Railway Union retained the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division trophy tonight with a pulsating 24-18 final win over Blackrock College at Energia Park.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE WOMEN’S DIVISION FINAL: Saturday, February 26
BLACKROCK COLLEGE 18 RAILWAY UNION 24, Energia Park
Scorers: Blackrock College: Tries: Hannah O’Connor, Emma Hooban; Con: Meabh Deely; Pens: Meabh Deely 2
Railway Union: Tries: Molly Scuffil-McCabe, Ailsa Hughes 2; Cons: Nikki Caughey 3; Pen: Nikki Caughey
HT: Blackrock College 8 Railway Union 14
Eve Higgins delivered an Energia player-of-the-match performance and her Ireland colleague Ailsa Hughes snapped up a brace of tries as the Sandymount club won just their second ever league crown.
A breathless first half finished 14-8 in Railway’s favour, Molly Scuffil-McCabe and Hughes both touching down with Blackrock’s Hannah O’Connor replying off the back of a scrum.
The defending champions coped well during Katie Heffernan’s sin-binning, Nikki Caughey clipping over a penalty in response to two Meabh Deely kicks.
Into the final quarter, Hughes and Emma Hooban traded tries – Deely added an excellent conversion to restore the six-point gap – but Railway stood firm despite a yellow card for tighthead Katie O’Dwyer.
The pace was a mile-a-minute early on, these south Dublin rivals hurtling into tackles and giving precious little space to out-halves Caughey and Jackie Shiels, in particular.
The breakthrough came in the 14th minute, centre Higgins’ classy break from halfway taking her outside Shiels and her pass inside found the trailing Scuffil-McCabe for a crisp finish to the left of the posts.
The conversion from Caughey made it a seven-pointer, but Blackrock, in their first AIL final since 2014, fired back quickly, Maeve Liston’s determined run taking her up into the Railway 22.
From a scrum on the right, number 8 O’Connor grasped her opportunity to break from the base, evade Emma Murphy and break Caughey’s tackle to give Blackrock the ideal response.
Deely was unable to convert and John Cronin’s well-drilled Railway outfit began the second quarter with another converted score, scrum half Hughes catching ‘Rock napping at a ruck with a terrific burst to the line.
Solid defence from Natasja Behan foiled a Niamh Byrne break, winning a clearing penalty in the process, and further improvements at the breakdown from Dorothy Wall and Katie Fitzhenry earned a kickable penalty for ‘Rock.
A very well-struck 33rd-minute effort from Deely closed the gap to 14-8, but ‘Rock could not profit from Heffernan’s yellow before half-time as Caughey covered a kick through past her own posts.
It was a case of mistaken identity for referee Dan Carson as he binned Heffernan rather than Railway captain Byrne, who had been guilty of catching Behan with a high tackle.
Deely and Caughey exchanged penalties on the resumption, with the Railway scrum delivering the goods at set-piece time. Caughey was short with a subsequent kick as their lead remained at six points.
It looked like a killer blow had been struck in the 63rd minute, Caughey sending Heffernan through the middle and she deftly combined with young replacement Amanda McQuade to send Hughes in behind the posts. Caughey’s conversion made it 24-11.
However, the Blackrock forwards redoubled their efforts, their strong lineout mauling drawing a yellow card for O’Dwyer before the resulting drive ended with hooker Hooban plunging over for their second try.
Ballinasloe youngster Deely coolly converted from the left, making it a six-point game again. Suddenly, ‘Rock were reenergised, Wall striding into Railway territory and their maul carrying an increasing threat.
Crucially, Ben Martin’s charges were penalised for sealing off just a few metres out, allowing Railway to claw back territory. Replacement Anna McGann made a telling break and Railway’s experience of the 2019 final helped them to close out title number two.
BLACKROCK COLLEGE: Natasja Behan; Meabh Deely, Michelle Claffey (capt), Katie Fitzhenry, Maeve Liston; Jackie Shiels, Aoibheann Reilly; Aoife Moore, Emma Hooban, Christy Haney, Eimear Corri, Dorothy Wall, Aoife Wafer, Maeve Óg O’Leary, Hannah O’Connor.
Replacements: Niamh Tester, Meadbh O’Callaghan, Ann-Marie Rooney, Ali Coleman, Meadbh Scally, Emily Lane, Lisa Mullen, Maggie Boylan.
RAILWAY UNION: Molly Scuffil-McCabe; Aoife Doyle, Eve Higgins, Katie Heffernan, Niamh Byrne (capt); Nikki Caughey, Ailsa Hughes; Lindsay Peat, Chloe Blackmore, Katie O’Dwyer, Aoife McDermott, Siobhan McCarthy, Emma Murphy, Claire Boles, Deirdre Roberts.
Replacements: Megan Collis, Amanda McQuade, Keelin Brady, Kate McCarthy, Anna McGann, Grace Moore, Tess Feury, Aoife O’Shaughnessy.
Referee: Dan Carson (IRFU)