Maeve Óg O’Leary was central to Blackrock College’s strong start to the Top Four series as they shut out Old Belvedere 16-0 at Stradbrook.
The battle for the Energia Women’s All-Ireland League title has intensified with the country’s leading four clubs going head-to-head over five rounds, ahead of the February 26 final.
Blackrock kicked off with a Dublin derby and Hannah O’Connor’s well-struck sixth-minute penalty, following a strong scrum, edged them ahead.
Sene Naoupu’s slick hands released Elise O’Byrne-White through a gap, but Old Belvedere were unable to take advantage of a promising attack.
‘Rock were clinical on the half hour mark, quick hands, including some deft work by lock Mairead Holohan, getting the ball wide for full-back Natasja Behan to touch down.
21-year-old flanker O’Leary took centre stage barely two minutes into the second half. She shrugged off Fiona Tuite’s tackle and showed her pace and power to score in the left corner.
The recent Ireland cap turned in an all-action display, and despite some impressive defending from ‘Belvo, Ciara O’Dwyer’s yellow card for offside was punished with a clinching three-pointer from O’Connor.
UL Bohemians led twice at Railway Union, inspired by centre Rachel Allen’s try, but converted efforts from Lindsay Peat, a late call-up at number 8, and captain Niamh Byrne saw the reigning champions prevail 14-10.
Bohs laid down a marker with a brilliantly-crafted opening try, the ball worked back infield from a Railway clearance kick and Nicole Cronin did well to release the strong-running Enya Breen from halfway.
Breen broke up to the 22 and linked neatly with the supporting Allen who managed to step inside the covering Ailsa Hughes and score under the posts. Out-half Cronin converted for a 7-0 lead.
Railway squared things up for half-time, though, as Amanda McQuade fed Peat off a lineout maul and the 41-year-old broke a tackle and charged over to the left of the posts. Nikki Caughey added the levelling kick.
Cronin right-footed the Red Robins back in front from the tee, but Railway produced the stronger finish with Peat having a crucial role in the decisive try.
The home forwards bashed away in the 22, earning a penalty which Peat took quickly. She carried up close to the line and before Bohs could get numbers wide, Molly Scuffil-McCabe and Caughey flashed passes out for Byrne to score near the right corner.
Number 10 Caughey showed her place-kicking class with a brilliant conversion to make it a four-point game. The near left-hand post denied her a penalty goal with the final kick of a thoroughly entertaining game.
Galwegians lead the Conference table after a 36-3 bonus point success away to Wicklow. Ireland-capped out-half Nicole Fowley crossed the whitewash and kicked three conversions, with busy flanker Lisa-Marie Murphy bagging a brace of tries.
Captain Mairead Coyne put Fowley over for the opening try in the right corner, and despite some good covering by Ella Roberts in the back-field, Wicklow were unable to avoid conceding a second early five-pointer.
Murphy reacted quickest to tap a penalty and storm over from the edge of the hosts’ 22. Wicklow had some decent possession and territory but emerged scoreless after turning down a kickable penalty.
‘Wegians absorbed the pressure and added a late breakaway effort, taking a 17-0 half-time lead after Coyne darted down the left touchline and her well-timed offload released Rhiann Heery for the line.
Despite losing blindside Katelyn Bourke to the sin bin and leaking three points to Wicklow’s Beth Roberts, the Blue Belles kicked on in the second half with three more tries.
With Wicklow lock Caitlin Griffey yellow carded, Jarrad Butler’s charges took advantage when centre Ursula Sammon wormed her way over.
In response, Wicklow prop Lauren Barry was held up as their forwards battered away. ‘Wegians managed a late flourish, the elusive Orla Dixon cutting inside Ella Roberts’ tackle for a 30-metre run-in.
Fowley converted before Murphy raided over to complete a sweeping move involving both backs and forwards.
Meanwhile, a well-taken Emily McKeown double helped Suttonians run out convincing 37-13 winners at Cooke, while Ballincollig won on the road for the first time this season, pipping Malone 17-15 in a gripping encounter at Gibson Park.
It was three tries apiece in the end, Holly Brannigan and Heather Kennedy both touching down twice but experienced Ballincollig forward Denise Redmond managed to convert her own try to split the teams.
In overcast and wet conditions, pacy Ballincollig winger Kennedy broke the deadlock in the 11th minute, slicing in between to defenders to score wide on the right.
Ballincollig defended stoutly to avoid a quick-fire reply, but they failed to deal with a dangerous kick through from Ella Durkan, the end result being a try in the right corner from Malone full-back Brannigan.
However, just before half-time, ‘Collig half-backs Gemma Lane and Kelly Griffin worked hard to get the ball wide again and Kennedy ran in an almost carbon-copy of her first try.
Malone seized control on the resumption, building pressure with Brannigan just foiled by a great cover tackle by Griffin before Alexa Grudgings lost the ball forward in the act of scoring, with Kennedy and Lane getting the defensive plaudits.
The Cregagh Red Sox kept pressing and were rewarded when good hands across the back-line released replacement Jill Stephens to score and make it 10-all.
Back came the Cork outfit, scrum half Lane’s clever kick dangled through for Kennedy to gather. The forwards carried up closer before Redmond barged over from a few metres out.
The second row showed her prowess with the boot, adding the conversion from the right, and it was a vital kick in the end as Brannigan brilliantly raided over just a couple of minutes later, only to miss the conversion.
Ballincollig went on to dominate the closing stages, pinning Malone back in their own half and a final choke tackle sealed a gritty victory for the recently-promoted club.
‘Collig head coach Fiona Hayes was delighted with the result, saying: “It’s a great win on the road against an exciting Malone side. A great start to the New Year for us.
“We are constantly building and looking forward to next week’s game already (away to Wicklow).”