Railway Union head into Saturday’s Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division final as defending champions, despite it being three years since they lifted the trophy.
It’s a unique situation for the Dublin club. Grainne O’Loughlin wasn’t part of the squad that won their maiden title in April 2019 – she was an intercounty footballer with her native Sligo until she picked up a rugby ball for the first time in September 2019.
“2019/20 was my first season and we were on track for the final,” she told IrishRugby.ie.
“And then it just stopped. The next season didn’t really get going at all but since May 2021, we’ve been in Railway Union three times a week and this is what it’s all been about.”
Cavan native Keelin Brady was still playing at age grade level in 2019 so looking forward to an AIL final is a new experience for her too.
“This was the big picture,” she said. “This is what we were working towards when we were training on zoom during lock down and now that it’s finally here you can really see the excitement in the squad.”
“It’s been a long road for us. We’re definitely not the same team that finished in 2019. There’s people who have come and gone, others are injured and aren’t involved. You can see the depth that’s in our team and there’s such an excitement.”
The final game for Railway before they face Blackrock College in Saturday’s decider was, by coincidence, a final round-robin game against Blackrock College.
Railway held back a number of front line players and handed out three AIL debuts in a 39-7 defeat.
“I think you could see we used it to give girls rests and girls who needed minutes in their legs got them and were able to put their hand up for selection for Saturday,” says O’Loughlin. I think JC [Director of Rugby John Cronin] is going to have a bit of a selection headache.”
“The main focus for us as players is just getting onto the team sheet. We’ve been 35 and 40 girls going for 23 places. Everyone is bringing something special to it.”
Brady say it makes for a really positive atmosphere.
“Our whole mojo is just about making each other better. It doesn’t matter who you are or what level you are. The younger girls can push the internationals and vice versa. We’re always putting pressure on each other in good ways to get there and our squad is very cohesive.”
Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division Finals:
Saturday, February 26 –
Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division Final, Blackrock College v Railway Union, Energia Park, 7.30pm
Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division Conference Final, Suttonians v Galwegians, Energia Park, 4.45pm
Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division 3rd-4th Place Play-Off, UL Bohemian v Old Belvedere, Energia Park, 2pm