Saturday's Energia All-Ireland League women's final shows that Ireland's pool of players is growing deeper and deeper, according to Fiona Hayes.

Railway Union defended their AIL title last weekend with a 24-18 win against Blackrock in the final in Donnybrook.

It was the first year of the new AIL format for the women's game, which saw the top four teams in the regular season split off into their own round-robin format, which eventually provided last weekend's final.

The decision to revamp the leagues meant that the top club sides in the country would be playing each other consistently in the latter stages of the campaign, which leads up to this month's TikTok Six Nations.

New Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams is expected to name his training squad for the championship in the coming days, and Hayes says the squad could largely be chosen from home-based players.

"It was probably one of the best games I've seen in a long time," Hayes said on this week's RTÉ Rugby podcast.

"It was super rugby, really well executed, things were done at a high speed. The breakdowns were two, three, four seconds max. I think Railway came out firing in the first 20 minutes, and it wasn't until the second half we saw Blackrock really get themselves back into the game. If it went on for another 10 minutes Blackrock were really coming into it.

"There are a lot of girls vying for an Irish jersey, a chance for them to perform on a big stage and a lot of players put their hand up and said, 'hey, Greg, have a look at me...'

"The pool is just getting bigger and bigger. There were some girls that might not have been seen as good enough in Griggs's [former head coach Adam Griggs] eyes, and they put their hands up.

"They had a camp already, and none of the girls that were playing over in England were involved, so it will be very interesting when the squad is announced, will there be many overseas players in the squad?"

While Ireland will be the only one of this year's Six Nations not preparing for the World Cup later this year, Hayes doesn't believe the other five sides will have one eye on the tournament in New Zealand.

However she says that wins against Wales, Scotland and Italy should be the target for Ireland, with a top-three finish guaranteeing them a place in the top tier of the inaugural WXV competition in 2023.

"They don't have as many matches so I would imagine England and France will be putting out their first squad.

"I think they [Ireland] will be looking at winning their home games. We have France and England away, there were other issues that came into play [last year].

"It's a blank page now, you're looking at a very strong squad. I've heard names of people who have been going up and down, so I think we'll be looking at those home games, looking to win those, because there is that new competition, where they want to finish in the top three, which gives you the chance to play New Zealand and Canada.

"That's something they need to strive for, they do have a goal," the former Ireland international added.

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