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‘To Win It At The Aviva Would Be Magic’ – Railway’s Byrne

‘To Win It At The Aviva Would Be Magic’ – Railway’s Byrne

Railway Union's Niamh Byrne is pictured at the Aviva Stadium, the venue for Sunday's historic Energia All-Ireland League Women's Division decider ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Railway Union captain Niamh Byrne will get to fulfil a long-term ambition when she leads her team out at the Aviva Stadium for Sunday’s Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Division final against UL Bohemian (kick-off 1.45pm – live on TG4).

The game marks a historic occasion as the first ever Energia All Ireland League Men’s and Women’s finals double header takes place – click here for ticket and match day information.

It promises to be a final deserving of the big stage. Railway and UL Bohs have been the two most consistent teams in the Women’s Division this year, with only one point separating them after 18 rounds of regular season action.

Speaking at the Energia All-Ireland League finals day media launch at the Aviva Stadium, Byrne explained how she cannot wait to play at Irish Rugby headquarters this weekend.

“It’s massive, we have all been out doing some photos (during the launch here), and it’s really exciting,” the experienced centre told IrishRugby.ie.

“Even being here today, it’s building. It’s getting better each year and I think it will be really exciting to go out and play on the Aviva pitch on Sunday for the first time.

“To be completely honest, up until this, I never really thought we would have a Women’s AIL final here, but it’s great.

“I think we are going to be the second or third Women’s game ever at the Aviva Stadium, so there was great excitement when it was first announced as a double header.

“It’s definitely in the back of people’s minds, but I think we come into it with all eyes on Bohs. It will be a great day to be in the Aviva but we will be looking at beating our opponents.”

Stephen Costelloe took over as Railway’s head coach at the start of this season in a new-look coaching set-up. John Cronin, their long-serving director of rugby, stepped down after overseeing a very successful 12-year period for the Sandymount club.

This is Railway’s fourth final appearance in a row, and if they win on Sunday, it will be their third league title in four seasons between 2019 and 2024 (not including the two seasons cancelled by Covid-19).

Bringing fresh ideas through new coaches has helped the group refocus after the disappointment of losing last year’s final to Blackrock College.

“At the beginning of every season, we always set out our goals for the year, and obviously with our success in the past seasons, we still kept our goal as reaching the final and hopefully lifting the cup, regardless of the changes,” explained Byrne, who captained Railway to AIL glory in 2019 and 2022.

“I think it has been good. Stephen has changed things up slightly but it has been exciting and it’s good to see that we still have our standards.

“I think he has kept the bones of our shape and how we like to play but brought in a bit of creativity and I guess, a different viewpoint on how he wants things done. But equally, I think we have kept our standards high.”

The Dubliners have an ideal blend of experience and youth. Canadian Maddy Aberg has been scoring for fun, topping the league’s try-scoring charts with 19 tries. Partnering her in midfield, Byrne herself has been at the heart of everything good about the team.

Athletic lock/flanker Faith Oviawe has been a standout performer, getting some game-time too with the Clovers in the Celtic Challenge, while former Ireland international Lindsay Peat is a guaranteed metre-maker at number 8.

Rhiann Heery and Sarah Munnelly are amongst the youngsters who have risen to the task when called upon this season. Railway’s strength in depth has been key to getting them to the final as second-place finishers in the standings.

“Obviously, with the Celtic Challenge, we have had a few girls who had to come up and fill some senior spots. Faith, Sarah, they have all come in and have really taken that opportunity with both hands.

“It’s been good, it’s built a lot of depth in our squad, and it’s made getting into this (matchday) 23 that bit more competitive,” admitted the Ireland-capped skipper.

Railway have played Sunday’s opponents three times already this season. They ended UL’s unbeaten run in the league at the start of this month, handing them a 43-22 defeat at Park Avenue where Ireland scrum half Ailsa Hughes bagged a brace of tries.

Nonetheless, it was UL Bohs who came out on top when the sides faced off in January’s Energia All-Ireland Women’s Cup final. The Red Robins won their first Women’s Cup title since 2019, triumphing 34-12 at Coolmine RFC thanks to a five-try haul, including two from centre Rachel Allen.

Byrne is expecting the toughest of tests from the table toppers this weekend. She does not think their recent victory over Fiona Hayes’ charges will have any bearing on Sunday’s contest.

“I am a very sceptical person, I want to say no to that, to be honest because I think every time we play Bohs, anything can happen, and any team can win.

“I think it will be a very close game. It’s really going to be about who comes in and hits the ground running first with a bit of grit.

“I hope it will be a great spectacle for the supporters on either side, but hopefully we will put our best foot forward for Women’s rugby in Ireland.

“I think both sides will come out well-prepared and it will come down to who turns up on Sunday.”

Asked what it would mean to lift the trophy at the Aviva, she replied: “It would mean the world, it would be great. We have been in finals before, we obviously didn’t get the result we wanted last year, but to do it in the Aviva for the first time would be magic.”