Maeve Óg O’Leary is confident that the Ireland women’s rugby team are capable of dealing with a major challenge from Wales in their Six Nations Championship opener at Cardiff Arms Park this Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm).
At the beginning of the 2022 edition of the competition, Ireland - in their first game under the stewardship of head coach Greg McWilliams - lost out to the Welsh on a scoreline of 27-19 at the RDS.
While the Green Army went on to record home wins over Italy and Scotland, heavy reversals at the hands of France and England meant McWilliams’ charges had to be content with fourth place in the final standings. Ireland will need to finish either third or above in order to qualify for the top-tier of the inaugural WXV tournament that is getting underway later this year and with this in mind, Tipperary native O’Leary is acutely aware of how important Saturday’s game is from a wider context for her side.
“The result last year, it was a big fight and didn't go our way. They're really strong and physical, and we know that. We’ve done our analysis work, but I think coming into the first round there's only so much footage you can look at so we're focusing on ourselves,” O’Leary remarked at a press conference held at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on Tuesday.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge, but we have so much energy in camp. Everyone’s on the same page and we all have our detail down and done. We're in a really good place. Every game in the Six Nations will be a challenge, but I think we're in a really good place.”
Last November represented a major landmark in the career of O’Leary as she was announced as one of 29 female players to be fully contracted by the IRFU to their Women’s High Performance Programme. The Blackrock College club star was also named as a part of a cohort of 10 to kick-start the Women’s XVs programme - along with her Munster colleagues Dorothy Wall and Enya Breen.
Although she has only been embracing the life of a full-time athlete for a few months, O’Leary believes she is already reaping the benefits of this massive directional shift.
“We've been in since November, anybody who's been able to take a contract. There’s no doubt that it has been so helpful. For me personally, I'm still quite young. My training age and gym age, I haven't had the time, along with work or college, to have that much time in the gym. Around recovery, analysis,” O’Leary added.
“You work your 9-5 and then go home, have a bite to eat and go training. Now that I'm here, I have my two hours to gym, 30 minutes after for recover. I have an hour to do analysis and then go out onto the pitch. It's undoubtedly helped me, I've been able to get stronger in the gym. Your game understanding, having more time, has been the big thing. The time element.
“You can't really be lacking in here, you need to be up to scratch in all of them. In the gym I'll be focusing on my strength, then off the pitch in our free time it's up to yourself. Chat to our analyst Cian, he has so much information.
“Then on the pitch, to train your hardest and do post training analysis. I've been trying to focus on all of them and take them individually as you can. Being in here gives you the opportunity to be able to do that.”