Their shock first-round defeat of Leinster means victory over Ulster in the Sportsground would put them in pole position before the afternoon’s blockbuster. Captain Nicole Fowley hasn’t even glanced at the possible permutations elsewhere. “All we are thinking about is winning our own game. We’re just focused on Ulster first because they’re always such a tough battle for us,” she said.
The sides’ last three meetings were evenly split – one win apiece and a draw – and victory today would be a serious boost to this young Connacht side who lost veteran stalwarts like Mary Healy, Mairéad Coyne, Fiona Scally and Laura Feely this season.
Injury noticeably deprives them of international scrum-half Aoibheann Reilly for the second game in a row, so Olivia Haverty again partners Fowley at half-back. The Sligo veteran, who played for Castlebar Celtic in the 2013 FAI Cup final against Katie McCabe’s Raheny, remains their totem but wants the next generation to step it up. Connacht are looking to youngsters like Karly Tierney, Ivana Kiripati, Kayla Waldron, Ciara Barrett, and Laoise McGonagle to impress.
“They’re getting the chance to play for Ireland U-20s, which we didn’t have, so this level is not completely new to them and they’ve really benefited from that,” she says.
Beating Leinster for the first time since 2016 was a huge scalp.
“That was a massive result for us because playing Leinster first time out was a little intimidating for them, but the focus was to get the win at home and give the young players the belief that we are good enough. We didn’t perform as well as we wanted against Munster. We were totally in it the first 20 minutes, but then it slipped from under us. We just didn’t perform for the rest of it. It wasn’t good enough.”
But Fowley says the belief is still there that Connacht can reach a first final since 2019 and they’re hoping home advantage will help swing it.
“Home venue was huge for us against Leinster, so we’re really looking to get a huge crowd there. It’s only a short campaign and people love coming out to support Connacht, so we’re really driving off that.”
Connacht v Ulster, 2.30
Leinster v Munster, 4.45
(Both live on TG4)