When the ladies Ireland Rugby team made history last year by securing their first ever Six Nations Grand Slam win it was due in no small part to the contribution from a strong Ulster contingent.
The talent of local players Ashleigh |Baxter, Larissa Muldoon, Stacey-Lea Kennedy, Amy Davis, Grace Davitt and Lauren Day helped bring the 15-strong team their sweetest ever victory over Italy last March.
The girls were more than worthy winners of our Woman of the Year in Sport Award sponsored by RAF Reserves.
Their victorious team beat all the Home Nations in their opening three matches |of the RBS Six Nations before clinching |the championship with victory over France.
Then, in a magnificent clean sweep, they ended a glorious campaign with a hard-fought 6-3 victory over Italy in Milan to complete their historic Grand Slam.
Poignantly one player, Lauren Day, dedicated the victory to her late sister Channing, who was killed by insurgents in Afghanistan in October 2012.
Unfortunately the girls could not be there in person to pick up their award and the honour fell to Ashleigh Baxter’s mum Rosie who happily stepped onto the stage in their place.
With training for the World Cup this year, all of the girls are using their holidays to prepare for the matches and couldn’t attend.
Speaking on behalf of her teammates, Ashleigh Baxter said: “It was such a |surprise and an honour for us to win the award, especially when we heard who|the other nominees in our category were.
“We are very grateful for the interest the Belfast Telegraph has taken in our success last season and ongoing Six Nations this year.”
Through their historic achievement the girls have helped to lift the profile of |Ireland Rugby and boosted numbers taking up the sport in Northern Ireland, inspiring a whole new generation of young players.
And they have also been doing their bit off the pitch to give the sport a boost, touring local schools and colleges.
There are currently 14 clubs with a dedicated women’s section in Ulster Rugby with four clubs looking to set up women’s rugby in the 2013/14 season, largely due to the success of the local women at national level.
As a result of funding from the Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure, Ulster Rugby now has two designated female rugby officers to act as a point of contact for all inquiries relating to female rugby within Ulster.
‘It was such a surprise and an honour for |us to win the award, especially when we heard who the other nominees in our |category were’