Railway Union clinched their first Women’s All-Ireland League title with a dramatic 13-8 win over defending champions UL Bohemians at Energia Park this afternoon. Joshua Freeman reports on an exciting final game of the Women’s domestic season.
The first-time finalists, coached by John Cronin and captained by centre Niamh Byrne, denied UL a three-in-a-row as tries from Shirley Corcoran (40+1 minutes) and Stephanie Carroll (62), coupled with a Claire Keohane penalty, cancelled out Bohs’ fast start which included an 16th-minute try from number 8 Sarah Quin via a scrum.
The game started at a blistering pace with both sides looking to get an early foothold. Railway faced into a strong wind and they struggled for territory, a Bohs turnover setting up former Ireland captain Niamh Briggs to slot over a sixth-minute penalty. The assured kick took his competition-leading haul to 93 points.
Driven on by skipper Fiona Hayes, UL’s continued pressure paid off when the influential Quin plunged over from the back of an advancing scrum. The conversion was missed but the title holders were 8-0 up and looking dangerous. It took some outstanding Railway defence, including two try-saving tackles in the left corner, to prevent the table toppers from scoring again.
That resistance helped the Dubliners grow in confidence and they battled their way back into contention. The penalty count began to go against Bohs and they lost experienced tighthead Fiona Reidy to the sin-bin for a maul infringement as they desperately tried to keep out the Railway forwards.
There was no denying Reidy’s scrum opponent Corcoran soon after, Ireland lock Aoife McDermott winning another lineout and the drive inching close before the veteran prop successfully squeezed over from a couple of metres out. She picked and dived for the line at just the right moment, with Larissa Muldoon, Emma Taylor and Lindsay Peat stopped short in the previous phases.
Former UL player Keohane, who was on their bench for last year’s final win in Portlaoise, missed the conversion from the left, leaving the contest delicately poised at 8-5 at the break. Railway were the aggressors on the resumption, Molly Scuffil-McCabe, Meg Kendal and Taylor growing in influence before Keohane kicked her side level with a 52nd-minute penalty.
Gaps were appearing in the UL defence, and just past the hour mark, energetic scrum half Scuffil-McCabe broke a couple of tackles in her own half. Lively replacement Daisy Earle then followed up with a brilliant break deep into the Limerick club’s half, supplying a killer pass which put the pacy Carroll racing over in the right corner for a crucial second try.
Keohane was unlucky with her conversion attempt, which drifted to the right of the posts, and UL showed their experience and cup-winning nous as they spent much of the remainder in the Railway 22. Briggs, who had one show-and-go to release replacement Niamh Kavanagh, and Enya Breen, Chloe Pearse and Laura Sheehan were looking increasingly dangerous when on the ball.
The ever-willing Peat led Railway’s resilient defence, forcing errors and some relieving penalties at the breakdown. The Red Robins were dealt a massive blow with less than 10 minutes remaining when winger Eimear Considine was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on. Her team-mates battled on but Railway stood firm to become league champions after three heartbreaking semi-final defeats in recent seasons.
UL’s Australian head coach Ben Martin applauded his side’s ‘bogey team’ afterwards, saying: “Railway thoroughly deserved their trophy. They played the referee’s interpretation of the breakdown a lot better then we did and they are fully deserved champions. They are a bit of a bogey side for us in terms of finals. That’s two finals we’ve played them in, including last year’s All-Ireland Cup final, and they’ve got the better of us in both.”
Railway head coach John Cronin dedicated the win to beloved club President Charlie Hurley who passed away at the start of the year. “I can’t really explain how close the president was to the players, he knew all their names and he knew where they were from and he went to their games and some of the players on the pitch carried his coffin,” he explained.
“He loved our games against UL Bohemians. He would have loved that today, because UL Bohs are a huge name in Irish rugby, and for us to be playing in the All-Ireland League final and competing at that level, would have been a big deal for him today. We’re delighted we got the job done.”
Referee: Helen O’Reilly (IRFU)