Old Belvedere lifted the Women’s All-Ireland League Division 1 trophy for the first time after powering their way to a 39-5 final win over Highfield in Naas on Saturday.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE DIVISION 1 FINAL: Saturday, April 12
OLD BELVEDERE 39 HIGHFIELD 5, Naas RFC
Scorers: Old Belvedere: Tries: Fiona O’Brien, Emer McIlhinney, Ailis Egan, Elise O’Byrne White, Jenny Murphy, Carol Murphy; Cons: Nora Stapleton 3; Pen: Nora Stapleton
Highfield: Try: Heather O’Brien
The table toppers were the most consistent team during the league phase with seven straight wins, and followed up by dethroning last year’s champions UL Bohemians in the last-four and then hammering Highfield in the decider.
In bright and breezy conditions at Naas RFC, Old Belvedere quickly took the lead when prop Fiona O’Brien crashed over from close range after good work in the build-up from Ireland internationals Nora Stapleton and Jenny Murphy.
The early blitz from ‘Belvo, who were playing into the wind, continued when Sharon Lynch produced turnover ball and Janice Daly sent her back-three colleague Emer McIlhinney over at the end of a free-flowing move.
Out-half Stapleton converted and she soon added the extras to prop Ailis Egan’s 13th-minute try, brilliantly splitting the posts from near the touchline.
Egan’s effort was all about the Dubliners’ well-drilled pack as number 8 Lynch won a close-in lineout and the ensuing drive resulted in the international tighthead touching down out wide on the right.
Highfield had to react and to their credit, they swiftly raised their game as key players Ger Rea, in the centre, and Ireland number 8 Heather O’Brien began to get on the ball and make some good yardage.
But turnovers were proving costly and Belvedere sprung right back at them, benefiting from a fine kick and collect by centre Murphy. Highfield were then caught offside and Stapleton fired home the penalty for a 22-0 advantage.
The Cork side responded with a try four minutes later as they built from a lineout maul, retaining possession well in the ‘Belvo 22 before centre Nicola Scully set up O’Brien for a well-taken five-pointer.
Highfield continued to improve in the early stages of the second half, but they were stung by a try against the run of play in the 57th minute.
‘Belvo playmaker Stapleton used possession intelligently as her looping pass found centre Elise O’Byrne White who evaded the cover and broke clear of the Highfield chasers to touch down under the posts.
Stapleton converted for a 29-5 scoreline and ‘Belvo were far from finished as coaches Yvonne Nolan and Colin Moran unloaded their eager bench for one final push.
It yielded two more tries, a neat switch between Stapleton and Murphy setting up the first of them as the powerful centre produced a trademark burst and bounced off a final defender to grab a deserved score.
Elaine Cohalan, who came on in the centre, made the initial incision for Belvedere’s sixth and final try scored by Carol Murphy with two minutes left.
The historic success of their Women’s team could be the first part of an outstanding double for Old Belvedere RFC, as a win next Saturday would also see their male counterparts crowned All-Ireland League champions.
Spare a thought for Highfield though who can still look back on their campaign with immense pride.
Guided by Derek Houlihan and Norita Duggan, the Highfield girls reached two national finals – they were beaten by Galwegians in the cup decider two weeks ago – and ‘Belvo were the only team to beat them in league fare.
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