By the time referee Daithi Flood blows his whistle to signal the end of the Women’s All-Ireland League final tomorrow at Portlaoise RFC, either UL Bohemians will have extended their record haul to 13 titles in a successful defence, or Old Belvedere will have wrestled back the trophy as four-time champions.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE FINAL: Saturday, April 21
UL BOHEMIANS (1st) v OLD BELVEDERE (3rd), Portlaoise RFC, 1pm
* Admission is €;5 for adults, kids (under-16) go free
PROMOTION PLAY-OFF FINAL:
TRALEE v ST. MARY’S, Portlaoise RFC, 12.30pm
Women’s All-Ireland League Form – UL Bohemians: WWWWWWWWLWWWWWW; Old Belvedere: LWLWWLWWWWWWWWW
Women’s All-Ireland League Title Wins – UL Bohemians: 12 (2001/02, 2002/03, 2003/04, 2004/05, 2005/06, 2006/07, 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13, 2016/17); Old Belvedere: 3 (2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16)
Recent League Meetings – Saturday, November 4, 2017: UL Bohemians 26 Old Belvedere 0, University of Limerick 4G pitch; Saturday, January 13, 2018: Old Belvedere 19 UL Bohemians 0, Anglesea Road
Recent League Finals –
Preview: Reigning champions and convincing table-toppers UL Bohemians registered 13 wins and 12 try-scoring bonus points to finish 10 points clear of second-placed Railway Union, who were knocked out by Old Belvedere 10-7 in last weekend’s semi-finals.
UL reached another decider with a 58-8 hammering of depleted Cooke, aided by two tries each from Nicole Cronin, Ireland captain Ciara Griffin and Laura Sheehan. Cronin and Niamh Briggs control matters behind a well-drilled Limerick pack which is marshalled by captain Fiona Hayes, consistently-excellent hooker Gillian Bourke and Griffin.
Both clubs had new coaches to get used to this season – Sean Fitzpatrick at UL and Josh Brown at ‘Belvo – and loosehead prop Hayes, who skippered Bohs to a league and cup double last year, is quietly confident about keeping the league silverware in Munster.
“We’re expecting a big game against Old ‘Belvo. We’ve played them the last three years in a row (in finals), it’s going to be a very physical game,” she said. “We both pride ourselves on our set piece and it’s going to be seen dominantly, I think, in the game, but also we’ve both got expansive back-lines. So I think it’s going to be a good mixture there.
“It’s a big deal for us to defend the title. The year before last, we lost to them by two points (19-17) and it was very, very upsetting. We’ve played them twice this season and it’s one (home) win apiece. To defend it and bring it back to Limerick is going to be something special for us, because as a team, we always say that that AIL Cup belongs down here in Munster.”
Brown’s ‘Belvo side took their time to settle – losing three of their first six league games – but with current and former Ireland internationals of the calibre of Nora Stapleton, Sene Naoupu, Elise O’Byrne White, Sharon Lynch and the retiring Sophie Spence to the fore, the Dublin 4 club have won their last nine league matches, including that battle-hardening semi-final defeat of Railway.
Impressive new winger Ailbhe Dowling ran in an intercept try and vastly-experienced out-half Stapleton, so many times a match winner for ‘Belvo when they were three in-a-row champions (2013/14 to 2015/16), slotted the decisive penalty.
Belvedere tighthead and captain Fiona O’Brien, who will pack down opposite her UL counterpart Hayes, commented: “These are the weeks you want to be involved in. We’re really looking forward to it, it’s our fifth year in a row (challenging for the title) and after losing it last year, we’re looking to get it back. Bohs are formidable opposition and they’ve been the form side in the league this year. They have a strong squad and we know what they’ll bring, so it’s up to us to bring our game, knowing how they play too.
“There’s a really dedicated group of girls who have been around for a few years now, and they’ve really been looking after the club. I think that’s why Old Belvedere have been so successful in continually producing top class players.”
Saturday’s showpiece day for the Women’s domestic game in Portlaoise also includes the All-Ireland League promotion play-off final between Tralee and a Paula Fitzpatrick-inspired St. Mary’s, kicking off at 12.30pm on the second pitch. The winners will replace Tullamore in the eight-team league next season.
IrishRugby.ie Predictions: UL Bohemians & St. Mary’s to win
UL BOHEMIANS Squad: Anna Caplice, Hayley Betts, Tara McCarthy, Fiona Hayes (capt), Gillian Bourke, Fiona Reidy, Sara Hartigan, Aoife O’Sullivan, Edel Murphy, Sorcha Holohan, Chloe Pearse, Ciara Griffin, Clodagh O’Halloran, Stephanie Nunan, Syphonia Pua, Rachel Allen, Mairead Kelly, Aine Staunton, Niamh Kavanagh, Laura O’Mahony, Helen McDermott, Laura Sheehan, Claire Keohane, Niamh Briggs, Nicole Cronin.
OLD BELVEDERE: Maria Kenny; Ailbhe Dowling, Elise O’Byrne White, Sene Naoupu, Gemma Matthews; Nora Stapleton, Kathryn Dane; Linda Djougang, Stephanie Barman, Fiona O’Brien (capt), Oonagh Hynes, Roisin O’Donnell, Lesley Ring, Franziska Klappoth, Sharon Lynch.
Replacements: Jennie Finlay, Grace McCormack, Jan Carroll, Sophie Spence, Ellen Murphy, Aine Donnelly, Alex White.
Referee: Daithi Flood (IRFU)