The Women’s All-Ireland League semi-finals did not disappoint yesterday, showcasing the very best of the Women’s club game with two close encounters as Blackrock hosted Old Belvedere and UL Bohemians entertained Railway Union. Kate Rowan rounds up the action.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS: Sunday, December 6
BLACKROCK 13 OLD BELVEDERE 18, Stradbrook
UL BOHEMIANS 21 RAILWAY UNION 16, University of Limerick 4G pitch
Storm Desmond was hitting the headlines this weekend and the inclement conditions saw both semi-finals kick off later than originally scheduled, with the UL Bohemians v Railway Union match moving from Annacotty to the University of Limerick’s 4G pitch.
Blackrock, who finished the regular season in second place, hosted reigning champions Old Belvedere at Stradbrook. Their last meeting in September was also a tight contest with Blackrock winning 6-5 also at home.
The visitors began brightly in attack but the ‘Rock women showed their grit in defence and when the time came, they took their chances extremely well, opening the scoring after 20 minutes with winger Carrie Hanley running in for a try. Ireland international Jeamie Deacon, playing at inside centre, failed to add the extras.
However, Old Belvedere showed their pedigree as Sophie Spence (pictured below) crashed over the line just a few minutes later. Two-time Six Nations-winning out half Nora Stapleton also missed her conversion.
The game continued at breakneck pace, Blackrock replying straight from the restart as Deacon ran a hard line to score in the left corner in the 29th minute. She could not convert from a tricky angle.
The ‘Belvo girls put Blackrock under pressure at scrum time, winning a 35th minute penalty which Stapleton stuck over to close the gap to 10-8 at half-time.
Belvedere began the second half as they had the first, applying the pressure in attack and this was eventually rewarded with another three-pointer from Stapleton, moving them into a one-point lead with 48 minutes gone.
As with the ebbing and flowing rhythm of the game, Blackrock pushed back ahead with a Deacon penalty on the hour mark after Old Belvedere flanker Niamh Fitzgerald was sin-binned for not rolling away.
Yet again, Belvedere held their composure to bounce back with a crucial 72nd minute try from hooker Sharon Lynch after a superb lineout steal from the ever-influential Spence. Stapleton’s successful conversion proved to be the final score of the game as ‘Belvo advanced to next Saturday’s final on an 18-13 scoreline.
Blackrock did have a late try-scoring opportunity courtesy of a stunning break from outside centre Michelle Claffey, but the ball was knocked on after Deacon threatened from a quick tap penalty.
Meanwhile, a frenetic and very physical encounter was played out between table toppers UL Bohemians and fourth-placed Railway Union. Their last meeting was a low-scoring 6-3 win for the Limerick side at Annacotty back in the competition’s opening round in September.
Munster and Ireland captain Niamh Briggs, playing at out half, scored all of her side’s 10 points in the first half, and the UL forwards were in dominant form with some great work from the likes of back rower Chloe Pearse and lock Aoife O’Sullivan.
Briggs opened the scoring with a penalty after two minutes. This was quickly cancelled out after Ireland Sevens squad member Kim Flood, playing on the wing, fired over a fifth minute penalty for Railway Union.
Railway built on this momentum as strong-running hooker Cliodhna Moloney, who made her Ireland debut against England last month, scored a try just two minutes later. Flood duly converted for 10-3.
Briggs (pictured above) then scored a try under the posts after some terrific work from the Bohs pack in the 17th minute and she tagged on the conversion for a 10-all scoreline. The remainder of the first half was particularly cagey, with both sides looking evenly-matched.
Despite another penalty from Flood early in the second half, Railway could not break through and UL gained vital momentum when O’Sullivan crossed the whitewash for an unconverted effort in the 52nd minute.
A penalty from Flood three minutes later proved to be the Dubliners’ final score of the evening. A further penalty from Briggs, with 62 minutes on the clock, duly sealed a hard-earned victory for Bohs who will meet ‘Belvo in a mouth-watering title decider at Donnybrook next Saturday evening.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE FINAL: Saturday, December 12
UL BOHEMIANS v OLD BELVEDERE, Donnybrook, 6pm