Jump to main content



Ulster’s McGrath Enjoying Front Row Learning Curve

Ulster’s McGrath Enjoying Front Row Learning Curve

Ulster and Ireland prop Sadhbh McGrath attended the launch of the Vodafone Women's Interprovincial Championship at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Making her senior Ulster and Ireland debuts, coupled with the ‘small’ task of completing her Leaving Cert exams, are just some of the things that Sadhbh McGrath has crammed into a hectic but exciting 2023 so far.

Ahead of the start of the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship this weekend, we caught up with the 18-year-old Donegal native who has not had much time to reflect on her recent achievements.

Google Ad Manager – 300×250 – In Article

McGrath will receive her Leaving Cert results on Friday, August 25, and believes her rugby commitments had her take a more relaxed approach to her exams which helped her cope in the long run.

“Everyone in school was stressing out. I didn’t have that experience because I was away and I think because of that I didn’t stress about it, and I was chill about it and it worked in my advantage, I suppose,” she said.

She was very thankful for the support she received from her secondary school, Scoil Mhuire in Buncrana. They really helped her throughout the process.

McGrath has recently become a fully-contracted player with the IRFU Women’s 15s High Performance Programme. She won her first Ireland cap against Wales just last March, and came in as a bit of an unknown quantity.

It was a difficult TikTok Women’s Six Nations campaign for the Ireland squad, with a sixth place finish in the end, but the promising young prop was happy to get the opportunity.

For me I was not expecting it. From this moment last year to where I am now, I definitely couldn’t have expected everything that happened. I am so grateful to get the opportunity.

“I know I just need more game-time, the other teams showed that they were more technically able than I was which is fair enough but now I’m just trying to get better.

“Front row is a very technical position and every day I’m just trying to get better and take different things from different people to see if it works for me. It’s trial and error.”

McGrath made her senior provincial bow last January, away to Munster. She only began to take rugby seriously at the age of 16 when her coaches at City of Derry RFC encouraged her to go to the Ulster trials for the U-18s.

It was from that first summer training within the Ulster underage ranks where she really developed as a player. She has made good memories in the Ulster jersey so far.

“In 2021 I was playing with the Under-18s and we came second in the Interpros, it was my first Interpro Championship, it was unreal. I’m still really good friends with all those girls on the team.

“I suppose getting my first Ulster cap (stands out). One of my first coaches, Beth Cregan, she’s the Ulster captain and she presented me with my jersey. It was such a special moment because I’ve known her since I started rugby.

“It was a special moment because she coached me from the ground up, I suppose, and to be playing alongside her was just massive,” she explained, picking it out as one of the special moments in her rugby career so far.

Any teenager who aspires to be a top level athlete always needs a little bit of help to achieve their goals. The journey from Buncrana to Belfast is a long one.

McGrath, who has her driving license now, is extremely thankful for all the evenings her father dedicated to bringing her to training.

“My dad would be a massive support to me. He would drive me to Belfast and back three times a week, no bother to him, he loved it. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him,” she noted.

Players often try a few positions before finding out where they are most comfortable on the pitch. McGrath is a versatile forward who also had a short stint in the backs before playing most of her early rugby years in the back row.

However, she is now known to most for her appearances in the front row. She has already shown that she is a highly-skilled individual with an ability to adapt.

“I moved to the front row in January for the Interpros (last season). There is definitely a lot to learn,” she smiled.

She thinks the young talent coming up through the pathways locally can help grow confidence within this Ulster team going forward.

I’m really excited, I think a lot of us coming up from the underage don’t have the experience of losing too many games. It’s only going to push the team on.

“We know what it’s like to win at underage. We know the feeling and we can push everyone else on. Everyone is working for each other, we’re all really close.”

The Ulster Women have a strong backroom team behind them, with Ireland scrum half Kathryn Dane added to the coaching set-up alongside former internationals Grace Davitt and Amy Davis. Ulster Men’s prop Eric O’Sullivan is the scrum coach. Their input has been invaluable.

“You know people who have been there before and have been through what you’re going through right now, I feel like you’re more inclined to listen to what they have to say,” admitted McGrath.

“They’ve been unreal. They’ve brought so many new ideas, just having more personnel there has been unreal.

“Eric has been there with the forwards, he’s been unreal for the scrum and position-wise. He’s a loosehead, he knows what to do. No question is stupid to him.”

Murray Houston’s first game in charge of the Ulster Women will see them hosting defending Interprovincial champions Munster at City of Armagh RFC this Saturday (kick-off 3pm).

Tickets are available at the gates at the Palace Grounds, priced at £5 with cash payment preferred. Under-18s will be given free entry to the match. You can also follow all the action live on TG4’s YouTube channel and the BBC iPlayer.