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'We can cause upsets in this tournament' - Ireland revved up for Six Nations after six-month wait

Adam Griggs’ side travel to face Wales this Saturday.

IRELAND’S AOIFE MCDERMOTT and Kathryn Dane says they’re confident they can cause upsets in the 2021 Six Nations, after waiting some six months for a competitive fixture.

ireland-players-during-the-game Ireland players during last year's Six Nations meeting with Italy in Donnybrook. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Adam Griggs’ side have encountered huge disruptions to their season on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the recent postponement of the World Cup which Ireland have not yet qualified for.

Similar interruptions affected Ireland’s season last year as the Six Nations went into shutdown after the first three rounds.

Ireland resumed their championship in October, defeating Italy at a crowdless Donnybrook.

However, they were unable to fulfill their final round clash with France, initially due to a Covid outbreak in the French squad with tournament organisers later cancelling the game entirely as the completion of the championship was deemed to be “impossible.”

Even this year’s Six Nations was moved from its traditional slot to the April window, leaving Ireland with only training camps to work through in the meantime. 

After months of setbacks, cancellations and postponements, Ireland are just relieved to have competitive games to look forward to again.

“It’s surreal,” says McDermott ahead of their Six Nations opener against Wales this Saturday.

“There’s a great buzz around camp. I’ve been waiting 13 months [for this], some of the girls have been waiting six months. Preparations have gone well and we’re just excited to get out there and put on the jersey.

“Training has been going really well, we’ve been incredibly sharp. I think we’re the fittest, strongest and fastest we’ve ever been. We’ve come a huge way in the last 12 months so we may not have had a game but we now have that opportunity to see what they’re about, analyse them and maybe stop some of their threats.

“They haven’t seen us play in a while so hopefully we’ll be able to catch them on the hop on Saturday. We’re just really excited to go.”

The format of the Six Nations has been condensed this year, with the competing six teams split into two pools of three.

Each team will play two pool games and have one rest weekend, before a closing play-off weekend in which teams face the equally-ranked side from the other pool. 

England, Italy and Scotland are in Pool A while Pool B features Griggs’ Ireland side, along with France and Wales. 

The competition got underway at the weekend, with tournament favourites France and England both picking up massive victories while Ireland watched on as part of their rest weekend.

“It definitely motivates me,” says McDermott about the scale of the challenge that awaits Ireland when France come to Donnybrook on 17 April.

A potential title decider against England could be in the offing too if results go Ireland’s way.

“I really believe we’ve improved a huge amount over the last 12 months, albeit not having played a game. But I think we’re in one of the best places we’ve ever been and I think we can go out and cause upsets in this tournament.

aoife-mcdermott Aoife McDermott at Ireland training today. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We’re going into this campaign to win every game. We’ll see what happens on Saturday but I’m excited. I’m up for the challenge, we all are.”

Ireland scrum-half Dane echoes McDermott’s positive sentiments:

“I feel like we’re in the strongest position we’ve ever been as a squad. We’ve had all that time to grow as a team and I think that will really stand to us. We’re feeling we’re up for an upset.

“I’m worrying about ourselves and what we can do. The IRFU have been great in giving us the resources that we need to perform at the minute so the picture might change in a couple of years and we might be operating at a semi-professional or professional level like England and France.

“But for the time being, we’re doing great with what we’ve got so it’s not too much of a concern for us right now.”

Ireland have completed some 20 training camps in preparation for the Six Nations. Dane admits that training in the absence of competitive games has challenged her ability to consistently stay motivated.

She’s also in the throes of a PhD through her work as a physiotherapist which certainly adds to the difficulties involved in balancing everything. 

But the Ireland team have engaged in other activities to break up their routine and keep spirits high among the squad.

“It was absolutely brilliant because as you can imagine, 20 weeks straight of training and yes we had in-house games, but it is very demanding,” explains Dane.

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kathryn-dane Ireland's Kathryn Dane. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Even emotionally. I haven’t been used to training for that long and not having a game to break it up. It is very demanding and you do have to stay motivated to keep going and pushing on each weekend.

“Even when you’re not quite sure whether there will be a game coming up. So the mini Olympics is class and we even had a few five-aside football tournaments. With my soccer background, I was able to kind of unleash my skills a little bit which is quite nice.

“Little things like that do keep the morale high and just helps the team bond.”

It might be six months since most of the players on the Ireland team played their last Test match, but for McDermott, the wait has been even longer. 13 months actually.

She fractured her foot about a month before that Six Nations game against Italy.

“I was down at a Railway Club training session and got tackled, and one of the players landed on my foot. Unfortunately it fractured and that left me out of availability for selection for the Italy game.

“You always want to be out on the pitch and playing having waited so long for a game, and then to have gotten injured so close [to it]. It was disappointing but the girls did great.

“They went out and gave a solid performance and came away with a win so you have to be delighted with that overall.

“It needed six weeks to heal and then I was slowly back running and slowly back in with the squad a week or two later. So all good thankfully.”

No more setbacks, cancellations or rescheduling of games to suffer through. Wales await Ireland in Cardiff Arms Park this Saturday evening for a 5pm kick-off.

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