One of the biggest games of the Women’s All-Ireland season takes place in Limerick on Saturday afternoon when Railway Union, who have reclaimed top spot, travel to defending champions UL Bohemians, writes Michael Gallagher.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – ROUND 10: Sunday, January 21
Kick-off 1pm unless stated –
UL BOHEMIANS (2nd) v RAILWAY UNION (1st), University of Limerick 4G pitch, Saturday, 2pm
UL Bohemians’ unbeaten run was ended last weekend when they went down 19-0 to Old Belvedere, and Railway took full advantage by hammering Highfield 67-0 to replace the Red Robins at the summit.
Whether the Dubliners, who lead the way on scoring difference, can stay top of the table remains to be seen, but Saturday’s much-anticipated meeting will have a huge impact on the rest of the league campaign.
Both sides go into this game with a number of frontline players unavailable due to Ireland’s Six Nations warm-up match in Wales and Ireland Women’s Sevens squad’s departure to Sydney for the next World Series tournament.
This may have a telling effect on the result, with Bohemians having eight players in Wales and two in Sydney while Railway have 10 with the Six Nations squad and six in Australia.
Neither side will allow this deflect from the business at hand and Railway travel south to Limerick with Katelyn Faust making her debut in the starting XV, while Aoife O’Shaughnessy and Thurles’ Christine Coffey, who are both only 18, are in line for their senior bows as replacements.
Railway captain Meg Kendal is confident that her squad is good enough to win away to Bohs, saying: “Some of our younger players have been putting their hands up in training and with their performances with our seconds team. They now have the opportunity to show what they can do on Saturday.
“We were a bit rusty last week (against Highfield), as we hadn’t played together in seven weeks, and that game will stand to us. We’re confident that we can get a result on Saturday and maintain our position at the top of the league.”
Those words will be noted on Shannonside and the title holders will be driven by a huge sense of determination to regain their lead position. They have prepared well all week and are looking forward to testing themselves against Railway Union, despite the fact that both sides will be a long way from their strongest starting line-ups.
COOKE (4th) v TULLAMORE (7th), Shaw’s Bridge, Saturday, 5pm
Both sides come into this tie driven by a desire to make up for last weekend’s setbacks. Cooke left Galway with nothing to show for their efforts in a 22-21 loss to Galwegians, while Tullamore went down by a single point to Blackrock at Stradbrook.
The clubs’ previous meeting this season in Offaly saw Cooke win by 20 points but Tullamore are a much-improved side since then. Cooke are still troubled by illness, injury and unavailability, but have named a strong side for this match, which allows for squad rotation. Veteran play-maker Eliza Downey will be keen to make an impact off the bench.
There is still plenty of experience in the midfield, as partnering youngster Brittany Hogan will be Amy Graham, who will look to use her pace and experience. Jemma Jackson returns at out-half alongside Swedish international Frida Nilsson, who continues her progression into a dynamic and threatening scrum half.
With Ilse van Staden on duty with the Ireland squad in Wales, former Blackrock prop Karla Dunne will start in a front row which also includes Lesley Megarity, who makes the move back to hooker after half a season at flanker.
The Belfast outfit will want captain Beth Cregan and fellow back rowers Gemma McCutcheon and Lauren Magennis to cause havoc at the breakdown and in the loose, while Sorcha Mac Laimhin, who holds an ever-commanding presence in the second row, is another player to watch out for.
Tullamore travel north in determined mood according to head coach Colin Hughes. “We’re looking forward to the weekend and our first trip to Belfast. We were very good in the second half last week and came very close to the win, so we have a bit of confidence going up,” he admitted.
“Rose Dunne, Ciara Farrell and Jill Draper were very impressive last week and will be looking to continue their form. Former Under-18 players, Sarah Jane O’Connor and Robyn Maher, had their first All-Ireland League outings last week and showed up very well.
“Roisin Feighery is back this weekend which will bolster our back row. We know Cooke have very good players so it should be a good contest.”
BLACKROCK (5th) v OLD BELVEDERE (3rd), Stradbrook
Sunday’s Dublin derby brings together two sides who enjoyed thrilling victories in the last round. Blackrock won an epic tussle with Tullamore (23-22), while Old Belvedere turned over the champions UL Bohs by 19 points. Those results set this match up nicely with both teams hoping to continue their good form.
Josh Brown, the Old Belvedere head coach, is looking forward to the clash and will be unveiling some new partnerships on the day. “Our half-back partnership of Ulster’s Kathryn Dane and Munster’s Ellen Murphy will be dangerous around the fringes with quick attacking ball, and if the supply is good then we’ll be looking for players such as Elise O’Byrne-White to break the line,” he said.
“We’re hoping that Fiona O’Brien, our tighthead prop and captain, will lead her team to a third successive win of the New Year as we build towards the league and cup semi-finals..”
Hosts ‘Rock will be in no mood to accommodate Belvedere’s victory roll, and after last week’s hard-fought success, the Stradbrook women will look to take that momentum into this week’s fixture. Again, there are some positional changes for ‘Rock this week as a result of squad unavailability.
However, this will not deter the team, especially with former Ireland international Emer McManamly looking to dominate in the front row and Mairead Holohan leading the charge from her number 8 position.
Forwards coach Joe Halpin acknowledged that even with the difficult weather this week, the facilities in Blackrock have enabled the squad to continue to work hard on their set piece game with their preparations unhampered.
HIGHFIELD (8th) v GALWEGIANS (6th), Woodleigh Park
Bottom side Highfield are keeping their cards close to their chest this week and saying very little as they prepare for the visit of Galwegians. The Cork women were very disappointed with last weekend’s 67-point defeat to Railway and have been preparing solidly for this pivotal clash on home soil.
Galwegians have a spring in their step after their 22-12 victory against Cooke last time out but travel to Cork for this crunch tie missing several experienced players due to Ireland’s Six Nations preparations.
West coast weather patterns since Christmas have afforded few opportunities to fling a ball any further than the out-half, whether in match or practice settings, but Galwegians are seeking to unleash their outside backs this weekend in the sunny south and will be hoping to return west with a precious third triumph of the campaign.
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