Evan Treacy/INPHO O'Leary made her debut for Ireland last autumn.
Maeve Óg

22-year-old O'Leary learning from 'unbelievable' back rows with Ireland

‘From my own club, Hannah O’Connor and Dorothy Wall are just huge.’

HAVING MADE AN explosive Ireland debut last November against the US, Maeve Óg O’Leary has had to show some patience.

The 22-year-old burst out of the blocks in that autumn Test last year, coming off the bench to replace now-retired captain Ciara Griffin and instantly making a try-saving tackle.

Despite her impactful cameo, O’Leary was an unused replacement the following weekend as Ireland beat Japan. Fast forward to the current Six Nations and the Munster back row was ’24th player’ for the opening three rounds of the championship, covering any possible late match day injuries but not getting a chance on the pitch.

She finally got that opportunity last weekend off the bench against England on what was a tough day for Greg McWilliams’ Ireland.

“Even though it was a devastating experience looking at the scoreline, we have to come back with a clear head and look towards Scotland this weekend so we are trusting the process that Greg and the coaching staff are building,” says O’Leary.

“We will add bits for Scotland and leave last weekend behind us in terms of feelings and hopefully end on a high and put on a performance for the home crowd.”

The Blackrock RFC flanker, who first came through at her home club of Ballina/Killaloe RFC, is set for another shot in the green jersey this Saturday against the Scots as Ireland look to finish their championship strongly.

So far, the back row has been one of the bright areas in a mixed campaign for Ireland and O’Leary is enjoying the battle for places, as well as the chance to learn from others.

“From my own club, Hannah O’Connor and Dorothy Wall are just huge,” says O’Leary.

maeve-og-oleary Laszlo Geczo / INPHO O'Leary is set for another chance this weekend against Scotland. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“I’m so excited and in awe about how unbelievable and how strong they are. Edel McMahon is massive, she plays in England and has a pile of experience. So learning little tips and tricks off them has been great.

“I just love being able to soak up as much information as I can and I can’t wait to just get on to the pitch and hopefully show off what I have learned from them. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by that calibre of player.”

O’Leary is equally as enthusiastic about the positive environment that McWilliams is pushing with his squad off the pitch.

Irish language lessons have been a big part of that project.

“We’ve had a good few classes and it’s hilarious,” explains O’Leary. “Some of the girls never learned Irish in school so hearing some of the pronunciations! It’s definitely incorporated into camp, dia dhuit or go raibh maith agat, and we know how to ask for flat white or a cappuccino in Irish at the café.

“There is definitely a bit of banter and it’s important as an Irish camp to have that cultural side tied into it.”

Having had big crowds of over 6,000 and 5,000 at their games in Dublin and Cork so far, Ireland are hopeful of getting plenty more support in Belfast this weekend as they bid to finish with a bang.

“It’s definitely fantastic to finish at home but Scotland are exciting and can turn it on, so it is a massive challenge,” says O’Leary.

“We can definitely showcase in attack and we showed against Italy how dangerous we can be but we can’t take anything for granted. It will be a huge battle and great to be at home, especially for the northern girls.”

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