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Ireland's most promising young players join new 'Women's National Talent Squad'

The programme aims to help develop players for senior international rugby.

Aoife Dalton, Emma Tilly, and Leah Tarpey are in the WNTS.
Aoife Dalton, Emma Tilly, and Leah Tarpey are in the WNTS.

THE IRFU HAS launched a new programme to help develop the most talented young female players in the country for senior international rugby.

The ‘Women’s National Talent Squad’ [WNTS] met for the first time last month, with 13 players selected in the initial group.

The IRFU says its plan is to “identify, develop and support female players that have the potential to be selected for national squads and to accelerate their understanding of the demands of rugby at the elite level.”

Former Ireland player Katie Fitzhenry – who is now the IRFU’s ‘women’s performance pathway coach’ – and Ulster Women coach Neill Alcorn are leading the programme, with another camp set for 19/20 March.

Among the 13 players picked in the WNTS are the 18-year-old Leinster trio Aoife Dalton, Leah Tarpey, and Emma Tilly, who were also part of last month’s senior Ireland training camp under new head coach Greg McWilliams.

The IRFU says the WNTS programme will support the Ireland U18 women’s 15-a-side team, as well as the senior 15s and 7s squads.

It’s understood that there have been discussions at a union level about an U18 Women’s Six Nations taking place this Easter after two seasons in which fixtures were extremely difficult to arrange due to the pandemic. It remains to be seen if the U18 Six Nations goes ahead and whether Ireland are involved.

For now, the IRFU says the launch of the WNTS will help the union to provide young players with support and education in areas like strength and conditioning, performance nutrition, and video analysis.

“It was great to get the programme up and running and to give these young athletes their first taste of a high performance environment,” said the IRFU’s Fitzhenry.

“These players have been identified through a mixture of the U18 Inter-pros last year and from feedback from provincial and club coaches. Developing a strong talent ID network will be a big focus of the programme as it grows year on year catering for more young female talent.

“The aim of this programme is to advance players to a level where they can pull on a green jersey whether that is in 15s or Olympic 7s or be integrated into the senior women’s programmes. 

“There is great alignment and support for the WNTS so it is an exciting time to be getting this programme up and running.”

IRFU Women’s National Talent Squad:

Sophie Barrett (age 18) – Enniskillen RFC/Ulster, Integrated College, Enniskillen

Molly Boote (17) – Connemara RFC/Connacht, Clifden Community School

Hannah Clarke (16) – Ougherard RFC/Connacht, St Pauls Secondary School

Aoife Dalton (18) – Tullamore RFC/Leinster, UCD

Alanna Fitzpatrick (17) – Portarlington RFC/Leinster, Colaiste Iosagain, Portarlington

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Kate Flannery (18) – Fethard RFC/Munster, Rockwell College

Brianna Heylmann (18) – Tipperary Women’s Rugby/Munster, Waterpark College

Aisling McEnroe (17) – Virginia RFC/Ulster, Cavan Institute

Éabha Nic Dhonnacha (17) – Corinthians RFC/Connacht, Scoil Chumsitheach Chiarain

Dannah O’Brien (18) – Tullow RFC/Leinster, Tullow Community School

Eva Sterritt (17) – Greystones RFC/Leinster, Temple Carrig School, Greystones

Leah Tarpey (18) – Tullamore RFC/Leinster, Mountmellick CS

Emma Tilly (18) – MU Barnhall RFC/Leinster, Maynooth Post Primary.

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Murray Kinsella

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