'My brother literally flew in from France on the morning of the game'

Maeve Óg O’Leary was impressive on her first cap for Ireland on Friday night.

AS INTRODUCTIONS TO Test rugby go, it doesn’t get much better than a try-saving tackle.

That’s exactly how Maeve Óg O’Leary announced herself just seconds into her Ireland debut, having replaced captain Ciara Griffin in Friday’s 20-10 win over the USA.

Ireland were defending a close-range maul when US back row Elizabeth Cairns broke away and surged towards the tryline. O’Leary managed to get underneath the ball, with Beibhinn Parsons and Neve Jones joining the contest to hold Cairns up.


“It was my first moment,” said a beaming O’Leary post-match.

“Ciara said to me to get low out there and that was literally what I had to do. The other girl was coming hard so I needed to get under and hold her up. That was special to have that as the first moment in your first cap.”

It was a proud day for the Munster back row, who earned her shot with Ireland through her outstanding performances in this year’s inter-provincial championship. O’Leary was superb in the back row as Munster claimed the title.

Her family watched on proudly at the RDS on Friday, including brother Shane, the former Connacht man who now plays with Rouen in France and is a Canada international – their mum hailing from Canada.

“Shane is so excited for me,” said Maeve Óg. “He literally flew in from France on the morning of the game to watch me, so that was kind of a surprise so that was really special for me.

“He has been such a help along the way in terms of my game, giving me feedback. But he’s always so positive, ensuring I enjoy myself and knowing I’m here for a reason.”

maeve-og-oleary-celebrates-winning O'Leary after Ireland's win. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

 Clearly, this is a talented sporting family. Maeve Óg is also an international in softball. Having played in two U19 World Championships, she made her senior Ireland softball debut as recently as 2019 in Donnybrook.

Rugby has a hold of her now, but the passion has long been there.

“I’ve had such a positive experience coming up through the pathway starting with my club in Ballina/Killaloe RFC,” said O’Leary, who played much of her rugby in midfield previously.

“I’ve always really loved rugby and it has just been such a positive time for me.”

Now studying for a Master’s degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communications at Dublin City University, O’Leary plays her AIL rugby with Blackrock College RFC and says the club “have always been behind me and really pushed me.”

Club mates like Hannah O’Connor and Laura Feely helped to ready her for Test rugby, while captain Griffin has been an influence – as evidenced by her words of encouragement when O’Leary replaced her on Friday.

The flanker has been rooming with 19-year-old Parsons in Ireland camp recently and that too helped, even if the Connacht flyer is still so young.

maeve-og-oleary-celebrates-after-the-game-with-fans O'Leary with Ireland fans at the RDS. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“She is obviously such a legend of the game so she was giving me all the tips,” said O’Leary, who explains that they weren’t distracted by the off-the-pitch controversy in Irish women’s rugby last week.

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“For me, I was just trying to focus on the rugby. I’m still learning so much, there are so many new calls and moves.

“I was asking her 100s of questions about it all, even what to wear for breakfast. So it was all about learning.”

O’Leary is clearly picking things up fast. She combined with Eve Higgins to force a knock-on from USA number eight Kate Zackary on Friday night, showing her combativeness in contact, while her attacking qualities were prominent in the inter-pros.


“I wasn’t even thinking of an international cap this month when I was called in,” said O’Leary.

“I just wanted to go in and put my head down, soak up like a sponge all the knowledge. I knew it would be so tough to make the matchday 23 so I was just happy to be there, happy to be playing at this level of girls and that level of coaching.

“So then I was just happy to be named on that squad list and to be able to come out and play for Ireland for 20 minutes, it was a dream come true.

“I’ll take every opportunity I can get. My journey is so positive. I’ll stay that way and be a sponge and soak it all up.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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