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Reilly: It’s Brilliant To Start New Season With The Interpros

Reilly: It’s Brilliant To Start New Season With The Interpros

Aoibheann Reilly is back to full fitness and part of Connacht's 36-player squad for the Vodafone Women's Interprovincial Championship ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Aoibheann Reilly is aiming to hit the ground running when Connacht host Leinster in the opening round of the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship on Saturday.

Reilly has only just returned from a long-term injury that had her sidelined for a year, meaning she missed out on last season’s Interprovincial campaign, the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, and Ireland’s historic qualification for the 2024 Olympics.

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The 22-year-old scrum half is undoubtedly eager to get back into the flow of things, relishing the opportunity of representing her province Connacht in the coming weeks.

“For me personally, I’m looking to get game-time under my belt and gaining my confidence back,” she said, speaking at the recent launch of the Vodafone Women’s Interpros in Dublin.

“For us, as a squad, we’re going to be up there competing with the top teams. We’re just as likely to win it as the others. I really back the team that we have.”

She is hoping to line out for Ireland again soon with the WXV 3 competition beginning in October, followed by the Six Nations later in the season. There is also the prospect of her playing Sevens at the Olympics in Paris next summer.

“It was great to see the girls qualify, that’s all that matters at the end of the day. I’m glad I’m back for the year that matters.

“Even during the Six Nations I had serious ‘FOMO’, missing being out there with the girls, but I’m delighted to be back.”

Reilly is a centralised player with the IRFU Women’s High Performance Programme which means she can play both Sevens and 15s, making her available for selection for both national teams. She made her return from injury last month in Hamburg at the final leg of the Rugby Europe Sevens Championship Series.

The Ballinasloe native broke into the national 15s team in March 2022, making her debut against Wales in the Six Nations. She suffered an ACL injury later that year in June while training at the IRFU High Performance Centre.

Commenting on her comeback from injury, she explained: “I’ve been in training since June just slowly building back and now I’m in pre-season with the 15s, centralised and working towards the start of the Interpros (this weekend).

It was a fairly long-term injury once it happened. It happened here at training in the HPC. I was looked after by the IRFU.

“I just slowly built back, I didn’t want to rush back because I know with ACLs you can often ruin the recovery by coming back too early.

“It happens. I’m lucky I’m still young with lots to learn and lots to give. I’m delighted to be back for the start of the season, it’s a good time to be back.”

The Interprovincial competition last took place only seven months ago, but it returns to an August-September window to kick off the new season, leading into the Energia All-Ireland League and now the WXV which is a new tournament set to begin in October.

It is a busy calendar with plenty of games for the players, giving Reilly and her team-mates the chance of playing more games on a regular basis.

“It’s brilliant, we’re just coming out of a pre-season block here. We’re all itching for some game-time with our provinces leading nicely into the WXV competition.

“It will be brilliant to have some games under our belt. It’s nice that we have more games than ever this season with the WXV 3 in October leading into the Six Nations.”

There is a crop of fresh young talent coming up through the ranks in Connacht with ten girls from the west selected in the Ireland Under-18 squad that played at the Six Nations Festival last April. Reilly is excited to see those players develop.

“It’s really exciting, even seeing the Connacht contingent in at the moment in the Irish squad. It’s not as high as the other provinces but it’s really exciting to see that we had ten U-18 players represent Ireland. It’s a very exciting time for us.”

The provincial game is still crucial in providing a springboard for young players to progress their careers. It is a key pathway in their rugby development. Reilly credits Connacht for a lot of her success to date.

“I got selected for the Irish Sevens team through playing with Connacht. I played in the Under-18 Interpros and I was involved in a wider training squad within the national set-up in my Leaving Cert year.

“I didn’t get picked by just playing with my club, I got picked through playing with Connacht. It’s definitely a great stepping stone into that Irish jersey,” she noted.

The IRFU announced last month that Scott Bemand has been appointed as the new head coach of the Ireland Women’s 15s squad on a three-year contract.

Englishman Bemand will join the IRFU next Monday week (August 21), ahead of the Ireland squad’s reconvening in September.

He will be in place ahead of the start of Ireland’s WXV 3 campaign in Dubai, which includes matches on October 14, 21 and 28 (fixtures tbc). He will be joined by the existing coaching panel for the upcoming campaign.

With that in mind, these upcoming Interprovincial matches give players an ideal platform to raise their hand for selection and put in performances to catch the eye of the new coach.

It’s really exciting to get a coach of his calibre here as part of our set-up. He was a scrum half himself, I believe. I’m very excited for this season and I can’t wait to see what he brings to the squad.

“It’s a clean slate, anyone can get selected, so everyone has to go out there and play their best and put their hand up for selection.”

Lyndon Jones’ Connacht side clash with Leinster at the Sportsground this Saturday (kick-off 5.15pm). Tickets are available to buy online here – priced at 10 euro for adults, 5 euro for juniors (under-16s), and 20 euro for a family package (two adults and two juniors).

The game will also be broadcast live on TG4’s YouTube channel and Galway Bay FM.