The game of the weekend in the Women’s All-Ireland League was surely the clash of sixth versus seventh at Stradbrook as Blackrock and Cooke treated fans to a fantastic ten tries between them, writes Aisling Crowe.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE: Sunday, February 19
BLACKROCK 36 COOKE 24, Stradbrook
GALWEGIANS 7 RAILWAY UNION 12, Crowley Park
HIGHFIELD 12 ST. MARY’S 0, Woodleigh Park
OLD BELVEDERE 14 UL BOHEMIANS 29, Anglesea Road
Blackrock came out on top of the battle, winning 36-24 with six tries to Cooke’s four, but a try bonus point for the Belfast club – away to the Dubliners – has given them a slight bit of wiggle room as they moved two points clear of St. Mary’s at the foot of the table.
Cooke blasted out of the blocks, Lauren McGuinness scoring at the start of the match but then Blackrock came roaring back. Three tries in succession for the hosts appeared to give them the upper hand with scrum half Niamh Griffin opening the scoring, her try converted by Michelle Claffey.
Joanna Mahon put distance between the sides with her try and Carrie Anne Hanley widened the gap with her try which was converted by Claffey, but only just, the ball bouncing up off the crossbar on the way over.
Cooke captain Shirelle Wilson brought her team back into the game in a breathlessly exciting first half, scoring before a half-time whistle that brought relief from the frenetic action on the pitch.
Scrum half Griffin, named the player-of-the-match for the victors, grabbed her second try at the start of the second half and Portlaoise teenager Eimear Corri added to her burgeoning reputation with two tries of her own.
Cooke fought back and were determined to take whatever they could from their trip to Dublin. Wilson played a captain’s role and led by example, scoring her second try before Eliza Downey crossed for the crucial fourth try which could make all the difference come the end of March.
Flanker Amy O’Neill was another player who impressed for hosts Blackrock, putting in an enormous amount of work in defence, ensuring a high tackle count and creating plenty of turnover ball.
Cooke head coach Grace Davitt was proud of her team’s never-say-die attitude, saying afterwards: “It was a tough game. We started well but went to sleep a little after the first try, Blackrock kept on pounding us and got a couple of tries out wide.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the girls, I emphasised before the game how much every point mattered and they came back to score two tries in quick succession and they kept fighting for that fourth try and the bonus point. They kept pounding Blackrock and moving the ball and even though the fourth try was nearly the last play of the game, they went looking for another. They showed amazing heart today.”
Meanwhile, Highfield’s resurgent form continued with a 12-0 home victory over relegation-threatened St. Mary’s. In contrast to the scintillating action in Stradbrook, this was a more staid affair. The first half was into its final stages before Highfield centre Nicola Scully broke the deadlock with her try underneath the posts, which was converted by Ellen Murphy.
The second half saw St. Mary’s stage a revival of sorts but they just could not catch a break, failing to score from good territory and possession. A vital losing bonus point slipped from their grasp with winger Hannah O’Sullivan’s try in the last moments giving Highfield a 12-point win.
Highfield’s team manager Norita Duggan said: “We had most of the territory and possession but just couldn’t make it count. We were on top everywhere except for the scrums, they had a very good scrum.”
Railway Union’s seventh successive league triumph, this one coming away to Galwegians, ensured they leapfrogged Old Belvedere into second place in the table.
Galwegians were dominant in the first half and went into the break with a seven-point lead courtesy of a Denise Redmond try that was converted by Clare Raftery. The score came after a long period of territorial dominance for the Connacht side.
Susan Fogarty sparked Railway Union into life at the start of the second half, gathering the ball inside her own half and running 60 metres to touch down for a terrific try, which was converted by Clare Ryan.
The game remained level for much of the second period but Lucy O’Sullivan was the player with her hands on the ball when it finally crossed the Galwegians’ line after a period of sustained pressure.
‘Wegians had a final opportunity to at least draw the game with a penalty in the last 30 seconds but a knock-on killed those hopes stone dead, as they fell to a 12-7 defeat.
Railway Union have had to rely on their strength in depth, using 45 players so far this season in the league. Today four graduates of their Under-18 team from 2015 started – Abi Donnelly, Alex Lynch, Lisa Callan and Emma Murphy – and all took the step up confidently.
Meanwhile, Old Belvedere gave UL Bohemians a fright at Anglesea Road but ultimately the league leaders recovered to extend their margin at the top of the table to 19 points and keep their winning streak of 12 wins from 12 league games going.
Lisa Anglim responded for the visitors with a try after Róisín O’Donnell had given Old Belvedere the lead. The hosts went through the phases and strung some lovely popped passes together before O’Donnell finished off.
Then Ireland flanker Anna Caplice, who was the stand-out player for UL Bohemians, struck with the first of two sweetly-taken tries to give her team a 17-7 lead at half-time.
Syphonia Pua handed UL a try-scoring bonus point with her score just after half-time and Áine Staunton added the fifth try to go alongside her two conversions. Staunton stood in for regular place-kicker Edel Murphy, who was called into the Ireland training camp this weekend.
Belvedere redoubled their efforts after Pua’s try and Nikki Fitzsimons deftly evaded three tackles after receiving the ball from Alex White to notch a try for a final scoreline of 29-14 to the visitors.
Gemma Matthews and Maria Kenny, playing together in the centre for the first time for Old Belvedere, impressed along with White, Fitzsimons and Rachel Healey who all, like Matthews, have stepped up from junior level at various points of the season.
Maeve D’Arcy, UL Bohemians’ team manager, praised head coach Mike Storey for his own foresight in developing a wider playing group, explaining: “Mike identified in August that this would be a key time and strength in depth would be needed so we have a second team this season for the first time.
“They train with the first team and both teams play the same way, so that way it is much easier to have a cross-over. It creates competition because if girls are training and playing well enough, they can step into the firsts and that is pushing everyone on.”
ROUND 13 FIXTURES: Sunday, March 5
Kick-off 1pm unless stated –
COOKE (7th) v GALWEGIANS (4th), Shaw’s Bridge
OLD BELVEDERE (3rd) v HIGHFIELD (5th), Anglesea Road
ST. MARY’S (8th) v BLACKROCK (6th), Templeville Road
UL BOHEMIANS (1st) v RAILWAY UNION (2nd), Annacotty
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