Ballymoney’s Claire McLaughlin bounced back from heart surgery no less than a month ago to get her first cap for Ireland in the RBS Six Nations game against Italy at Donneybrook on Sunday.

Claire, a centre for Queen’s and Ulster, received her call up to the Ireland squad, however a health scare during training saw her side-lined and facing a procedure in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Showing tremendous courage and determination, Claire returned to full fitness and was named on the bench for the latest Six Nations clash. With Ireland leading the Italians 7-3 at half time, Coach Tom Tierney gave McLaughlin the opportunity to win her first cap when she came on to replace Niamh Briggs on 59 minutes.

The Irish girls went on to win 14-3 and now face Scotland in the final game next week.

Following their victory Claire spoke to Times Sport about the roller coaster ride she has had over the past month.

“The week running up to the first Six Nations game against Wales was a bit of a crazy one for me. It was a bit of a shock to find out that instead of pulling on the green jersey, that I would be having a heart procedure carried out!

“One of my first questions to the cardiologist was how quick will I be able to be back after the procedure, I was obviously concerned that this could ruin my chances at playing any Six Nations this year but thankfully, the recovery time was minimal, and I was back doing some light training just a week after.

“Those couple of weeks were really tough for me, but my faith really helped me through it all, allowing me to see the positives and see that there was a reason for everything happening. After the procedure, I had my sights set on the England game but looking back now, that was definitely a bit ambitious.

“When I got the news that I was in the squad for Sunday’s game against Italy, I was extremely grateful, but was also pretty hesitant in allowing myself to get too excited considering I’d been in this position before, and not got on the pitch. However, when I got the opportunity to come on against Italy, I can honestly say I was relieved - I had finally managed to get that illustrious first international cap.

“It was very nerve-wracking though and I did feel quite a lot of pressure coming into such an intense game with the score at just 7-3. I absolutely loved the whole experience though and gave my all when I was out on the pitch. Overall, I think I did okay and was pleased with my performance, but I have to say I’m pretty disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to smash anyone!

“I would love to have the chance to pull on the jersey again next weekend against Scotland and I’m hoping I’ve done enough in training and the bit of gametime I got in order to make the cut.”