On a special weekend for Women’s rugby, Railway Union were crowned All-Ireland Cup champions after they blasted their way past UL Bohemians thanks to a spectacular second half display at Dubarry Park. Blackrock and Tullamore won their respective Plate and Shield finals, while Old Belvedere ran in four tries to defeat Galwegians in a crucial league game. Michael Gallagher rounds up the action.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND CUP FINALS: Saturday. March 24
CUP FINAL: UL BOHEMIANS 3 RAILWAY UNION 33, Dubarry Park
A cursory look at the final scoreline does not tell the full story of this fiercely-contested All-Ireland Cup final. Defending champions UL Bohemians scored first and were well in the game at half-time before being swamped by the movement, power and precision of Railway Union.
Bohs, who are guaranteed to finish top of the league table, began on the front foot and when Aine Staunton kicked them in front after a Railway infringement, it was hard to imagine it being their last score of the day. However, that is what transpired. Railway cut loose and dominated in almost every sector from then on.
John Cronin’s Railway side were held up twice over the line as they went in search of the opening try, but they would not be denied and, eventually, influential Canadian flanker Emma Taylor got over the whitewash via a quick tap. Ireland 15s and Sevens international Nikki Caughey converted for a 7-3 interval lead.
The second half was all about Railway as they steamrolled their way to victory. They powered forward at every opportunity and their back-line, marshalled by Caughey and Larissa Muldoon, looked dangerous whenever the ball came their way. Winger Emer O’Mahony was next on the scoresheet, finishing smartly out wide, and she was followed over the line by teenage number 8 Daisy Earle who powered over close to the posts.
The well-drilled Dubliners were almost out of reach at that stage and when Ireland Sevens starlet Chloe Blackmore, who showed her attacking abilities from full-back, got the better of two defenders to add another touchdown, there was no way back for Bohemians.
Niamh Byrne put the icing on the cake late in the game, gobbling up a loose UL pass on halfway to run in her side’s fifth try, and the surefooted Caughey added her fourth conversion of the day to seal a 30-point winning margin for the the richly-deserving champions.
PLATE FINAL: ST. MARY’S 19 BLACKROCK 29, Dubarry Park
Blackrock produced a powerful and impressive display in Athlone to overcome a strong St Mary’s team 29-19 and capture the All-Ireland Plate under a sun-splashed sky.
Niamh Griffin set the tone early when she put the Mary’s scrum half under pressure from a five-metre scrum and secured the ball to dart over for the game’s opening score. Mary’s steadied the ship and grew in confidence but three well-struck penalties from Hannah O’Connor gave ‘Rock a 14-5 half-time lead.
The see-saw nature of the match continued after the resumption, Blackock with some good go-forward ball but Mary’s looking threatening with ball in hand. The crucial score of the day arrived in the third quarter, the initial damage seeing recent Ireland new cap Michelle Claffey dance her way through to the five-metre line under tremendous pressure from Mary’s defence.
This allowed Griffin and the pack to get go-forward ball. A combination of hard work by Ann-Marie Rooney and Joanna Mahon, and Griffin’s canny knack of making the right decisions, released goal-kicker O’Connor for her first try of the game with a gargantuan reach. ‘Rock were now 19-5 clear.
They continued to probe for further scores and their third try arrived when captain Claffey broke down the middle and with the Mary’s defence dragged out of position, O’Connor had the task of finishing a great break for her second try and a 19-point advantage.
However, Mary’s are a proud and talented outfit and, as expected, they came back fighting, led by international star Paula Fitzpatrick. The next score stopped any thoughts of a revival, though, and put the result beyond doubt. Alix Doyle swatted down a Mary’s lineout on the 22, before quick thinking and quick hands released Ray Lawless, who turned on the after-burners to secure that all-important try which pushed ‘Rock out of reach.
Credit to Mary’s, they finished strongly with a try right at the death, but it was a case of too little, too late for the Leinster League finalists, and Blackrock, who sit fifth in the All-Ireland League table, proudly took home some prized All-Ireland silverware.
SHIELD FINAL: TULLAMORE 21 RATHDRUM 0, Dubarry Park
Report to follow…
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – ROUND 13: Saturday, March 24
GALWEGIANS 10 OLD BELVEDERE 26, Crowley Park
A well-judged bonus point win for Old Belvedere by the western ocean moved them into second spot in the league table, while defeat on their home patch means second-from-bottom Galwegians remain in relegation trouble with only one round remaining.
Belvedere got on the front foot from the very start and signalled their intent with Munster’s Ellen Murphy excellent at out-half. Murphy and Ulster youngster Kathryn Dane controlled the pack well inside the Galwegians 22, and after many phases of attack, Linda Djougang got over the whitewash.
Team captain Fiona O’Brien and Djougang were performing well in the scrum and matched Galwegians’ power up front. However, the Connacht women were determined to make their mark and got back in the hunt with a try from their New Zealand star Kayla Ahki, who made her Barbarians debut in England last Saturday.
The Sevens specialist’s try was a huge boost to Galwegians and they camped in the visitors’ 22 for the rest of the half but failed to break down an impressive ‘Belvo defensive line. The Dubliners changed tactics in the second half and decided to apply pressure through the boots of Dane and Murphy.
This had an immediate impact and with centres Ailbhe Dowling and Grace Miller very prominent, they pinned Galwegians into their own 22 until Murphy scored her side’s second try via an intercept. That was the turning point and ‘Belvo enjoyed almost complete territorial dominance after that.
Niamh Ni Dhroma soon went in under the posts after a scrum and when Miller added another try, the collective efforts of ‘Belvo had won the day. Océane Plet did get over for ‘Wegians’ second try before the end, but some excellent counters from Belvo’s back-three of Maria Kenny, Clodagh Dunne and Alex Whyte maintained the lead and sent the points back to the capital.