year-old centre’s hard work on both sides of the ball was recognised with her selection as the Vodafone player-of-the-match. She was warmly embraced by Rosser as she clutched her award from the sponsors.
Without singling out individuals, the new Leinster head coach admitted: “It’s exciting to see how the younger players are stepping up. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next two games brings for them. They all played well, I’m just super delighted for them.”
Leinster move on to play reigning champions Munster next Saturday afternoon, a top of the table clash that is sure to draw a big crowd to Musgrave Park.
Given the Blues left a number of chances behind them during a error-strewn first 30 minutes against Connacht, Dalton knows they will have to be at their sharpest in order to get a result in Cork.
“We kind of spoke about it before the match, being the first game of the Interpros it would probably be a nervy start. We knew once we got our hands on the ball, we’d execute.
“It was nervy at the start, just a lot of missed passes and we couldn’t get that final pass away. But I think once we got on the scoresheet, we were grand.
“We’ve a good few work-ons from today, but all positive and we’ll just regroup for Munster next week.”
Dalton is set to come up against some familiar faces in the Munster line-up, including Dorothy Wall, who she said was ‘a real role model’ given her own rapid rise, and Enya Breen who was her centre partner for her first Ireland game against Japan.
Meanwhile, Rosser was happy to officially get her Leinster coaching tenure up and running a full year after she was appointed to the role.
The vastly-experienced Murphy, who won the Grand Slam with Rosser ten years ago, bagged two tries, while Ella Roberts, Anna Doyle and replacements Elise O’Byrne-White and Whelan crossed the Connacht line too.
Only 14-3 behind at the break, Connacht rallied when Nicole Fowley’s well-weighted kick picked out Orla Dixon for a try, but Leinster closed out their only home fixture of the series with two late scores.
Giving her assessment of the performance, Rosser said: “I’m happy with it. Sure the first was a bit of a mess, but the girls came together, the start of a new system and they played well, and let loose in the second half.
“I think we just need to stop forcing the passes – build into the game rather than just going with the offloading game all the time. I think that let us down in the first half.
“It’s a new system and we just need to clean up a few things and get clarity on the breakdown and stuff like that.”