What you see is what you get with Hannah O’Connor, a fast-talking, wide-smiling Galwegian.

It is many years since the 32-year-old began life west of the Shannon before moving East to Kildare and Dublin.

No matter, the accent is still there, as embedded and immovable as Galway Bay.

Some people leave home and lose their authentic voice within a year; others, like Hannah, could never be parted from their past.

She leaves nothing behind in her pursuit of excellence as a Primary School teacher and as a Leinster and Ireland back-row forward.

This is certainly the impression when she is first spotted lining up goal-kicks at training in Energia Park, placing the ball carefully on the try-line and aiming to smash it against the upright.

“I like to dabble in the dark arts. That is just me enjoying the game. I always liked that part of it,” she smiles.

“I started off playing ten. I like to get a bit of kicking in when I can. I like to have a pop at the long-range ones.

“Tania encourages us to express ourselves. If we need it, it’s there. But, we have plenty of kickers at the moment.”

The changing of the coaching guard brings Hannah in under the wing of a familiar face in head coach Tania Rosser.

“It is exciting to be coached by her for the first time. Tania brings a wealth of experience and is keen to play that exciting style of Leinster rugby.

“The brand of rugby she wants to play allows the backs and forwards to express themselves. We will be trying to play quick, free-flowing rugby.”

The sideline support doesn’t end there as Matt Gill (scrum coach), John Fairley (breakdown and restarts), Eoin Reynolds (Performance Analyst) Gary Brown (S&C), Greg Hawe (lead physio), Aine Rowe (physio) and Team Manager Jonathan Geoghegan complete a detailed coaching and management team.

The rise in support for the Women’s game is everywhere you look, even on the television screens, where impressionable girls can be drawn to the sport.

“I teach in Scoil Mhuire Girls Primary School in Lucan,” says Hannah.

“The students find it absolutely bizarre that they can watch me on the telly.

“The girls can see someone they know playing rugby on television. It shows it is there for them if they want to play rugby.”

It has led to increased curiosity around the game as girls come out to try it for themselves.

“I do Tag Rugby with them. They love it. It is something different. I explain the basic rules of Tag and show them how to play.

“They are always willing to give something new a go. The more it is shown, the more they will see it.

“If they can’t see it, they can’t be it.”

Back to business, Hannah makes no bones about “dragging up the average age of the squad” and her experience will be vital in providing leadership for those new to the Interprovincial Series.

“This will be my third Interpro series. There were two pre-Covid and this is my first one since.

“It is always the same. You come with the same attitude and the same work ethic. There is no difference.

“Those new into this level come with a desire to learn as much as they can. That keeps you on your toes.”

The incentive of professional contracts is another sign of changing times.

“The contracts have come in, showing where the game is going, as it should be,” she adds.

“There is the sense of making the game more professional, Ireland aligning itself with the serious rugby-playing countries around the world.

“Even for all the girls here, whether you have international caps or international aspirations, it starts with your club.

“Then, there is putting on the blue jersey of Leinster and showing your worth at this level.

“You are only as strong as the girls around you, so everyone is pulling together to make this province the best that we can be.”

The Vodafone Interprovincial Championship begins at home to Connacht in Energia Park on Saturday afternoon (KO: 2.30). Tickets are available here.

It will also be shown live on TG4.

Saturday January 7th 2023
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Round One:
Leinster v Connacht, Energia Park, 14:30 (TICKETS) (TG4)
Munster v Ulster Musgrave Park, 16:45 (TG4)

Saturday January 14th 2023
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Round Two:
Munster v Leinster, Musgrave Park, 12:15 (TG4)
Ulster v Connacht, Kingspan Stadium, 14:30 (BBC NI/TG4 Player)

Saturday January 21st 2023
Vodafone Women’s Interprovincial Championship Round Three:
Connacht v Munster, The Sportsground, 13:00 (TG4)
Ulster v Leinster, Queen’s University Upper Malone, 17:30 (BBC NI/TG4 Player)