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Celtic Challenge: Four Wolfhounds Players To Watch

Celtic Challenge: Four Wolfhounds Players To Watch

Ireland centre Aoife Dalton is pictured training with the Wolfhounds squad ahead of their Celtic Challenge opener against the Clovers ©INPHO/Ben Brady

History will be made at Musgrave Park this afternoon as the newly-formed Clovers and Wolfhounds team clash of the opening day of the Celtic Challenge tournament – live on RugbyPass TV. Check out some of the Wolfhounds players to look out for.

Erin McConnell (Wicklow RFC/Leinster)

Versatile back McConnell, who plays most of her rugby at scrum half, has been at the heart of Wicklow’s rise into the Energia All-Ireland League ranks. She captained the club to All-Ireland League Conference and Shield titles last season, as well as being part of the wider Leinster squad.

The 23-year-old now gets her chance to impress in the Celtic Challenge, hoping to follow in the footsteps of club-mate Ella Roberts who was one of the Combined Provinces’ leading performers during last season’s inaugural competition.

Works as a Life & Pensions Administrator with CMCC Financial Solutions. The possessor of a sharp pass and good game management skills, it will be interesting to see how McConnell’s half-back partnership with Ireland international Dannah O’Brien develops.

Sophie Barrett (Enniskillen RFC/Railway Union RFC/Ulster)

Barrett, who only turns 20 at the end of January, was amongst the first players to be enrolled in the IRFU’s Women’s National Talent Squad (WNTS) programme in 2022. She first came to prominence as an Ulster Girls Schools Senior Cup winner with Erne Integrated College.

The province’s Schools Player of the Year in 2022, she was also involved with the Ireland Under-18s at the same time. Last January she played at number 8 for Ulster in the Interprovincial Championship, before a Celtic Challenge call-up followed.

The hard-carrying Enniskillen native began the recent Interpros in the back row, but kicks off her second Celtic Challenge campaign at tighthead prop. Her development in the position has come with some front row exposure with Railway Union and time in the Ireland U-20 programme.

Aoife Wafer (Blackrock College RFC/Leinster)

Wafer and the Celtic Challenge were a neat fit last season, as the Ballygarrett native marked her return from injury with two fine tries against Wales Development and the Thistles. This is shaping up to be a big season for the prodigious 20-year-old back rower.

Getting a clear run of games is vital for her, and she has been doing just that for Leinster, with whom she helped to lift the Interpro trophy, and Blackrock College. She has scored seven tries for ‘Rock since coming back from Ireland’s successful WXV3 campaign.

The former Leinster Under-18 captain, who won her long-awaited second Ireland cap against Spain, made an impression on Scott Bemand. The new Ireland head coach said Wafer ‘trained out of her skin’ and, as a replacement, is ‘going to elevate any performance she comes into’.

Keelin Brady (Railway Union RFC/Ulster)

The big highlight of 2023 for Brady was her powerhouse performance to help Ulster get over the line against Connacht and register their first Interprovincial win in 11 years. It is no surprise that four of Ulster’s starting pack from that day are in Celtic Challenge action.

Having first taken up the game at Virginia RFC, the Cavan native was part of the Ulster Under-18 team that were Interpro champions in 2016, playing alongside a clutch of future 15s or Sevens internationals, Claire Boles, Neve Jones, Brittany Hogan, Vicky Irwin and Lucinda Kinghan.

A smart lineout operator who uses her physicality well around the pitch, the 24-year-old has become a mainstay of the Railway Union pack, making big strides under John Cronin’s tutelage after a two-year stint with MU Barnhall. Works as a media planner with Dunnhumby marketing agency.