By John O’Sullivan

 

Whether it’s underage, senior, male or female any Irish rugby squad in 2021 is sure to feature Connacht players. 

 

Shannon Touhey is the latest Westerners player to earn full international honours after making her debut for the senior team against Japan in November. 

 

The centre was over the moon to be selected for her country – especially after training with the national team for over a year without being selected to play – and credits the platform given to her by Connacht to fulfill her international ambitions. 

 

“It’s huge,” Touhey says of the opportunity the western province provides players to be recognised on the international stage. 

 

“Before you would have been lucky to get spotted, but now girls have the interpros and you have that platform to go out there and perform. The Irish coaches are watching and now this year, for the first time, it was televised as well. 

 

“There’s huge potential there now to be spotted through the province(Connacht).”

 

The back, who balances her rugby career with camogie – where she is a goalkeeper – and her job as a cafe manager was grateful that her first Irish cap happened in a time when fans were allowed into stadiums after more than a year of empty stands due to covid restrictions. 

 

Touhey was involved in an Irish training camp last year, but was released back to her club without earning a cap, but this set-back only made her more hungry to represent her country.

 

To be able to sing the national anthem, knowing that her parents and fiance were there to see it in person, was an extremely proud moment for the Tullamore native, whose long-term goal was to play international rugby. 

 

“That was one thing I always dreamed of in the year I was in there training(with Ireland), I always said to myself that ‘if I ever get my first cap, I would love it to be in front of my parents, my fiance and my friends and family,” she said.

 

“I do count myself as one of the lucky ones, to be able to experience that and experience seeing them in front of me when I was singing the national anthem. 

 

“It was highly emotional for me, so I do count myself very lucky that, in covid times, I got to have them there. I got to see them afterward and have all the pictures taken. I count myself very lucky in that sense. It was amazing.”

 

Primarily operating as an inside centre for club and country, Touhey relishes the attacking style of play at Connacht – the same attacking and progressive mentality played by the men’s and underage teams – and she feels it suits her best characteristics as a rugby player. 

 

The Tullamore RFC player enjoys getting her hands on the ball and bringing other players into play with offloads, which is a trait she admires in Connacht’s – both men’s and women’s – game plan. 

 

“Yeah, I definitely think it suits me,” she says of the tactics devised by Ross Mannion, the women’s senior head coach, and his team of coaches and also employed across the club at all grades. 

 

“I wouldn’t be a mad kicker or anything like that, but I enjoy offloading. Even if you watch the men’s team at the moment, their offloading is unbelievable. As a player, I find if I get in behind the gain line, and you’re on my shoulder I’ll give you the ball. 

 

“That style of play – which Connacht are playing at the minute – that’s what I like. Break the gain line, offload and keep going until you get to the try line.”

 

Having started rugby at seventeen, Touhey spent time playing on the sevens’ circuit before being recommended for Connacht trials by her Tullamore team-mate, and Connacht player, Jill Draper. 

 

The back initially didn’t make the grade, but she didn’t feel deterred and she was eventually called back into the fold with the Westerners and is now keen to add to her fifteen appearances with the province after debuting in 2017. 

 

“She(Jill Draper) said ‘look, I’m telling you, Connacht are a big family and I think you’ll do really well there,” the Offaly woman said of her team-mate encouraging her to pursue a chance with the Western province. 

 

“I trialed and didn’t make it, but a few weeks later they called. They had an injury – and I guess Jill put in a good word for me – so they gave me a shot. 

 

“JP(Walsh) and Gav Foley were the coaches at the time and gave me my shot and called me in. Lo and behold, the interpros started and there was an injury, so they said ‘look, Shannon, we’re going to start you against Leinster’ and that’s where it began.”

 

Many more appearances in both shades of green will sure to be to follow for the multi-talented Offaly native. 

The Connacht Senior Women were back out training this week ahead of the Interpros this weekend. Check out the full gallery below.

The fixtures have been announced for the 2021 Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship.

 

The format returns to a round-robin format over three weekends for this year. First up, on August 28th, reigning champions Leinster travel to the Sportsground to face Connacht in a repeat of the 2019 Championship decider. Kingspan Stadium will host Ulster’s home game against Munster on the same day.

 

Munster’s home tie is against Connacht at Musgrave Park while Leinster return to Energia Park to face Ulster in Round 2 on September 4th.

 

The Championship trophy will be lifted for the first time since 2019 on Saturday September 11th’s final round with Connacht hosting Ulster and Leinster welcoming Munster to Donnybrook.

 

IRFU Women’s Development Manager Amanda Greensmith commented:

 

“Preparations are in full swing across the provinces and we’re really looking forward to seeing the return of what is a blue riband event for Irish Rugby.

 

“There’s a full cohort of players who missed on the chance to represent their province last year. It’s a priority for us to get players back onto the performance pathway and on the back of the #NothingLikeIt launch and some additional plans in the works, we’re on our way to ensuring an all-time high for visibility of this event.”

 

Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland commented:

 

‘Vodafone has been the proud sponsor of Irish Rugby since 2016 and our #TeamOfUs campaign is aimed at growing the game of rugby and promoting inclusion for all.  With that in mind we are delighted this year to support the Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship.  Everyone In!’

 

Saturday August 28th 2021

Connacht v Leinster, The Sportsground, 14:30

Ulster v Munster, Kingspan Stadium, 17:00

 

Saturday September 4th 2021

Munster v Connacht, Musgrave Park, 14:30

Leinster v Ulster, Energia Park, 16:00

 

Saturday September 11th 2021

Connacht v Ulster, The Sportsground, 14:30

Leinster v Munster, Energia Park, 19:00

There are new coaching setups for all four provinces in 2021.

