Meagan Parkinson’s intercept try from near halfway was worth its weight in gold for Wicklow in the latest round of the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE WOMEN’S DIVISION: Saturday, November 5
WICKLOW 16 GALWEGIANS 14, Ashtown Lane
Scorers: Wicklow: Try: Meagan Parkinson; Con: Beth Roberts; Pens: Beth Roberts 3
Galwegians: Tries: Elizabeth McNicholas, Mairéad Coyne; Cons: Nicole Fowley 2
HT: Wicklow 9 Galwegians 14
The experienced winger ran in the only score of a defence-dominated second half, as Wicklow edged out Galwegians 16-14 to move into the dizzying heights of the top four.
With two fixtures against top-three teams still to come, Jason Moreton’s side are up against it to claim a semi-final spot, but they have undoubtedly made huge progress in just their second AIL season.
Converted tries from Elizabeth McNicholas and Mairéad Coyne had ‘Wegians on course, leading 14-9 at half-time. However, Beth Roberts converted Parkinson’s effort to add to her three earlier penalties.
As the battle for that last semi-final place ramps up, there were some tit-for-tat opening exchanges at Ashtown Lane. Galwegians’ Lisa-Marie Murphy pressed from a turnover before Wicklow hooker Eimear Douglas pinched possession back.
The home side gained a fourth-minute lead in sunny conditions, out-half Roberts’ central penalty punishing a high tackle from Coyne on advancing winger Naoise O’Reilly.
A charge-down from Grace Browne Moran gave Galwegians field position and possession, but a subsequent knock-on allowed Wicklow to kick clear through Roberts, and Sarah Gleeson followed up by tackling Coyne into touch.
A couple of penalties, either side of a pacy break from Orla Dixon, launched the Blue Belles back up towards the Wicklow 22. They were also well organised in defence to thwart a Wicklow lineout opportunity.
Towards the end of the first quarter, the ‘Wegians attack began to made some incisions. Number 8 Murphy won a turnover penalty and took it quickly, with Tanya Farrell also gaining ground on the right wing.
Kayla Waldron, one of the players now fully contracted to the IRFU Women’s High Performance Programme, impressed with an eye-catching break from her outside centre berth, but a Coyne pass was then intercepted by Beth Roberts.
‘Wegians ratcheted up the pressure when blocking down two kicks in quick succession. Murphy again showed her prowess at the breakdown, and prop McNicholas managed to rumble over for a close range try from Nicole Fowley’s inside pass.
Fowley’s conversion was swiftly cancelled out by Roberts’ second three-pointer, rewarding player coach Niamh Ni Dhroma’s efforts at the breakdown. Murphy soon moved ‘Wegians forward with another turnover penalty.
Past the half hour mark, Wicklow centre Gleeson was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on. A nicely-timed pass from McNicholas put Coyne outside the covering defenders to score, with Fowley adding the extras from straight in front.
Nonetheless, Wicklow were able to reduce the arrears to five points thanks to a late purple patch. Jessica Schmidt was held up over the line but Roberts split the posts after ‘Wegians’ Emily Gavin had gone off her feet.
Eoghan Maher’s charges were rocked just after the restart when Parkinson picked off a pass from prop Jessica Loftus to romp over to the left of the posts. Roberts made it the full seven points for a 16-14 turnaround.
Handling errors prevented ‘Wegians from building phases in response, and a penalty for crossing ruined a promising break involving Coyne and her wingers, Ursula Sammon and Farrell.
Wicklow were sent right back to their own try-line when Nolwenn Dubois, chasing down a loose ball, harried the hosts into conceding a penalty just a couple of metres out.
‘Wegians turned down a kick at the posts and ran the ball instead, the move breaking down between Fowley and Waldron with Ella Roberts securing the ball on the ground and her younger sister Beth kicking clear to touch.
The ‘Wegians pack came hunting again from a lineout maul, which earned a penalty, but flanker Gavin knocked on following the quick tap and Wicklow breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Beth Roberts’ left boot, combined with replacement Jocelyn Jones’ hard work at the breakdown, clawed back territory for the hosts, allied to some excellent scrummaging from the likes of Caoimhe Molloy who moved from number 8 to loosehead.
Wicklow went agonisingly close to a second try, Molloy and Ni Dhroma both tackled short of the line and then the latter, popping up a few phases later, was turned over by a combination of Waldron and Murphy for the concession of a penalty.
The final quarter was a serious arm wrestle, the Blue Belles left frustrated by a couple of crooked lineout throws and another scrum penalty against them which allowed Wicklow to clear the danger.
Murphy pinched lineout ball and ‘Wegians replacement Laoise McGonagle scampered back up into the 22, yet Wicklow’s defence, while under the cosh at times, stood tall and was typified by Ella Roberts’ try-saving tackle on Gavin.
Last season’s Conference runners-up came with one final push after Wicklow had the influential Molloy sin-binned for too many penalties. Crucially, another ‘Wegians lineout failed to go to plan and then Ni Dhroma did just enough at the breakdown to earn a result-sealing penalty.
WICKLOW: Ella Roberts; Naoise O’Reilly, Aoibhin Stone, Sarah Gleeson, Meagan Parkinson; Beth Roberts, Roisin Stone; Linda Dempsey, Eimear Douglas, Lauren Barry (capt), Rachel Griffey, Jessica Schmidt, Nicola Schmidt, Niamh Ni Dhroma, Caoimhe Molloy.
Replacements: Noelle Ward, Caitlin Griffey, Loretta Gilbert, Orla Molloy, Erin McConnell, Jocelyn Jones, Saoirse O’Reilly.
GALWEGIANS: Mairéad Coyne; Tanya Farrell, Orla Dixon, Kayla Waldron, Ursula Sammon; Nicole Fowley (capt), Mary Healy; Kiara Irwin, Elizabeth McNicholas, Jessica Loftus, Dearbhla Canty, Grace Browne Moran, Nolwenn Dubois, Emily Gavin, Lisa-Marie Murphy.
Replacements: Ruby Lynch, Hannah Coen, Faith Oviawe, Maelle Jouve, Olivia Haverty, Sinead O’Brien, Laoise McGonagle.