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Women’s All-Ireland League Final Preview

Women’s All-Ireland League Final Preview

The Women’s All-Ireland League comes to a fascinating conclusion under the Donnybrook floodlights on Saturday (kick-off 6pm) as table toppers UL Bohemians try to wrestle away the title from defending champions Old Belvedere.



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Women’s All-Ireland League Form – Old Belvedere: WWWWW; UL Bohemians: WWWWW
Women’s All-Ireland League Titles – Old Belvedere: 2 (2013-2014); UL Bohemians: 11 (2001-2012)

Recent League Meetings – Sunday, October 5, 2014: UL Bohemians 8 Old Belvedere 38, Thomond Park back pitch; Sunday, December 7, 2014: Semi-final: Old Belvedere 29 UL Bohemians 0, Anglesea Road; Sunday, October 25, 2015: Old Belvedere 25 UL Bohemians 12, Anglesea Road

One look at the final table shows you just how close this season’s title race has been, with just a point separating fast-finishing UL Bohemians from Old Belvedere in second and third-placed Blackrock, who were the pacesetters for a number of rounds.

Four of UL’s six wins came at home, but they showed their ability to win on the road with a decisive 22-7 final round victory at Blackrock, claiming their sixth try-scoring bonus point in the process.

Mike Storey’s well-drilled side followed up with a 21-16 semi-final success against Railway Union last Sunday, playing on UL’s 4G pitch – the same type of surface that will greet them in Donnybrook.

A number of stalwarts from Bohs’ glory days are now gone of course, although Munster and Ireland captain Niamh Briggs, Fiona Hayes and Louise Beamish remain pivotal figures. Newer names like all-action flanker Chloe Pearse and exciting backs Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird and Liz Bourke (pictured above), along with skipper Maeve Darcy, seem to be growing in influence with each passing game.

The Red Robins also have recent Ireland cap Fiona Reidy in their front row, and seem to be hitting their stride at just the right time with 88 points scored in their last three games – including 38 points from Briggs, who has been featuring at out-half instead of full-back.

UL Bohemians team manager Paul Hennessy said: “The team has been building significant momentum over the past number of weeks, producing a mix of exhilarating and focused rugby. There’s a mix of youth and experience in the team which has gelled well as the season has progressed.

“The team are looking forward to the occasion and know the extent of the challenge ahead in facing Old Belvedere, the reigning league champions.”

Since UL won their 11th league crown in twelve seasons back in November 2012, Old Belvedere were crowned champions for the first time in April 2014 and they made it back-to-back league triumphs with a 26-5 final win over Blackrock twelve months ago.

Last December’s decider, at the same Donnybrook venue, saw the ‘Belvo girls battle through two sin-binnings to wrestle back control of the game and eventually seal the result with clinching tries from Ruth McElroy and international star Jenny Murphy.

With a strong Ireland-capped spine from assured out-half and captain Nora Stapleton through to strong ball-carrying forwards Ailis Egan (pictured below), Sharon ‘Chopper’ Lynch and Sophie Spence, Old Belvedere have certainly been the most consistent side on the Women’s club scene over the past two years.

Their run-in to the final included an 88-0 demolition job of injury-hit St. Mary’s, a well-judged 15-8 defeat of Galwegians out west and last week’s 18-13 semi-final triumph over Blackrock, one of the two teams to beat ‘Belvo during a sticky patch earlier in the campaign.

Emer O’Malley and Aine Donnelly, who made her Ireland debut last month, have provided plenty of firepower from midfield, with the latter regularly getting over the whitewash. Donnelly ran in a crucial intercept score in Belvedere’s 25-12 home win over Bohs back in late October, while Lynch also struck from long range after ripping the ball free in a tackle.

A three in-a-row of league crowns would cement this Yvonne Nolan and Jim Radmore-coached Belvedere team as the current standard bearers of the Women’s club game. Briggs and company would love nothing better than to knock them off their perch and a narrow winning margin looks likely. However, with a greater spread of match winners around the pitch, ‘Belvo have to be backed to get the job done again.

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Old Belvedere to win

OLD BELVEDERE Squad: Ailis Egan, Aine Donnelly, Amy O’Connor, Elise O’Byrne White, Emer O’Malley, Emma Dunne, Emma Lackey, Fiona O’Brien, Fionnuala Gleeson, Franziska Klappoth, Hazel Rooney, Kathryn Dane, Leanne Sullivan, Marie Louise Reilly, Nora Stapleton (capt), Roisin Donnelly, Ruth McElroy, Sharon Lynch, Sheena Moore, Sophie Spence, Bronagh Donovan.

UL BOHEMIANS Squad: Leah Barbour, Louise Beamish, Niamh Briggs, Liz Bourke, Maeve Darcy (capt), Hannah Davey, Kate English, Louise Galvin, Robyn Gleeson, Sara Hartigan, Fiona Hayes, Claire Keohane, Rebecca McLoghlin, Sidney Montano, Edel Murphy, Sinead Murtagh, Deirbhile Nic A Bhaird, Mollie O’Donnell, Aoife O’Sullivan, Chloe Pearse, Syphonia Pua, Slavica Radic, Fiona Reidy, Aine Staunton, Megan Walsh.

Referee: Gary Glennon (IRFU)