Aoife McDermott insists the gap between England and France and the rest is motivating rather than daunting as Ireland prepare to begin their 2021 Women’s Six Nations campaign.
Ireland sat out the opening round of this year’s streamlined tournament, which sees the traditional round-robin format swapped for a four-week competition consisting of two pools.
Each of the six nations will play two pool games before Finals Day pits each team against their equivalent in the other pool, with Ireland in Pool B with France and Wales.
And while the first round saw overwhelming title favourites England and France romp to heavy wins, McDermott believes Ireland have never been in a better place to upset the odds.
“[The gap] definitely motivates me, I’m so excited. I really believe we’ve improved a huge amount over the last 12 months - albeit not having played a game,” she said.
“I think we’re in one of the best places we’ve ever been and I think we can go out and cause upsets this tournament, we’re going into this campaign to win every game.”
She continued: “We’re so excited and there’s a great buzz around camp. We’re just itching to go and I’ve been waiting 13 months, some have been waiting six months for this.
“Preparations have gone well and we’re just so excited now to get out there now and put on the jersey. [Match sharpness] is not a major concern, training has been going really well.
“We’ve been incredibly sharp, I think we are the fittest, strongest, fastest we’ve ever been, and I think we’ve come a huge way in the last 12 months.
“Wales have had a game, but we now have had that opportunity to see what they’re about, analyse them and stop some of their threats while they haven’t seen us play in a while.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to catch them on the hop on Saturday so we’re just excited to go and we’re not really taking it as a factor, I think most teams are in the same position.
“They only have one game up on us, it’s not a huge amount that’s going to have a huge impact, so I think we’ll be able to overcome that on Saturday.”
McDermott has 13 Ireland caps to her name but injury caused her to miss her country’s rescheduled Championship game with Italy in October, which ended in a 21-7 win in Dublin.
The second row sustained a fractured foot during a training session with Railway Union around four weeks before the Italy match after another player accidentally landed on her.
But the 30-year-old has been back training since December and cannot wait to don the famous green jersey for the first time since lining up against England in February last year.
And while this weekend’s opponents Wales have already got a game under their belt, having lost 53-0 to France, McDermott is confident her team will be ready and raring to go.
“You can never fully replicate the intensity of a Test match so it is a little bit of an unknown heading into the game but preparations have gone really, really well,” she said.
“We feel we are really sharp and well prepared so it’s just about trying to get out there now and put on a show on Saturday night. I think we’ve had more time than ever together.
“I think we’ve had like 20 camps or something so we’ve spent a huge amount of time together and with that, had the ability to refine our set piece and our attack.
“I think you’ll see some new stuff from us come Saturday night, I think our set-piece is in a very strong place, our defence is very fluid and everybody knows their role incredibly well.
“Heading into Saturday, I think we’ve never had so much clarity and understanding of what’s expected of each individual and what our role is heading out onto the pitch.
“It will be good to show that now. The last 12 months have been unpredictable and unfortunately it has taken this long to get out on the pitch but we’re just delighted to finally be here.”