Ulster Women lost 39 – 12 to Connacht Women in their last Irish Women’s Interprovincial match of the season, sadly and ridiculously that’s it for another year for the Provincial ladies. Ulster finish bottom of the Interprovincial championship for the fourth time in four years. 

Despite the results I’ve generally enjoyed this series. It started “well” with a narrow loss to Munster, went somewhat backwards with a bit of a beating by Leinster and finished off with a couple of tries against against an ambitious Connacht side, who ruthlessly pursued their own agenda of 50 plus point win in their attempt to claim the Women’s Interprovincial title for the first time this century! 🙂 

Unfortunately for the Westies, Ulster, despite being forced to rejig their squad with the late withdrawal of, double International, Ashleigh Baxter and, U18 star,Storm Cobain, showed enough fortitude to restrict their ambitions. However, the Connacht players, and those involved in their Women’s programme, should be congratulated for the vast improvements they have made over the last four years; it’s definitely something the Ulster Branch could learn from. 

I travelled down to Galway with our two photographers, more in hope than expectation but a positive opening ten minutes from Ulster had me quite chipper as I tweeted my first update. However, just as I posted it Ulster’s Naomi McCullagh was making her way to the side line after being yellow carded for not retreating ten yards after a quick tap penalty from Connacht’s Mary Healy. 

In McCullagh’s absence Ulster conceded 10 points thanks to a penalty and a converted Alison Miller try. McCullagh returned and Connacht’s Shannon Touhey trooped off for a ten minute break after grabbing Claire McLaughlin by the hair but the hosts extended their advantage with an unconverted try out wide to take a 15 – 0 lead. 

Things got tetchy on the sidelines when Ulster’s Ilse Van Staden appeared to be yellow carded by hearsay for an alleged punch, the only swinging arms I witnessed belonging to a green shirt, but the Connacht players concentrated on their points total and picked up another converted try just before the break to take the score to 22 – 0. 

Both teams came out fired up at the resumption and it was fairly even for most of the third quarter. Experience eventually told and Connacht’s, double international, Miller grabbed a final quarter brace to complete her hat trick as Connacht added three more tries to their total. 

However, Peita McAlister and Amy Davis responded for Ulster, after good work by Claire McLaughlin and Maeve Liston, either side of Miller’s third, to complete the scoring. Jemma Jackson converting McAllister’s effort. Ulster’s late revival denying Connacht their first Women’s Interprovincial title, Leinster pipping them to top spot on points difference with a 21 – 12 win against Munster at Donnybrook. 

Final Score: Connacht 39 Ulster 12. 

Ulster Women: Vicky Irwin, Leah McGoldrick, Claire McLaughlin, Brittany Hogan, Amy Davis, Jemma Jackson, Kathryn Dane, Ilse Van Staden, Beth Cregan, Sorcha Mac Laimhim, Naomi McCullagh, Hannah Beattie, Gemma McCutcheon, Aisling O’Connell, Lauren Maginnes. Replacements: Brigid Collins, Shauna Martin, Lesley Megarity, Sapphire Dudley, Imogen Porter, Peita McAlister, Emma Jordan, Maeve Liston. 

As I said I have generally enjoyed this series, a series where, once again, the Squad and Management team have battled against the odds to put a team out each week. There can be no questioning of the calibre of their captain Gemma McCutcheon who gave absolutely everything across the three match series. 

My personal highlights would be the performances of Claire McLaughlin and Ilse van Staden who both have confirmed their International class under difficult circumstances; Van Staden, after besting most of her international opponents, really should get that recognition from the Irish management team. 

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the progress of Naomi McCullagh, she really has huge potential but needs to work harder to make it happen at the highest level. However, the most pleasing has been the introduction of so many new faces to the squad with Vicky Irwin, Leah McGoldrick, Brittany Hogan, Hannah Beattie, Aisling O’Connell, Brigid Collins, Shauna Martin, Storm Cobain, Sapphire Dudley and Maeve Liston all making their competitive debuts this series; Cobain and Hogan being particularly impressive in their contributions.