Enniskillen’s Kathryn Dane is confident that Ireland will get off to a positive start when they open their Women’s Six Nations campaign against Wales on Saturday.

The scrum half had been joined by fellow Fermanagh player Claire Boles in Ireland’s 35 strong squad, and after an intense 20 week training schedule Kathryn reckons the team are in great shape for the upcoming fixtures.

“We are in the strongest position we have ever been in as a squad, and we have had all that time to grow as a team,” explained Kathryn.

“The strength and conditioning part of our game has doubled if not tripled since the Six Nations last year because we have had so much time to work on it, and that will stand to us. In terms of our attack and defence we have really worked on training at an intensity that is above match intensity, so that we can perform at a really high tempo and be comfortable. Our execution, decision making, intuition and instinct around the field should hopefully have improved, although we won’t really know until we get on the field on Saturday.

"We have done all the hard physical preparations and its now just a mindset thing of getting on the pitch and starting fast from the very start. In the past, against Italy, we started slow, but we are hoping to start fast and bring the intensity from the beginning. We are in a very privileged position compared to other sports and we have been able to training together for 20 plus weeks, and there is an expectation that we can go out there and show what we’ve got and make the nation proud.”

Kathryn has amassed ten caps, and is starting to establish herself as a regular in a young, ever changing test team.

The 24 year old was a starter in all four of Ireland’s Six Nations matches in 2019/20, and she admits she has been delighted to cement a place in the team despite the intense battle for places.

“It’s a great honour and amazing that I have been able to remain injury free and build really good partnerships with the tens and the rest of the group,” she said.

“It has been really positive, and with the other nines we are all sharing with each other and taking on the challenge. I am delighted that I got those starts, and it is really lovely to be a part of such a competitive squad.”

Flanker Claire Boles is another Fermanagh member of the training squad, and although she is not expected to make the match day squad for the series opener against Wales, she is hoping to add to her three caps as the tournament progresses.

“It’s nice to see another Fermanagh girls on the panel,” admitted Kathryn. “Myself and Claire played together from schooldays and its lovely to have her there. She knows me and I know her inside out, and it works well when it comes to game time. We know whether to give each other space, and when we need a chat.”

It is almost six months since Ireland contested a competitive International, and Kathryn admits the long build up to Saturday’s match was tough to deal with at times.

The management introduced team building exercises including a mini Olympics tournament, and Kathryn was grateful for the efforts of the coaching staff as they battled to keep the players enthused during the uncertainty.

“Twenty weeks straight of training is very demanding, even emotionally,” she admitted.

“We haven’t been used to training for that long without a game to break it up, so it is demanding and you have to stay motivated to keep pushing on each weekend, knowing that you are not quite sure when you have a game coming up. The mini Olympics was class. We have also had a few five aside football tournaments, and with my soccer background I have been able to unleash my skills a little bit!

"Little things like that keep the morale high and helps the team bond and keeps the spirits up because it was quite challenging. I had been used to playing Inter-pros with Ulster and club rugby with Old Belvedere and internationals, so it is quite a shock to the system when you are just in training the entire time. The coaches have been excellent in keeping the camp motivated and having goals and outcomes to work on, but when you are working full time and balance a PhD and coming off the back of an exhausting weekend, it can be challenging at times, but we are just so lucky that we have amazing coaches and support systems that keep us in the right head space.”

Wales will go into Saturday’s match having already suffered a heavy defeat to France in their opening game. England and France are expected to contest the battle for the top spot in the championship, but Kathryn is unconcerned about the speculation that those two teams could dominated the tournament, and is hopeful Ireland will be able to pull off a surprise result during the tournament.

“We are just worrying about ourselves and what we can do,” she said. “The IRFU are giving us the resources to perform, and the picture might change in the future where we can compete at the professional or semi-professional level like England and France, but for the time being we are doing great with what we have got.

"It is an unpredictable environment at the minute, and in the Six Nations we are going in to win each game if we can, but that will set us up lovely for the World Cup qualifiers and make sure we are prepared. Hopefully we will be going into them on the back of a successful Six Nations.”