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IRFU Appoints Eight Women’s Pathway Staff As Part Of New University Centre Of Excellence Structure

IRFU Appoints Eight Women’s Pathway Staff As Part Of New University Centre Of Excellence Structure

The IRFU has today announced the appointment of eight new WNTS Pathway staff.

The IRFU is delighted to announce the appointment of eight new Women’s National Talent Squad (WNTS) Pathway staff to be based at five Provincial Centre of Excellence hubs as part of a further investment and commitment to developing and inspiring a new generation of talent.

In another significant and exciting announcement for the women’s game in Ireland, the appointment of an Athletic Performance Coach and Pathway Talent Coach to each of the four Provinces follows recommendations laid out in the IRFU’s Women In Rugby Report published last December.

The eight full-time WNTS Pathways staff will operate out of five new Women’s Centre of Excellence hubs at Dublin City University and SETU Carlow (Leinster), University of Galway (Connacht), University of Limerick (Munster) and Queen’s University (Ulster).

Additionally, the IRFU is in discussions with ATU Sligo and University College Cork with a view to setting up two further Women’s Centre of Excellence hubs in those locations.

Working under IRFU Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, Gillian McDarby, IRFU WNTS and Talent ID Manager, Katie Fitzhenry, and IRFU Head of Athletic Performance, Women’s Pathway and WXV National Team, Ed Slattery, the eight new staff are:

  • Leinster: Matt Gill (Talent Coach) and Greg Hollins (Athletic Performance Coach)
  • Munster: Niamh Briggs (Talent Coach) and Lorna Barry (Athletic Performance Coach)
  • Ulster: Neill Alcorn (Talent Coach) and Paul Heasley (Athletic Performance Coach)
  • Connacht: Larissa Muldoon (Talent Coach) and Ann Caffrey (Athletic Performance Coach).

Establishing a sustainable talent identification network has been a key deliverable for the WNTS programme since its inception in early 2022, and the purpose of each Centre of Excellence will be to identify and attract local players between the ages of 16 and 23 and provide them with co-ordinated programmes across the areas of skills and strength and conditioning, aiding their development and creating a clear pathway to the green jersey.

The performances of the Ireland U18 squad at the recent Women’s Six Nations Festival under Head Coach Larissa Muldoon demonstrates the success of the WNTS programme and the creation of the five Centre of Excellence hubs will help identify, develop and support more female players that have the potential to be selected for national squads and to accelerate their understanding of the demands of rugby at the elite level.

Among those to have come through the WNTS programme under the guidance of Fitzhenry are current Ireland internationals Aoife Dalton and Dannah O’Brien.

Commenting at today’s announcement at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin, McDarby said: “We are delighted to confirm the appointment of eight new WNTS staff as we mobilise our vision for the pathways structure within the provincial system.

“It is a significant step forward as we work with our University partners to create Centre of Excellence hubs, each resourced by an Athletic Performance and Pathway Talent Coach, to not only retain young players locally but to attract new talent to rugby within the University system in Ireland.

“Our new WNTS coaches assembled centrally at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin earlier this week for an induction programme and a key part of the structure will be the alignment between all staff within the High Performance Unit and the Provinces as we strive to grow and develop the women’s game at all levels.”

IRFU WNTS and Talent ID Manager Fitzhenry said: “Following a rigorous recruitment search, we are pleased to appoint such a high calibre of coaches to these key positions within the WNTS structure. Niamh Briggs and Larissa Muldoon are two former internationals and bring a wealth of experience to the roles, with Larissa recently working closely with our next generation of players as Ireland U18 Head Coach and Niamh working with the current senior team as backs coach.

“Matt Gill and Neil Alcorn have been central figures within the women’s game in recent years, coaching with Leinster and Ulster respectively, and we’re delighted to have them on board as we all strive to advance players to a level where they can pull on the green jersey.”

IRFU Head of Athletic Performance, Women’s Pathway and WXV National Team, Slattery added: “In addition to accelerating a young player’s rugby skills, a key part of the WNTS programme is to educate players in the area of strength and conditioning at a crucial juncture in their development. Our four Athletic Performance Coaches bring experience and expertise to this space and will play a key role in identifying players with athletic potential and supporting them in their growth on and off the pitch.”

IRFU President John Robinson said: “The IRFU is delighted to announce these key appointments to our Women’s Pathway as we continue to develop our structures at all levels of the game. Creating exciting partnerships with five Universities around the country is also an important development and we are looking forward to working with them to provide our young players with access to world class facilities and Centre of Excellence hubs.”

The new WNTS coaches will be in attendance at the opening round of the U18 Women’s Sevens Inter-Provincial Series at the IRFU High Performance Centre this weekend.