As focus turns towards the fifth round of the Women’s All-Ireland League, many eyes will be on Park Avenue on Saturday afternoon where one of the biggest clashes of the season kicks off at 2pm, writes Michael Gallagher.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – ROUND 5: October 21-22
Saturday, October 21 –
RAILWAY UNION (2nd) v UL BOHEMIANS (1st), Park Avenue, 2pm
Reigning champions UL Bohemians travel to the capital to take on free-scoring Railway Union in a contest which will showcase all that is good in the domestic Women’s game.
As well as being a top of the table clash between the only two unbeaten teams in the league, it will also be very much a family occasion with sisters Emer and Laura O’Mahony lining out on opposite sides – Emer with Railway and Laura in the UL Bohs colours.
The Dalton family are prominent members of both clubs and it is a short three weeks since the sad passing of former UL Bohemians President Joe Dalton. This will be a poignant first meeting of the clubs since Joe’s death and a minute’s silence will be observed before kick-off.
Railway have made two changes in personnel for Saturday’s showdown, with Emer O’Mahony coming in on the right wing and Ireland Sevens international Niamh Byrne returning to the left wing berth.
Leinster squad member Juliet Short makes her first appearance of the season on a beefed-up Railway bench, which also contains Lucy Sullivan, Ireland Under-18 sevens starlet Aimee Clarke, and dynamic ball-carrying prop Katie O’Dwyer.
These sides played each other four times last season, with one draw and three games where there was just two points separating them on each occasion. Another closely-fought game is in the offing on Saturday and Railway Union captain Meg Kendal is looking forward to it.
“UL Bohs have long been the standard bearers for Women’s rugby on this island and are a club we admire and one we aspire to. However, there’s great confidence and excitement within our group knowing the style of rugby we can play,” she said.
“We have been training well and were very good at times against Blackrock last weekend. We’re happy that we’ve been improving in every game, adding something new to our game-plan every time. We’ve tremendous competition for places and some serious players miss out this week. We’re in a good place and it’s going to be a great game. We can’t wait for Saturday.”
Meanwhile, the word coming from the Bohs camp is equally encouraging with team manager Kate Kirby stating that they’re traveling to Dublin with quiet confidence and a great sense of anticipation.
“In my opinion, this is the most exciting fixture of the season so far. We’re incredibly focused and looking for a win, which will separate us even further at the top of the table,” she said.
“This is always a tough fixture and could go either way, but we’re confident that our squad will do the job. I don’t think there will be much change in our line-up from last week, but we’ll be keeping our cards close to our chest until nearer kick-off.”
Sunday, October 22 –
GALWEGIANS (7th) v HIGHFIELD (5th), Crowley Park, 1pm
Galwegians will be hoping that home advantage gets them full points against Highfield. Both teams are still in the starting blocks somewhat, boasting one win apiece from four outings, so victory at Crowley Park will be crucial.
Recent bragging rights lie with the Connacht side after All-Ireland Cup final wins over the Cork women in 2012 and 2014, but ‘Wegians manager Natalie Fox knows that this weekend’s result will have major ramifications on the current league campaign.
“We’re looking for a big response from the players but crucial to this is ball security. We have been too guilty too often this season of surrendering prime possession in attack and must improve on this,” said Fox.
Coaches Bundee Aki, Luke O’Donnell and Karol Collins will be anxiously watching the action to see whether concentrated midweek toil on the training pitch pays off for Galwegians on Sunday.
Norita Duggan’s Highfield come into the match on the back of a disappointing narrow loss to Cooke last weekend. They will be determined to get back to winning ways and are no strangers to winning on the road after overcoming Tullamore on their travels three weeks ago.
OLD BELVEDERE (4th) v BLACKROCK (6th), Anglesea Road, 1pm
A much-anticipated Dublin derby pits Blackrock against Old Belvedere at Anglesea Road on Sunday afternoon. ‘Rock are determined to get back to winning ways after last week’sreversal at the hands of Railway Union, and team captain Michelle Claffey says they are looking forward to the challenge.
“We’ve regrouped following last weekend’s loss and preparation has been good this week. We’re excited about Sunday’s game and want to get back out on the pitch and get back to winning ways,” said Claffey.
Old Belvedere come into this encounter on the back of a big victory last time out against Tullamore and head coach Josh Brown is looking for another big performance.
“We’re trying out new combinations week to week and are lucky to have so many players who offer a different dynamic to our game,” said Brown. “We’re well aware that ‘Rock are a dangerous team. They’ve got an electric back-line and can break through any piece of grass whether it be from their own half through Eimear Corri or around the fringes through Niamh Griffin, so we’ve worked hard on our defensive shape to minimise this.
“We know that we let ourselves down previously against Railway and Cooke by giving away crucial penalties at the ruck, so we’re looking for a vast improvement in this department on Sunday.”
TULLAMORE (8th) v COOKE (3rd), Spollanstown, 1pm
Tullamore’s quest for their first win of the campaign continues on home soil on Sunday. The Offaly women have been competitive in every match to date, but have yet to experience that winning feeling.
Head coach Colin Hughes is looking for another solid performance from his side, admitting: “We’re very excited about this match. We feel we’re improving every time we go out and certainly believe this is another match where we can be very competitive.
“Our set pieces were much-improved last week and we will be looking to continue that progression on Sunday. Already this season, we have seen excellent performances from our forwards, particularly Emer Phelan, Nichola Fryday and Katie Murray, and hopefully we can capitalise more on these good performances.”
However, Cooke will arrive in Tullamore buoyed by their hard-fought victory over Highfield in the fourth round. The Belfast women are determined to cement their spot in the upper echelons of the table, but are only too aware of the hosts’ hunger for a debut win.
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