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. 

A squad of 26 players has been named by Ireland Women’s head coach Adam Griggs ahead of their training camp in Scotland this weekend.
 
The Ireland Women are traveling to Edinburgh for a weekend training camp which will culminate with a training game against their Scottish counterparts on Sunday afternoon.
 
Speaking ahead of the trip, Griggs said:
 
We’re really looking forward to this weekend’s camp and the next few weeks ahead leading into our Test match against Wales. Each player included in the squad has been selected on their form through the Interprovincial Championship and the English Premiership.
 
“As well as having a larger squad to travel and play, this will give the coaching group a chance to look at different combinations and give the players a great opportunity to test themselves at an international level and see how they handle the step up in pace and intensity.
 
“We also have two new coaches on board this year, who have added real quality to the work Jeff Carter and Mike Ross have started with this group.
 
“Steven McGuinness, who works full-time with IQ Rugby, is our new forwards coach, and Kieran Hallett, who is with Leinster as an EPDO, has come in as our defence coach. It’s great to see the professionalism of the new coaches and the value they have brought to the players.”

 
This is the first of two away training camps and training matches the national side will undertake, with the squad traveling to France next week, ahead of their clash with Wales at the UCD Bowl on Sunday, November 10 (kick-off 1pm).
 
IRELAND WOMEN’S Squad (Training Camp, Edinburgh, Scotland, October 26-27, 2019):
Judy Bobbett (Blackrock/Leinster) *
Enya Breen (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Anna Caplice (Harlequins/IQ Rugby)
Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster)
Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Victoria Dabanovich-O’Mahony (Old Belvedere/Leinster) *
Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster)
Lauren Delany (Firwood Waterloo Ladies/IQ Rugby)
Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Laura Feely (Galweigians/Connacht)
Nichola Fryday (Old Belvedere/Connacht)
Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt)
Mary Healy (Lindenwood University/IQ Rugby) *
Edel McMahon (Wasps/Connacht)
Grace Miller (Old Belvedere/Leinster) *
Cliodhna Moloney (Wasps/IQ Rugby)
Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union/Leinster)
Ellen Murphy (Gloucester/IQ Rugby)
Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock/Leinster) *
Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union/Leinster) *
Beibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Connacht)
Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Juliet Short (Railway Union/Leinster)
Shannon Touhey (Tullamore/Connacht) *
Dorothy Wall (Fethard & District/Munster) *

* Denotes uncapped player at this level

IRELAND WOMEN’S SCHEDULE – KEY DATES:

October 26-27: Training Camp & Game, Scotland

November 2-3: Training Camp & Game, France

Sunday, November 10: Ireland Women v Wales Women, UCD Bowl, 1pm – click here to buy tickets

2020 Women’s Six Nations Championship:

Sunday, February 2: Ireland Women v Scotland Women, Energia Park, 1pm

Sunday, February 9: Ireland Women v Wales Women, Energia Park, 1pm

Sunday, February 23: England Women v Ireland Women, Castle Park, Doncaster, 12.45pm

Sunday, March 8: Ireland Women v Italy Women, Energia Park, 1pm

Sunday, March 15: France Women v Ireland Women, Le Stadium Villeneuve d’Acsq, Lille, 4.35pm local time/3.35pm Irish time

Ireland Women’s head coach Adam Griggs has named a squad of 37 ahead of their busy November schedule, which will see them travel to Scotland and France for training and practice games ahead of a November 10 Test against Wales at the UCD Bowl.
 
There are 10 uncapped players who have been included after an impressive IRFU Women’s Interprovincial Championship which saw Leinster overcome Connacht in a hard-fought final at Energia Park last Saturday evening.
 
Leinster’s Judy Bobbett, Victoria Dabanovich-O’Mahony, Grace Miller, Niamh Ni Dhroma and Katie O’Dwyer have all earned Ireland selection. They are joined by Shannon Touhey from Connacht and Munster’s Dorothy Wall who also make their first appearances in a national squad.
 
