Ireland star Paula Fitzpatrick crossed for two tries as St. Mary’s won the Women’s All-Ireland League promotion play-off final 20-10 in Portlaoise, although Tralee’s resilient performance showed that they are also heading in the right direction.
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE PROMOTION PLAY-OFF FINAL: Saturday, April 21
ST. MARY’S 20 TRALEE 10, Portlaoise RFC
Scorers: St. Mary’s: Tries: Paula Fitzpatrick 2, Emma Kiernan; Con: Shayne Richardson; Pen: Shayne Richardson
Tralee: Tries: Riona Kennedy 2
HT: St. Mary’s 15 Tralee 5
Their victory in the midlands means St. Mary’s are straight back at senior level after their relegation from the league last season. Coached by Philip Lynch and Gareth Logan, the recent Leinster Junior League Division 1 champions will replace bottom side Tullamore for the 2018/19 All-Ireland League campaign.
Mary’s were quickest out of the blocks in the promotion decider, Paula Fitzpatrick, who played at centre, breaking through to score at the posts with winger Shayne Richardson converting. They controlled the early possession and were very good in the contact area, while Tralee were put under pressure by Mary’s physicality when they did have the ball.
A second Mary’s try followed when hooker Emma Kiernan touched down from a well-executed lineout maul, and Richardson added a penalty before Tralee built some momentum before half-time. Adopting a more open and expansive game-plan, the Kerry women profited from some good ball skills and line breaks to notch an unconverted try through former skipper Riona Kennedy.
Trailing 15-5 at the break, Sean Brosnan’s charges made it a five-point game early in the second half as the increasingly-influential Kennedy completed her brace after St. Mary’s full-back Scholastique Veyssiere had been sin-binned for not rolling away quickly enough.
However, Mary’s managed to recover their poise and a good even contest was played out for the remainder, with only dogged defending preventing tries at both ends of the pitch. The game was won and lost when Tralee were turned over in attack and Mary’s broke downfield, eventually scoring through Fitzpatrick to give themselves a winning cushion of 10 points.
Although disappointed with the result, Tralee head coach Brosnan is optimistic about the squad’s immediate future and their potential to gain promotion next year. “I came into the role in January this year, which was over halfway through the season. We’ve a very small playing squad and rarely have more than 18 players available for games due to work commitments and players living away from Tralee.
“So, considering how few games we had this season and the size of our panel, along with a change of coaching style, I feel we did extremely well. With this in mind, our aim is go one better and qualify next year. Tralee Ladies are hoping to build from this season.
“We looked at this game as a guide to see the level that we require to be at to progress to the next stage. We’re always looking for new players to join us from all ages. We find the lure to more established senior clubs for a lot of young ambitious ladies within the area, is something we are finding hard to compete with.
“Hopefully with us showing that we’re also looking at promoting ourselves and getting Tralee Ladies to the next level will encourage more ambitious players to join. We work closely with the Listowel girls rugby section and are establishing a good relationship with them, and this in time will hopefully increase our playing numbers immensely.”
WOMEN’S ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – 2018/19 TEAMS:
UL Bohemians (champions)
Old Belvedere (runners-up)
Railway Union (beaten semi-finalists)
Cooke (beaten semi-finalists)
St. Mary’s (promotion play-off winners)