Young, enthusiastic coaches and management teams have taken over the running of the boys and girls squads in recent years; for instance Mark Egner and Sarah Gray, in charge of the U18 and U16 girls respectively, are both the right side of 25.
Recognising the widening chasm in standards between Munster and the other provinces, both began their preparations for this tournament last spring in an attempt to bridge the gap.
Egner has moved 10 players up from last season’s U16 girls side, with a wealth of Division One and underage international experience among the girls panel.
Abby Oakes (Mount Mercy/Cork Harlequins) was the great success story last season. Having missed out on Munster selection originally, she had big boots to fill when called to replace injured captain Róisín Upton. But Oakes made such an impression, she went on to be selected for an Ireland U18 side that strolled to Celtic Cup glory in Edinburgh this summer, while Kate Harvey (St Angela’s/Ashton) was also involved in the Irish panel.
Alongside them are the Catholic Institute trio of Clodagh Moloney (Crescent), Eimear Ryan (Laurel Hill Coláiste) and Edel Nyland (Ursulines Thurles) who all starred in green as Ireland finished fourth at the U16 Europeans in July.
Under captain Shauna Fagan (Mount Mercy/Ashton), they’ll be hoping to stop Ulster from achieving a five in a row as well as annexing a first title for Munster since 1999. One downside for the U18s is the absence of Acacia Taylor; the former Ireland U16 and long-time Cork Harlequins regular first-teamer opted out of the panel earlier this year to focus on athletics.
Meanwhile, the majority of Gray’s U16 panel will be getting their first taste of interpro action but hers is nonetheless a relatively experienced outfit with many already established in senior club hockey.
Michelle Barry is having a superb campaign in Ashton colours while the Catholic Institute production line continues to roll out a number of impressive talents, including captain Michelle Barrett, Becky Danaher and Millie Passmore. Intriguingly, vice-captain Kate Crotty, a student of Ursulines Thurles, plays her club hockey in Leinster with Kilkenny.