There is real feel-good factor around UL Bohemian RFC at the moment. Their Women’s team have been leading from the front this season, right at the top of the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division.
They meet Railway Union in Saturday’s eagerly-awaited Energia All-Ireland Women’s Cup final for the third consecutive year, hoping to break recent trends by stopping the Dublin club from claiming a famous three-in-a-row.
UL Bohs came out the right side of a tight league game between the teams earlier in the season. A Kate Flannery penalty proved the difference in a 10-7 home victory. Former Ireland international Fiona Hayes has returned as UL’s head coach this season.
Captain Chloe Pearse believes they have been gradually heading in the right direction as a squad, aided by young players like Flannery emerging through, but things are only now starting to take shape.
“I think we’ve been building for a couple of years now, but things have just clicked this season. I don’t know what you can put that down to, maybe it is because Hayes has come back,” Pearse told IrishRugby.ie.
“I think this has been building for two years. It just didn’t come to fruition in those finals or in the knockout stages of the AIL, but hopefully it might change for us this year.”
Hayes had a much-decorated career as a player with UL Bohs, memorably captaining them to All-Ireland League glory in 2017 and 2018. She won two Six Nations titles with Ireland, including the 2013 Grand Slam, and was part of the team that beat New Zealand at the 2014 Rugby World Cup.
She continued to have success as a coach, winning the award for All-Ireland League Women’s Coach of the Year when she was with Bohs in 2020, before joining Ballincollig the following year. She was assistant coach to Niamh Briggs when Munster retained their Interprovincial crown last season.
Pearse agreed that they are enjoying having Hayes back, saying: “It’s like she never left! She’s a great coach but also a great friend to most of us, so we always kind of met her and socialised with her anyway.
“It’s been nice having her back. She’s quite technical and the big thing about Hayes is, she lives and breathes rugby. She watches every game under the sun, she tries to learn things from other leagues and bring them into our game.
“Sometimes, her drills are a little bit unorthodox, we think she’s a bit mad but there is method to that madness! She always trying to give us that edge.”
Pearse, who has been a stalwart in the UL Bohs and Munster teams over the years, is enjoying her time as captain this season, after some difficult periods in recent times.
The versatile forward, who packs a punch whether in the back row or front row, has earned seven caps for Ireland, the last two coming during the historic 2022 tour to Japan. She likes being able to pass advice down to the up-and-coming youngsters in the Bohs squad.
One player that she will be going toe-to-toe with tomorrow is Lindsay Peat, someone she is good friends with off the pitch. They will be fierce opponents for 80 minutes, but will have a drink and a catch-up once that final whistle is blown regardless of the result.
“It’s the same every time we’re playing Railway or a Blackrock. We knock lumps out of each other for 80 minutes, trying everything to get that competitive edge, but once that final whistle goes, we’ll all head into the clubhouse together.
“Even after the final last year (a 28-12 defeat), of course we were disappointed after the game, but the first people over with the bottle of Bulmers or a Heineken were Lindsay and Katie O’Dwyer, two girls I was in and out of camp with during my time with Ireland.
“We all sat out and had a drink together. That’s the beauty of sport.”
Tomorrow’s Cup final kicks off at 2.45pm at Coolmine RFC – admission is €10 – and will be streamed live on Irish Rugby TV’s YouTube channel, with commentary from The Club Scene Podcast’s Daragh Frawley and record-breaking former Ireland winger Alison Miller.
For players like Pearse and Peat they have elite winning mentalities. They want to win everything, and anything less is a major disappointment. The 29-year-old Pearse wants nothing more than to lift that trophy on Saturday and bring it back home to Limerick. She added:
I want to win everything, whether it’s a game of touch in training or a race in training. I’m the most competitive beast you’re ever going to meet.
“This final means a lot, especially for us as a club. It’s been a long time since the senior team has brought in some silverware. As captain, I know that I haven’t got to do that yet.
“We need to win. We’ve lost the last two Cup finals to Railway. We’re going well this year but it counts for nothing if we can’t cap it off with a cup (their first since 2019).
“We’ve lost so many players to the Celtic Challenge competition, so it would be a massive statement if we could go out and win this.”