A compelling Sunday afternoon of action brought the All-Ireland Cup to life on a memorable weekend for Irish Women’s rugby, writes Aisling Crowe.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND CUP QUARTER-FINALS: Sunday, February 5
HIGHFIELD 6 UL BOHEMIANS 15, Woodleigh Park
COOKE 7 RAILWAY UNION 27, Shaw’s Bridge
ST. MARY’S 0 OLD BELVEDERE 15, Templeville Road
BLACKROCK 28 GALWEGIANS 22, Stradbrook
UL Bohemians are still on course for a remarkable All-Ireland League and Cup double but Highfield forced the Limerick team to wring every last ounce of effort out of themselves to stagger over the line in an enthralling Munster Senior Cup final that was in the balance right to the end.
Scrum half Ellen McDermott got the visitors off to the perfect start with a try early in the match, but Highfield hit back with a penalty from Ellen Murphy on 20 minutes. The 5-3 scoreline never changed before half-time, an absorbing contest catching both teams in its grasp.
Highfield went ahead two minutes after the interval, Murphy’s second penalty nosing the Cork outfit in front. The pendulum swung first one way and then the other as the second half wore on but neither side were able to make that vital breakthrough, Highfield not allowing the league leaders to play to their strengths.
A penalty on 70 minutes, scored by Kerry goalkeeper Edel Murphy, edged UL Bohs in front against at 8-6 and the outcome hinged on a flying break by winger Syphonia Pua who raced 50 metres down the pitch to cross the line for the decisive try. Murphy added the conversion for a 15-6 victory.
“Highfield played the better rugby,” admitted UL Bohs’ John Keane. “They had much more of the constructive play and on balance, we are lucky to be in the semi-finals.”
Their focus switches to maintaining an unbeaten league run next Sunday in a momentous day for Women’s rugby in the province. The UL Bohs senior team take on western rivals Galwegians in the All-Ireland League while the junior team face fierce rivals Shannon in the Junior Cup, and the club has applied to play both matches at Thomond Park.
Highfield’s late charge for a play-off place in the All-Ireland League will see them travel all the way to Belfast for a crucial game against Cooke on Sunday.
Cooke suffered a heavy 27-7 defeat at home to Railway Union in the All-Ireland Cup quarter finals yesterday. The Dublin side set up a semi-final clash with UL following their five-try dismissal of a Cooke team shorn of experience through injuries and international call-ups.
Clare Ryan was the star of the show for Railway Union with three first half tries helping her side to a 20-0 half-time lead. Former Canadian international Emma Taylor had started the scoring for Railway with a try of her own before Ryan’s one-woman scoring blitz began.
Cooke are molded in the image of head coach Grace Davitt and the former Ireland international’s charges refused to contemplate defeat. In the second half, they tore into the opposition and Amy Davis grabbed a try to hopefully begin the epic comeback required.
However, Railway’s vastly experienced scrum half Larissa Muldoon had been pulling the pack’s strings all afternoon in the manner of an expert puppeteer and the Ireland international steadied the ship with an excellent try of her own to give the visitors an unassailable 27-7 lead.
Ciara Cooney made her first start for Railway Union since recovering from a serious injury suffered last spring and she slotted right into a back row that was on song, with Ryan and Kate McCarthy contributing to a beautiful three-part harmony. Muldoon was the choral mistress at number 9 and in the centre Niamh Byrne stood out.
Old Belvedere booked their place in the last-four with a 15-0 victory away to St. Mary’s at Templeville Road. Early tries from Aisling McCaffrey and Fionnuala Gleeson helped the visitors to gain the upper hand but Mary’s were difficult opponents, not lightly giving the ball away.
Gleeson benefitted from an excellent break by Ireland ace Sophie Spence that had the majority of the team racing to keep up with her. Gleeson had retired from rugby at the end of last season but made a successful reappearance for the Cup campaign and will be staving off retirement for one more game at least.
Despite going down to 13 players for a few minutes in the second half as Aurelie Lemouzy paid the price for her team’s last-ditch defending of Mary’s efforts to breach the try-line, and second half replacement Linda Djougang joined her in the sin-bin, Old Belvedere held out. They also had Ireland Sevens youngster Molly Scuffil-McCabe yellow carded.
Jackie Shiels scored the penalty that finally sealed Old Belvedere’s passage through to a home semi-final against Blackrock, adding to her earlier conversion.
Ruth McElroy of Old Belvedere felt the 15-point winning margin did not accurately reflect how tough her team had it on the pitch. “St. Mary’s were very good today and the scoreline flatters us slightly. They had more of the ball and defended very well,” she said.
The opportunity for revenge comes quickly for St. Mary’s who host Belvedere in the All-Ireland League next Sunday, on another important day for ‘Belvo’s Women’s sides. Their junior team play Carlow for a place in the semi-finals of Leinster League Division 1.
In an epic late kick-off, Blackrock withstood a fightback from Galwegians to claim a 28-22 victory and a place in the semi-finals which will take place on Sunday, March 12.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND CUP SEMI-FINALS: Sunday, March 12
Kick-off 1pm unless stated –
OLD BELVEDERE v BLACKROCK, Anglesea Road
RAILWAY UNION v UL BOHEMIANS, Sandymount