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Tullow Women Take Big Step In Clinching #EnergiaAIL Promotion

Tullow Women Take Big Step In Clinching #EnergiaAIL Promotion

Tullow winger Chloe Walsh breaks clear to score their third try against Queen's University in the promotion play-off final ©Caroline McFadden

Number 8 Grace Kelly touched down twice as Tullow overcame Queen’s University to earn a place in the Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division for the first time.


Sunday, April 21 –

Scorers: Tullow: Tries: Grace Kelly 2, Chloe Walsh, Alex O’Brien; Cons: Catherine Dempsey
Queen’s University: Tries: Tori Lee, Sigga Sharp
HT: Tullow 5 Queen’s University 0

Scores were hard to come by initially, but a five-try second half saw the game explode into life as Tullow followed up on their Leinster Women’s League Division 1 title success by gaining promotion to the All-Ireland League for next season.

Tries from Tori Lee, who brought the Belfast side level, and Sigga Sharp made for an exciting finish, but Alex O’Brien, younger sister of former Leinster and Ireland star Sean, was able to wrap up a historic 22-10 win for Tullow.

It was certainly a dream day for the O’Brien family and Tullow RFC as Sean helped their Men’s team to retain the Provincial Towns Cup, winning their final against Ashbourne just a few hours later, to add to the Women’s celebrations.

Conditions were excellent for the promotion play-off final at Ballbriggan RFC, with Queen’s looking to regain their AIL status after relegation in 2016. The opening 10 minutes produced a stalemate and some stop-start passages of play.

Momentum was injected into the match following an excellent run by Tullow full-back Roisin O’Toole, albeit that the Carlow outfit could not gain any points from their entry deep into the opposition half.

Queen’s exerted some pressure in response, as a Kate Bartley kick was gathered in by Rebecca Mann. They duly won a penalty in a good position, but a subsequent turnover allowed Tullow, who were 15-10 semi-final winners over Ennis/Kilrush, to clear the danger.

The first half continued with a number of momentum swings and entries into the opposition 22, yet the scoreboard was unmoved until just before half-time when Tullow took a 5-0 lead.

Despite Bartley and second row Nicole Watterson earning turnovers for the students, a miscued clearance kick gave Tullow a five-metre scrum. With a pick from the back and a strong fend and carry, Kelly crossed the whitewash to score the game’s opening points.

Both teams came out of their half-time team talks with renewed energy and tempo. Tullow captain Catherine Dempsey went up the line with a couple of penalties, but a loose lineout allowed Queen’s to regain possession and some crucial territory.

Busy centre Mann made a bulldozing carry on the left, catching Tullow on the backfoot. Suddenly, Bartley capitalised on the space on the opposite wing with a pinpoint cross-field kick to put Lee over with 50 minutes on the clock.

After getting back level at five points apiece, Queen’s coughed up hard-earned possession with handling errors and a scrum penalty on halfway. Tullow drew themselves back into scoring range to strike again on the hour mark.

Out-half Dempsey cleverly chipped over the Queen’s defence, with inrushing centre Sara Rennick first to the ball. Kelly then stepped up with another bustling carry, punching through the cover to complete her brace, making it 10-5.

Despite Queen’s retaining possession from the restart, a costly turnover saw the ball moved quickly out to Tullow speedster Chloe Walsh, who evaded a number of defenders on an terrific 80-metre run down her wing to score.

Bouncing back from conceding that unconverted effort, Queen’s gathered in the kick and swiftly pressed close to the Tullow try-line. Ollie Millar’s charges made sure to come away with points, as loosehead prop Sharp broke through tackles to crash over and reduce the arrears to 15-10.

Unfortunately for the young Queen’s squad and their travelling support, they leaked a series of penalties during the closing stages and that allowed Tullow to march back into the opposition 22.

From a scrum just five metres out, it fittingly fell to impressive centre O’Brien to surge over the line and seal the result. Dempsey’s conversion gave them a decisive 12-point cushion.

There was still time on the clock, but a penalty for a high tackle ended Queen’s valiant challenge. Coached by Paul ‘Pookie’ Canavan and Jack Fitzgerald, Tullow fulfilled their ambition to achieve senior status and will be an exciting addition to the All-Ireland League for 2024/25.

Tullow fielded their first Women’s rugby team in 2008 and have a proud pedigree of producing talented players, including Dannah O’Brien and Katie Corrigan, who both played for Ireland against England on Saturday, Ciara Cooney, who began her rugby career at the club, and former Ireland Sevens international Anna Doyle.

TULLOW: Roisin O’Toole; Chloe Walsh, Sara Rennick, Alex O’Brien, Alice Carroll; Catherine Dempsey (capt), Aoife McGrath; Annie Gardiner, Anna O’Neill, Joanna Mahon, Orla Hanlon, Shelly Faulkner, Emma Byrne, Lana Brennan, Grace Kelly.

Replacements: Aoife Byrne, Kate McDonald, Courtney Kelly, Jessica Nolan, Leanne Savage, Lauren Walsh, Lisa O’Toole, Jacinta Byrne, Helena Coogan.

QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY: Emma McArdle; Jana McQuillan, Ciara Fitzsimmons, Rebecca Mann, Tori Lee; Molly Swanson, Aisling McMahon; Sigga Sharp, Maebh Clenaghan, Victoria Jackson, Aoife Redmond, Nicole Watterson, Molly Reid, Lila O’Molloy, Bronach Cassidy (capt).

Replacements: Corshenna McCoy, Kate Berry, Ruthie Quinn, Kate Bartley, Lucy Belshaw, Zoe Fleming, Andrea Poulton, Tess Carvill.