The first Dublin derby of the new Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division season is down for decision on Saturday, while an Ella Roberts-captained Wicklow team have home advantage against UL Bohemians.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE WOMEN’S DIVISION – ROUND 3:
Saturday, September 24
Kick-off 5pm unless stated –
WICKLOW (7th) v UL BOHEMIANS (6th), Ashtown Lane, 3pm
21-year-old full-back Ella Roberts will captain Wicklow for the first time when they entertain a UL Bohemians side hurting from opening defeats to Old Belvedere and Railway Union.
Roberts, who scored a terrific individual try against Blackrock College during the first round, takes the captaincy reins from player coach Niamh Ni Dhroma who unfortunately misses the game due to illness.
Going one better than the last time, Wicklow will have an amazing six sets of sisters involved in tomorrow’s match with replacements Saoirse and Naoise O’Reilly joining the Roberts, Schmidt, Stone, Molloy and Griffey siblings in the squad.
Head coach Jason Moreton, who welcomes back Ireland Sevens starlet Vicky Elmes Kinlan at outside centre, commented: “We were delighted with the way the team performed against Blackrock. We ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes, ‘Rock brought on some class players off the bench.
“We competed well for 65 minutes before they scored three late tries. We’re happy with the squad and are hoping for a similar performance.”
Meanwhile, talented Tipperary teenager Kate Flannery (pictured below) steps up for her All-Ireland League debut having been selected to start at out-half by UL Bohemians head coach Niamh Briggs.
Flannery was capped by Ireland at Under-18 level earlier this year, in both 15s and Sevens, and is a member of the IRFU Women’s National Talent Squad. Most recently she played for Munster in the U-18 Girls Interprovincial Championship.
Abbie Salter-Townshend partners the 18-year-old Flannery at half-back, with the other Bohs changes seeing Brianna Heylmann, another WNTS player, lining out in midfield, and Eilis Cahill and Lily Brady are both added to the pack.
“We’re hoping to be consistent across these opening three weeks in terms of level of intensity,” said the Red Robins’ team manager Carol O’Sullivan.
“We’ve focused on improving week to week so tomorrow will be a good challenge to see if we’ve achieved that. We’re expecting a huge challenge from Wicklow. They were really competitive against Blackrock.
“It’s a big day for Wicklow who are getting the chance to celebrate their AIL status (with a function afterwards) – that will add to their motivation and the occasion. We’re delighted to be a part of it and looking to embrace the challenge.”
GALWEGIANS (3rd) v COOKE (8th), Crowley Park, 2.30pm
Former Ireland international Mairéad Coyne and Laoise McGonagle, a bright prospect with an athletics background who only took up rugby last year, return to Galwegians’ starting XV as they look to go three games unbeaten.
They admittedly had ‘mixed emotions’ last Saturday after fighting back for a draw at Suttonians having led 24-7 at half-time. A much more rounded performance is the goal when Cooke come calling to Glenina.
‘Wegians head coach Eoghan Maher retains Maria Gorham at full-back, so Coyne slots in at outside centre beside Emma Keane. In a settled Blue Belles pack, second row Grace Browne Moran comes in for her first start of the season.
“We’ve taken a lot of learnings from letting Suttonians back into that game,” said ‘Wegians team manager Lisa Anglim. “We’re looking to finish out this block strong before the week’s break.
“One of our main focus points for this year was our home games and continuing to make Crowley Park a difficult place to travel to. Cooke have long been one of our toughest fixtures.
“We will be looking to match their experienced pack. They play a good offloading game and that has been a focus for us this week in training.”
Former Ireland dual international Ashleigh Orchard features at out-half in the Cooke team to start out west. Vice-captain Hannah Downey partners her at half-back after running the Belfast Half Marathon last week.
Dolores Hughes, their try scorer at Blackrock, Lucy Thompson, Cara O’Kane and Stacey Sloan are also handed starts as Colm Finnegan’s charges look to build momentum heading towards their first run-out at Shaw’s Bridge next Friday.
“It was a very positive second half performance (against Blackrock) and if we can cut out errors, we can continue that improvement this weekend,” said head coach Finnegan.
“Gemma McCamley had a number of strong carries last week on her return after a year out injured. Kelly McCormill was strong on both sides of the ball to give us a good platform.
“Our aim is to be more clinical in attack and reduce our error count. Next week will be exciting, our first home match, but most important is this weekend’s performance and taking that next step forward.”
OLD BELVEDERE (2nd) v SUTTONIANS (5th), Ollie Campbell Park
The first Dublin derby of the new season and Johnny Garth says his Old Belvedere team are in for a ‘stern test’ from Suttonians, last year’s Conference champions, who are chasing a big scalp at Ollie Campbell Park.
