Hard work pays off as U-18 girls finish on a high
This season saw a total overhaul of the U-18 set-up, with Sinead Cosgrave taking over as head coach from Wendy Hickey, who had put in tremendous work in previous seasons.
Beth Mallard was appointed as the forwards coach, Edel Ryan as assistant coach and Paula Kelly was team manager.
The goals were identified at the beginning of the season. Our main goals were to give a holistic approach to the girls - outlining the importance of prehab, rehab, following their s&c programmes honestly as well as developing their skill-sets on field.
We hoped to be more competitive in our fixtures than previous years.
Two open screening days were held in late June and early July; 39 players from five clubs around Connacht showed up. The squad was then reduced to 29 players.
The hard work was now beginning and all of the squad were screened by our S&C coach Jarlath Naughton at the first of three-day camps in Tuam RFC. Initially many of the squad were unfamiliar with gym work and the importance of following Strength and Conditioning programmes.
A follow up session was held in the Connacht Gym at the Sportsground -the squad had the opportunity to see what a rugby-focused gym looked like. George and Sene Naoupu also popped into the session to have a chat about the importance of foam rolling. Needless to say they got a great welcome!
Irish internationals Ailis Egan and Nora Stapleton visited the first training camp also-they did a scrum session. Peter Bracken also worked with the forwards at a later training camp and his input was invaluable.
A friendly match was organised with Munster on August 22.
The Connacht senior women's team clapped the girls out of the dressing room and onto the pitch -this was a particularly lovely gesture.
It was the first time a lot of the girls had played together and it showed - we lost 25-5 but learned a lot about the team.
It was a great indication to the girls of the physicality involved in playing inter-provincial rugby.
It was clear there was a lot more work to be done.
Tom Tierney and Sinead Cosgrave took a joint session with the girls in the Sportsgrounds before our competitive fixtures began. Tom was inspirational. We were hugely grateful for his input and would love to see him again next season.
On September 26 we played Leinster and Ulster in a blitz in Westmanstown. We were beaten by both provinces. We were particularly disappointed with the Ulster result as it was felt it was a game we should have won.
However we learned a lot from that loss - the following training session was arguably the best one all season. Everyone was focused and determined to put things right for the next game.
Our last game was against Munster in Westport RFC - the Sportsground was unavailable due to Connacht seniors playing a match on the same day.
The girls performed brilliantly in Westport and ran out 30-17 victors. The crowd erupted and the shrieks of delight could be heard on top of Croagh Patrick.
The tears shed were for a totally different reason than those shed after the bitter disappointment of losing to Ulster in Westmanstown.
The individual work put in by each of the girls and their coaches was very evident. It all came together perfectly to give Munster a huge shock.
The girls have received a lot of input this season - they all had a 10-week individual S&C programme. They received a handbook with details of foam rolling exercises and nutritional guidelines for players of their age group (Eat to compete).
They received a yoga Dvd and were encouraged to practice Yoga on their rest days. They also were given a playbook with all the calls clearly demonstrated in them.
The girls put in huge individual effort and improved greatly throughout the season. We will be losing key players but are hoping the players coming through will step up.
All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable season with a great bunch of girls, and we look forward to the challenges that next season will bring.
Things are looking bright for the Connacht girls; they have recently begun to participate in position-specific training sessions with Connacht development officers.
We are continuously striving to improve and set the bar of expectation higher each season.