Mary Healy, a former Leinster Under-18 player who is currently studying at Lindenwood University in Missouri, USA, was invited to national training camps throughout the summer while home and, as part of the IQ Rugby programme, has been tracked and identified to come back into the IRFU national set-up.
 
Speaking about the squad announcement, Griggs said:
 
We are really excited to announce our squad for the season ahead. The Interpros have identified some brilliant talent, and with the extended games and finals series, players had the opportunity to show their skill and grow throughout the competition.
 
“It has been a very tough selection process and we have picked players purely on form. We are confident we have a really strong group to take us through this autumn. Shannon Touhey from Connacht had an outstanding series, helping them to the final, and she now gets the opportunity to come into the national squad to develop her all round game.
 
“Leinster’s Hannah O’Connor, who has been part of the national set-up now for over a year, also stood out for her performances during the Interpros and will be striving to earn her first cap for country.
 
“There’s a good mix of youth and experience throughout the squad which will drive our standards and make sure there is high quality
competition for places as we head towards the Six Nations and the 2021 Rugby World Cup qualifiers next summer.”
 
The Ireland Women have a busy few weeks ahead, preparing for the November 10 clash with Wales at the UCD Bowl (kick-off 1pm). They have two away training camps, which will include training games against Scotland (October 26-27) and France (November 2-3).
 
IRELAND WOMEN’S Squad (2019 November Training Camps & Test v Wales):
Judy Bobbett (Blackrock/Leinster) *
Enya Breen (UL Bohemian/Munster)
Anna Caplice (Harlequins/IQ Rugby)
Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster)
Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Ciara Cooney (Railway Union/Leinster)
Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Victoria Dabanovich-O’Mahony (Old Belvedere/Leinster) *
Kathryn Dane (Old Belvedere/Ulster)
Lauren Delany (Firwood-Waterloo Ladies/ IQ Rugby)
Linda Djougang (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Laura Feely (Galweigians/Connacht)
Nichola Fryday (Old Belvedere/Connacht)
Ciara Griffin (UL Bohemians/Munster) (capt)
Mary Healy (Lindenwood University/IQ Rugby) *
Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster)
Claire Keohane (Railway Union/Munster) *
Leah Lyons (Harlequins/IQ Rugby)
Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster)
Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/Ulster)
Edel McMahon (Wasps/Connacht)
Grace Miller (Old Belvedere/Leinster) *
Cliodhna Moloney (Wasps/IQ Rugby)
Larissa Muldoon (Railway Union/Leinster)
Ellen Murphy (Gloucester-Hartpury/IQ Rugby)
Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster)
Niamh Ni Dhroma (Old Belvedere/Leinster) *
Hannah O’Connor (Blackrock/Leinster) *
Katie O’Dwyer (Railway Union/Leinster) *
Anne-Marie O’Hora (Galweigians/Connacht)
Beibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Connacht)
Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster)
Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians/Munster)
Juliet Short (Railway Union/Leinster)
Shannon Touhey (Galwegians/Connacht) *
Dorothy Wall (Fethard & District/Munster) *
Megan Williams (Old Belvedere/Leinster)

* Denotes uncapped player at this level

IRELAND WOMEN’S SCHEDULE – KEY DATES:

October 26-27: Training Camp & Game, Scotland

November 2-3: Training Camp & Game, France

Sunday, November 10: Ireland Women v Wales Women, UCD Bowl, 1pm

2020 Women’s Six Nations Championship:

Sunday, February 2: Ireland Women v Scotland Women, Energia Park, 1pm

Sunday, February 9: Ireland Women v Wales Women, Energia Park, 1pm

Sunday, February 23: England Women v Ireland Women, Castle Park, Doncaster, 12.45pm

Sunday, March 8: Ireland Women v Italy Women, Energia Park, 1pm

Sunday, March 15: France Women v Ireland Women, Le Stadium Villeneuve d’Acsq, Lille, 4.35pm local time/3.35pm Irish time

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