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Women’s All-Ireland League: Semi-Final Previews

Women’s All-Ireland League: Semi-Final Previews

The business end of an enthralling Women’s All-Ireland League season is upon us, and two sparkling semi-finals are scheduled for Saturday. Reigning champions UL Bohemians take on Belfast’s Cooke, while a Dublin derby between Railway Union and Old Belvedere will provide thrills and spills in Sandymount, writes Michael Gallagher.


RAILWAY UNION (2nd) v OLD BELVEDERE (3rd), Park Avenue, 2.30pm

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The meeting of these south Dublin rivals promises to be an absolute thriller. Both sides are capable of playing great rugby and scoring lots of tries, so a large crowd is expected to witness what could be the game of the season.

Old Belvedere have been building up a nice head of steam in recent weeks and will look to their blend of experience and youth to secure them a ticket to the decider. They are well capable of grinding out results too as they did last weekend against Cooke when emerging as 10-5 winners in poor weather conditions.

‘Belvo will look to the likes of Ailbhe Dowling, Elise O’Byrne White and former Ireland international Nora Stapleton to find the scores, while the power of Fiona O’Brien, Sophie Spence, Linda Djougang and the rest of the pack will create openings.
Of course, Railway Union will be hoping none of this occurs and their director of rugby John Cronin says his side is relishing the tie. “We’ve worked hard all year and days like this are what you play for,” he said. “There has been a lot of chopping and changing with players involved in the Ireland 15s and Sevens squads, but we’re all back together again now and looking forward to the big game at the weekend.

“Training has been going well with up to 40 players there every night. The girls know if they’re going well at training they’ll be picked and everyone has bought into that. We’re looking forward to the ‘Belvo game and know that they’ll pose a huge challenge to us, but I have great faith in my team.”
Railway captain Meg Kendal faces a late fitness test for the semi-final clash. The influential skipper, one of the standout players in the league this year, is struggling with an ankle injury but is named to start.

The Railway side has a settled look about it, with Lindsay Peat (pictured above), Cliodhna Moloney and Katie O’Dwyer making up a dynamic front row that claimed six tries between them against Galwegians in the final round last weekend. 

Aoife McDermott and Siobhan McCarthy provide a balanced second row partnership and are flanked by the in-form Emma Taylor and Grainne Egan. Eighteen-year-old Daisy Earle is recalled to the number 8 spot and will be expected to do damage with ball in hand.
Ireland international half-backs Larissa Muldoon and Nikki Caughey lead a dangerous back-line containing Kendal, the evergreen Emer O’Mahony, and Ireland Sevens internationals Susan Vaughan, Niamh Byrne and Chloe Blackmore.
Such is Railway’s back-line strength that Ailsa Hughes and Kim Flood, starters in this year’s Women’s Six Nations campaign, have to settle for places on the bench. They will be joined by youngsters Aimee Clarke, Meaghan Kenny and Kate McCarthy (twin sister of Siobhan), plus the experienced trio of Shirley Corcoran, Melissa Slevin and Aoife Maher.  
Railway Union and Old Belvedere have met three times this year, with Railway winning both their outings at home and they will be hoping to repeat the trick on Saturday afternoon.
UL BOHEMIANS (1st) v COOKE (4th), University of Limerick 4G pitch, 3pm

Reigning champions UL Bohemians host Cooke in Limerick on Saturday at 3pm and while seasoned analysts back them, the home side are taking nothing for granted. Bohemians team manager Kate Kirby is looking forward to the big game, saying: “We love hosting Cooke again in Limerick. It’s always good to have a home fixture.

“Our international players are back in the squad and they’ll add greatly to the group of girls who have done Trojan work carrying us through all season. We’re sure it’ll be a very exciting close game and Cooke are not to be underestimated for a second.

“They’re a strong and clever team who will always show up on the day. We’ve been training hard and we are backing ourselves totally, but we’ve learned a lot this season. The heartbreak of losing the recent cup final to Railway is still in the head, but we’ve had a great season really up to now.

“We have a few new young players with amazing potential and long-standing players just progressing massively as the season went on. This makes next season very exciting both on the pitch and off the pitch, which sounds a bit mad in the run-up to a league semi-final, but you always have to be thinking ahead,” added Kirby, before taking us behind the scenes in the champions’ group.

“There’s always great craic in the Bohs camp. Bus journeys are the best when new players have to sing songs to be initiated into the group. I can tell you there’s been a few interesting song choices along the way.

“To say they were great ice-breakers would be an understatement! As a group we are an incredibly tight-knit rugby family – you couldn’t find better – and that makes it so enjoyable for everyone involved.”

The opposition are equally ebullient. The Cooke crew have grown into a group of close friends thanks to their exploits both on and off the pitch, according to their hard-working forward Sorcha Mac Laimhin.

“Back in September we set out a series of goals and have achieved nearly all of them – finishing top four, making the semi-final of the All Ireland Cup and winning all but two of our home matches,” she admitted. “We’ve encountered some serious barriers along the way, but our determination, resilience and hard work has seen us through to the AIL semi-finals for the first time in over a decade.

“We are so proud to have had three of our members included in the Women’s World Cup and Six Nations squads – an incredible achievement. We also had over 20 players involved in the Ulster Women’s squad for the 2017/18 Interprovincial Championship..

“Lastly, we are delighted to have developed a seconds XV this year and have seen some young players making it onto our first team through that development pathway.

“This week we look forward to another tough match against UL Bohs and plan to throw everything that we have into the game. We play for each other, we play for our mates and we play because (former Ireland international) Eliza Downey (pictured above) will yell at us if we don’t!,” she added with a smile.