Maeve Og O’Leary is urging a fearless Ireland to use the “fire in their bellies” to give big guns England and France a scare in this year’s Women’s Six Nations.
Ireland begin their campaign with a trip to Cardiff Arms Park in the 2023 curtain-raiser on Saturday looking to reverse the outcome from last year’s Round 1 clash, when a late Hannah Jones try saw Wales claim the spoils.
O’Leary did not feature that day and had to be patient when waiting for her opportunity, making two appearances off the bench in Rounds 4 and 5.
The back-rower is aiming to be a more prominent feature in the squad this time around and believes her side have what it takes to spring a surprise or two in the upcoming weeks, with last year’s top two visiting Cork in Round 2 (France) and Round 4 (England).
“Every game this Six Nations will be a challenge but we are in a really good place and we are focusing on ourselves,” she said.
“Wales are a really big and physical team and offer a huge challenge but we have so much energy in camp this week, everyone is on the same page.
“We want to show our ability in every game. We won’t be backing down against France and England, we want to rise to the occasion. We’ll go at them, we have nothing to lose.
“A third-placed finish is our goal but we’d be silly to let them come at us. We’ll go at them as hard as we can.
“We have a fire in our bellies and we are ready to go. We want to put on a show for the fans coming to see us.
“I fully believe there is something special brewing in this group and I can’t wait for us to play more together and develop.”
O’Leary introduced herself to international rugby in style, making a try-saving tackle within seconds of coming on against USA in November 2021.
Twelve months on, she became one of 29 players to accept the offer of a full-time professional contract in a move the Munster ace hopes will revitalise Ireland’s on-field fortunes.
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“It has been so helpful for me personally as I’m still quite young,” said the 23-year-old.
“Before, I hadn’t been able to have that much time in the gym, or around recovery and analysis, as I was balancing it around work or college.
“You would work your 9-5, have a bite to eat and go training. Now I have two hours in the gym, half an hour to recover, an hour doing analysis then out on to the pitch.
“It has undoubtedly helped me, I’ve got stronger and I know the girls have as well.”
O’Leary is not the first member of her family to play international rugby and continues to soak up the wisdom of older brother Shane, who represented Canada – the country of their mother’s birth – at the 2019 men’s World Cup.
“He is so helpful to me,” she added. “He has gone through everything so I don’t have to.
“He gives me all the advice and helps me massively with the mental side of the game.
“There needs to be more emphasis on that – there are so many elements to the game, it can be hard to focus on it.
“He has been through everything so he helps me around confidence, psychology – he’s great and we get on really well.”