Neill Alcorn has been appointed Head Coach in Ulster, with former Ulster scrum-half, Paul Marshall taking up the Backs Coach role. Paul Heasley will be the Athletic Development Lead for the squad, while Emily Millar has been appointed Team Manager.

Click here for Ulster Women’s squad training gallery.

Munster Rugby Senior Women’s Head Coach for the campaign is Old Crescent and Crescent College Comprehensive coach Matt Brown. Former Ireland captain and current UL Bohs Women’s Head Coach Niamh Briggs is the Backs Coach with ex-Munster prop Mike Storey assuming the position of Forwards Coach. Munster Rugby Women’s Development Officer Willie Shubart is the side’s Technical Coach with UL Bohs forward Sara Hartigan taking the position of Team Manager having previously held that role with the U18s.

Click here for Extended Munster Senior Women’s Squad

In Leinster, Phil de Barra replaces outgoing head coach Ben Armstrong, and is joined for 2021 by forwards coach Tom McKeown, backs coach Stephen Maher and skills coach Ben Watson. Lorna Quinn and Marie Louise Reilly will look after team management.

Click here for 2021 Extended Leinster Women’s Rugby Squad

Former Sligo RFC Head Coach Ross Mannion has been appointed Head Coach of the Connacht Rugby Senior Women’s Team, accompanied by Lyndon Jones as Backs Coach.

Click here for Connacht Women’s Rugby Coaching & Management announcement.

Connacht Senior Women

Head Coach: Ross Mannion

Backs Coach: Lyndon Jones

Team Manager: Mark Moran

 

Leinster Senior Women

 

Head Coach: Phil De Barra

Assistant Coach: Tom McKeown

Team Manager: Lorna Quinn   Manager

Assistant Team Manager: Marie Louise Reilly

 

Munster Senior Women

 

Head Coach: Matt Brown

Forwards Coach: Mike Storey

Backs Coach: Niamh Briggs

Technical Coach: Willie Shubart

Team Manager: Sara Hartigan

 

Ulster Senior Women:

Head Coach: Neill Alcorn

Backs Coach: Paul Marshall

Team Manager: Emily Millar

Athletic Development Lead: Paul Heasley

 

 

 

 

The Vodafone Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship and PwC U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship are to make a welcome return in 2021.

 

Both competitions will kick off on the weekend of August 28th, having been unable to take place in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

 

The Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship will take place on three successive weekends – August 28th, September 4th and September 11th.

 

Each team will play each other once, with the trophy being decided by league format. Games will be hosted by the provinces with fixtures to be confirmed in due course.

 

This will be the first Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship officially sponsored by Vodafone Ireland after the announcement of their extended partnership with Irish Rugby in September 2019

 

The U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship will also take place on the weekends of August 28th, September 4th and September 11th with the same competition format.

 

These games will be at a centralised location to assist with talent identification. PwC were announced as official sponsors of the U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship in January 2020.

 

The competition’s return will kickstart the recovery of the female game and precede the restart of a revamped Energia Women’s All-Ireland League.

 

The Interpro Series present a significant development opportunity for emerging talent who have had extremely limited access to the game over the past 18 months. The modified format will also provide an opportunity to young players who are now too old to play age-grade representative rugby, having missed their opportunity during the pandemic.

 

Ireland Women’s Development Manager Amanda Greensmith told IrishRugby.ie:

 

“It’s exciting looking ahead to the 2021/22 season and the different elements of the season calendar coming back and offering opportunities for female players to express themselves on the pitch.

 

This is a huge year for women’s rugby, the Ireland squad is targeting Rugby World Cup qualification, the Energia AIL returns in an exciting new format and the Interprovincial Championships will offer fledgling talent a taste of provincial rugby.  There are so many things to be positive about as we return to competitive action.”

 

Full fixture details for the Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship and the U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship will be announced in the coming weeks.

The Vodafone Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship and PwC U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship are to make a welcome return in 2021.

 

Both competitions will kick off on the weekend of August 28th, having been unable to take place in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

 

The Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship will take place on three successive weekends – August 28th, September 4th and September 11th.

 

Each team will play each other once, with the trophy being decided by league format. Games will be hosted by the provinces with fixtures to be confirmed in due course.

 

This will be the first Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship officially sponsored by Vodafone Ireland after the announcement of their extended partnership with Irish Rugby in September 2019

 

The U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship will also take place on the weekends of August 28th, September 4th and September 11th with the same competition format.

 

These games will be at a centralised location to assist with talent identification. PwC were announced as official sponsors of the U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship in January 2020.

 

The competition’s return will kickstart the recovery of the female game and precede the restart of a revamped Energia Women’s All-Ireland League.

The Interpro Series present a significant development opportunity for emerging talent who have had extremely limited access to the game over the past 18 months. The modified format will also provide an opportunity to young players who are now too old to play age-grade representative rugby, having missed their opportunity during the pandemic.

 

Ireland Women’s Development Manager Amanda Greensmith told IrishRugby.ie:

 

“It’s exciting looking ahead to the 2021/22 season and the different elements of the season calendar coming back and offering opportunities for female players to express themselves on the pitch.

 

This is a huge year for women’s rugby, the Ireland squad is targeting Rugby World Cup qualification, the Energia AIL returns in an exciting new format and the Interprovincial Championships will offer fledgling talent a taste of provincial rugby.  There are so many things to be positive about as we return to competitive action.”

 

Full fixture details for the Senior Women’s Interprovincial Championship and the U18 Women’s Interprovincial Championship will be announced in the coming weeks.

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