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Irish rugby is facing up to a watershed moment as women's game start to edge towards full-time set-up



Looking ahead: Kathryn Dane is keen to match the elite sides

Looking ahead: Kathryn Dane is keen to match the elite sides

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Looking ahead: Kathryn Dane is keen to match the elite sides

Ireland belatedly begin their Six Nations campaign in Cardiff this weekend but already it seems like a competition cleaved in two with the professional and semi-professional English and French sides dishing out 50-point hammerings in round one.

Adam Griggs, initially appointed as a part-time coach, and his amateur side, embellished with a smattering of contracted Sevens players whose professional enterprise has been postponed, will be expected to beat Wales on Saturday despite their lengthy inactivity.

While this novel April window is their immediate focus, their main aim this year is to qualify for the next World Cup after their abysmal efforts in the last edition forced them into a repechage.

With Wales seemingly pressing on with plans to dole out contracts to their squad, the Irish team remain part-time amateurs striving to propagate their acknowledged individual excellence within restricted confines.

It remains unclear what the precise future for them may hold but, with a World Cup berth still uncertain and a 2023 summer series in the offing for the women's game, this is yet another watershed moment for the sport here.

Irish rugby has taken several wrong turns and cannot afford another. Whether they can afford to fully support a firm forward momentum also remains questionable, notwithstanding CVC's money-spinning Deus Ex Machina.

"Yes, it would be lovely to see it brought in," lock Aoife McDermott says regarding any proposed contracted support; at the moment, she and her colleagues receive 'per diems' for every game.

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Scrum-half Kathryn Dane is also eager for the 2023 summer tour to be a catalyst for change globally.

"It's probably putting the women's game on its own pedestal and respecting it in its own right, which is great and what we want," she said. "The prospect of having more tests and game time in a season is really exciting. I'm 24 and got lots of years to give."

For now, Ireland are attempting to be the best they can be; arguably, the short-term priority is to ensure they remain within an arm's length of those countries threatening their World Cup status, rather than outlining any vaulting ambition, however earnest, to challenge France and England.

"The gap is definitely there," conceded Dane. "I know the IRFU are doing everything they can to make sure we are matching the other nations and as players we are definitely striving for that excellence and professionalism. We are keen to keep pushing boundaries to be world-class.

"The IRFU have been great in giving us the resources that we need to perform at the minute.

"The picture might change in a couple of years and we might be operating on a semi-professional or professional level like England and France. For the time being we are doing great."

Dane is currently studying the impact of concussion in her sport as she juggles study and sport; clearly, however, the talented, zippy distributor would be first on the list were there cash available to dole out contracts.

"My first instinct would be yes. I am even getting butterflies in my tummy thinking about it. From a young age rugby has meant everything to me so it probably isn't as big a decision as other girls perhaps," she said.

"Other people might have more senior jobs or families or other commitments. That might be a more difficult decision. For me, as a physiotherapist and a PhD student I could definitely see myself making it work."

Whether the IRFU can do so is the ongoing question.

Belfast Telegraph

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