The Women’s All-Ireland League resumes this weekend with some intriguing clashes as the business end of the season comes into view, writes Michael Gallagher. The fact that many players are unavailable due to international preparations adds uncertainty and spice to the games.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – ROUND 9: Sunday, January 14
Kick-off 1pm unless stated –
OLD BELVEDERE (3rd) v UL BOHEMIANS (1st), Anglesea Road, Saturday, 5pm
The opening game of the weekend sees Old Belvedere host the table toppers and reigning champions UL Bohemians at 5pm tomorrow. The home side will be hoping to repeat the excellent form shown in their last two league outings when they scorched past Highfield in back-to-back encounters.
Those victories, which saw them amass a combined 97 points, will have given Belvedere a huge mid-season and they will relish the challenge posed by familiar rivals Bohemians in this one.
However, Bohs will be a completely different challenge and come to Anglesea Road undefeated and bristling with confidence. Their final game of 2017 saw them overcome Railway Union 12-0 in a top of the table clash, and they will be looking for nothing less than another victory on this occasion.
The Limerick women will have a number of changes to their regular line-up as they have players tied up in Ireland camp, but the replacements will be champing at the bit to stake a claim for the jersey.
BLACKROCK (6th) v TULLAMORE (5th), Stradbrook
Sunday sees Tullamore head to Stradbrook looking to record their third win on the bounce. Back-to-back victories over Galwegians before the Christmas break has left the midlanders in confident mood, however, sixth-placed Blackrock are determined to get back to winning ways.
The Dubliners have been working hard and their team has evolved positively over the course of the season. Hannah O’Connor looks set to continue her move from centre to the back row, and Méabh Donohoe is returning from injury with the former Leinster Under-18 starlet ready to demonstrate her skill-set from out-half.
Also set to make her return is Alannah Byrne and Blackrock are looking to put the underage Ireland Touch representative into space as often as possible. A huge effort will be required by the ‘Rock pack in order to attain a positive result this weekend, but they are well capable of victory.
Meanwhile, Colin Hughes has been preparing his charges in Tullamore, confident that they can continue their good run. The sides were very closely-matched when they met earlier in the campaign and the Offaly side, who lost 40-20 on that occasion, come into this game in fine form.
“We had fine performances from Kate Conway, Shannon Touhey and Brigid Hyland last week in the cup and we’ll be looking for that to continue on Sunday. We’re also excited to see the continued rise of our new recruit Sinead Rigney as well,” the head coach added.
GALWEGIANS (7th) v COOKE (4th), Crowley Park
The picturesque Crowley Park, overlooking Galway Bay, will host the pivotal encounter between Galwegians and Cooke on Sunday afternoon. Both sides have played fine rugby at various stages of the season with Cooke the better placed, lying fourth in the standings.
Galwegians have promised much in this campaign but results have not reflected their potential and they are hoping for a change of form after the festive period. The westerners come into this game boosted by the fine displays of their players for Connacht in the recent Interprovinicial Championship.
Cooke travel west hoping to record their second win over the ‘Wegians girls this season. The Belfast side are missing a few players who sustained injuries during the Interpros and will line out without second row Hannah Beattie and flanker Gemma McCutcheon.
However, returning to the squad are out-half Jemma Jackson and strong-running Ireland centre Claire McLaughlin, who missed the last two league matches. Winger Sarah Gibson also returns to the squad this week following a long absence due to a leg injury sustained in 2016.
RAILWAY UNION (2nd) v HIGHFIELD (8th), Park Avenue, 2.30pm
The final match of the weekend at 2.30pm on Sunday at Park Avenue sees free-flowing Railway Union host Highfield. Railway recorded a comprehensive 34-5 win over the same opposition in November and will be very hot favourites to emerge victorious again despite missing a number of players due to international commitments.
The hosts make nine changes and a number of positional switches from their last league outing before Christmas because of this. ?Veterans Melissa Slevin and Shirley Corcoran start in the pack, whilst there are first league starts for Meaghan Kenny and Sinead Taylor in the backl-ine.
“This is a challenging period, for sure,” said Railway captain Meg Kendal. “However, one of our goals is to develop players to play for Ireland and we are delighted for our players who’ve been selected for the national sides (15s and Sevens). Their absences allow others to challenge for starting places and we are confident we can get a result on Sunday.”
Railway are one of the few sides who can cope with such changes, with their second XV currently riding high in Leinster League Division 1. The changes make this a tighter call than normal but home advantage should be enough to do it. As always, Highfield will be gallant opponents and will be looking to make a statement of intent as the second half of the season gets underway in earnest.
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