The IRFU has announced the appointment of eight new Women’s National Talent Squad Pathway staff to be based at five Provincial Centre of Excellence hubs as part of a further investment and commitment to developing and inspiring a new generation of talent.
The announcement was made Wednesday morning, 10 May 2023, at the National High-Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Camous where IRFU CEO Kevin Potts, Head of Women’s Pathway Gillian McDarby and Chair of the Women’s Committee Fiona Steed faced questions on a range of issues facing Women’s Rugby that they probably wish were behind them.
The decline in fortunes of the Women’s XV team has been steep from Grand Slam and World Cup semi-final to wooden spoon but the message was an acceptance of responsibility for how this had happened and a renewed determination to improve.
A suggestion that it might be four or five years before the gap was closed to England might seem optimistic but sport can turn quickly and there was support for the young players coming through as well as for the leadership group on how they handled adversity over the last few weeks.
You can only move on by continuing to step forward and the appointment of an Athletic Performance Coach and Pathway Talent Coach to each of the four Provinces follows recommendations laid out in the IRFU’s Women In Rugby Report published last December.
The eight full-time Pathways staff will operate out of five new Women’s Centre of Excellence hubs at Dublin City University and SETU Carlow (Leinster), University of Galway (Connacht), University of Limerick (Munster) and Queen’s University (Ulster).
Additionally, the IRFU is in discussions with ATU Sligo and University College Cork with a view to setting up two further Women’s Centre of Excellence hubs in those locations.
Working under IRFU Head of Women’s Performance and Pathways, Gillian McDarby, IRFU WNTS and Talent ID Manager, Katie Fitzhenry, and IRFU Head of Athletic Performance, Women’s Pathway and WXV National Team, Ed Slattery, the eight new staff are:
Leinster: Matt Gill (Talent Coach) and Greg Hollins (Athletic Performance Coach)
Munster: Niamh Briggs (Talent Coach) and Lorna Barry (Athletic Performance Coach)
Ulster: Neil Alcorn (Talent Coach) and Paul Heasley (Athletic Performance Coach)
Connacht: Larissa Muldoon (Talent Coach) and Ann Caffrey (Athletic Performance Coach).
Establishing a sustainable talent identification network has been a key deliverable for the WNTS programme since its inception in early 2022, and the purpose of each Centre of Excellence will be to identify and attract local players between the ages of 16 and 23 and provide them with co-ordinated programmes across the areas of skills and strength and conditioning, aiding their development and creating a clear pathway to the green jersey.
The performances of the Ireland U18 squad at the recent Women’s Six Nations Festival under Head Coach Larissa Muldoon demonstrates the success of the WNTS programme and the creation of the five Centre of Excellence hubs will help identify, develop and support more 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.
Wins over Italy and Scotland and a narrow defeat to Wales were positives at a time when they were thin on the grounds.
Among those to have come through the WNTS programme under the guidance of Fitzhenry are current Ireland internationals Aoife Dalton and Dannah O’Brien.
“We are delighted to confirm the appointment of eight new WNTS staff as we mobilise our vision for the pathways structure within the provincial system,” said McDarby.
“It is a significant step forward as we work with our University partners to create Centre of Excellence hubs, each resourced by an Athletic Performance and Pathway Talent Coach, to not only retain young players locally but to attract new talent to rugby within the University system in Ireland.”
“Our new WNTS coaches assembled centrally at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin earlier this week for an induction programme and a key part of the structure will be the alignment between all staff within the High Performance Unit and the Provinces as we strive to grow and develop the women’s game at all levels.”