The Belvedere back-line includes four members of last season’s U-18 Interprovincial title-winning Leinster squad. One of them, Éadaoin Murtagh, steps up for her first start, replacing the injured Clare Gorman (wrist) on the left wing.
Aoife Dalton pairs up with Jenny Murphy in the centre – incredibly, Dalton was only nine years of age when Murphy won the Grand Slam with Ireland in 2013 – and Katie Whelan, Melissa Hayden and Niamh O’Dowd also return to the starting line-up.
“Very pleased with our win last week, Ballincollig weren’t at their best but our set-piece was much better than the previous week,” explained Garth.
“We were still a little loose in our attack shapes but have worked hard on that in training and hope to see greater accuracy there. Suttonians look a real challenge. We’ll have to be at or near our best to come away with a win.”
Deirbhile Nic a Bhaird, who turned 27 yesterday, has been central to Belvedere’s winning start to the campaign. She has impressed in the number 8 role and as captain, while finishing with three tries against her native Ballincollig.
Garth feels that the Cork woman (pictured above) is playing well enough to get back in the Ireland squad, adding: “Derv has been fantastic for us this season. She is a real leader on the pitch in every aspect.
“She’s very strong, quick and is a natural footballer. I would be very surprised if she is not in the selectors’ thoughts for higher honours as her current form certainly warrants it.”
Meanwhile, Suttonians supremo Stephen Costelloe says these are the games you get ‘extra excited’ for as they look to build on their four-try second half display against Galwegians.
“We were pleased with how we reacted in the second half. We showed when we focus on us and do the simple things well then the opportunities will come,” acknowledged Costelloe, whose new centre pairing of captain Catherine Martin and Australian Annie Buntine already looks a cracking combination.
“‘Belvo are a great side and it will take a big performance to topple them considering they have gone two from two and confidence will be high.
“For us it’s about focusing on our game and controlling the ‘controllables’. We’re looking forward to another great contest.
“100%, it would give us a big boost to beat one of the ‘top four’ sides. I think that goes for anyone. We want to push on from last season and to do that you have to try and beat everyone, but these are the games you get extra excited for.”
Ireland international Shannon Touhey, more known as a centre, will pack down at number 8 for Sutts. Molly Fitzgerald, a try scorer against Galwegians last week, Roisin O’Driscoll and Ciara Spencer are the other changes.
In a rejigged pack, the north Dubliners move Grainne Tummon from the second row to loosehead prop, while Brenda Barr, who wore the number 8 jersey for their AIL opener, reverts to the lock position.
RAILWAY UNION (4th) v BALLINCOLLIG (9th), Park Avenue
Squad rotation is in effect for Railway Union this week as they make eight changes to the team that started the 24-5 victory away to UL Bohs. There are a further three alterations to the bench.
Ireland internationals Aoife Doyle and Claire Boles return to club action, there are first AIL starts for American lock Emerson Allen and Spanish international flanker Carmen Rodera, and the versatile Deirdre Roberts switches to inside centre.
It promises to be a bumper occasion at the Sandymount venue as Railway are hosting their President’s Dinner before kick-off. IRFU President John Robinson is the guest of honour, along with the Presidents of the Leinster senior clubs.
Determined to deliver a performance to match the occasion, Railway’s director of rugby John Cronin said: “We trained really well this week. We felt we were a little rusty against Bohs, so we covered a lot of detail on Monday, had a very competitive internal game on Tuesday and had a really sharp session on Thursday to finish out the week.
“We’re expecting a big crowd tomorrow for our first home game of the season, and the players are excited to get out there and show what they can do.”
Laois youngster Leah Tarpey, who made her Ireland debut against Japan last month, is standing by to make her AIL bow off the bench. The 19-year-old (pictured above) has been a WNTS member this year.
It is another very difficult assignment for Ballincollig whose season has been frontloaded with clashes with some of the league’s heavyweight teams. Head coach Fiona Hayes is looking for growth and improvement each week.
“Not an ideal place to be going on the back of two big losses,” said Hayes of the daunting trip to the defending champions. “But the team just need to focus on growing every week and improving.
“Railway are a quality side, and we are looking forward to out first trip up to them. We started well in the Old Belvedere game and we just need to to be able to sustain that tempo and work-rate for the whole game.”
There are five changes in personnel, including the return of Denise Redmond to the second row and Caolainn Healy, a product of Listowel’s underage success, comes in at blindside flanker.
“We welcome a couple of new backs into the starting line-up with Christine Arthurs and Michelle O’Driscoll taking up roles in the centre and on the wing,” added Hayes.
“Hoping to improve again this week in defence and we are excited to be able to play the top team in the league.”