Railway Union women claim maiden AIL title
Niamh Byrne’s first time finalists see off defending champions UL Bohemians
Railway Union’s Daisy Earle and Lindsay Peat celebrate their side’s AIL title win. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Railway Union 13 UL Bohemians 8
Railway Union clinched their first Women’s All-Ireland League title with a dramatic 13-8 win over defending champions UL Bohemians at Donnybrook on Saturday afternoon.
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 minutes) and Stephanie Carroll (62), coupled with a Claire Keohane penalty, cancelled out Bohs’ fast start which included an 11th-minute maul try from number 8 Sarah Quin.
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 fifth-minute penalty. The assured kick took her 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 a well-worked lineout maul. 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 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 squeezed over from a couple of metres out.
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 Emma Taylor growing in influence before Keohane kicked her side level in the 53rd minute.
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 had one clever one-and-go, almost releasing her support past halfway, and Enya Breen, Chloe Pearse and Laura Sheehan were looking increasingly dangerous when on the ball.
The ever-willing Lindsay Peat, wearing the number 8 shirt, led Railway’s resilient defence, forcing errors and relieving penalties at the breakdown as time ticked on. 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 died 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.”
Scorers: Railway Union: Tries: Shirley Corcoran, Stephanie Carroll; Pen: Claire Keohane UL Bohemians: Try: Sarah Quinn; Pen: Niamh Briggs
UL BOHEMIANS: Aine Staunton; Eimear Considine, Enya Breen, Rachel Allen-Connolly, Laura Sheehan; Niamh Briggs, Laura O’Mahony; Fiona Hayes (capt), Kate Sheehan, Fiona Reidy, Claire Bennett, Chloe Pearse, Edel Murphy, Clodagh O’Halloran, Sarah Quin. Replacements: Sarah O’Gorman, Geena Behan, Sarah Garrett, Aoife O’Sullivan, Helen McDermott, Niamh Kavanagh, Stephanie Nunan.
RAILWAY UNION: Larissa Muldoon; Stephanie Carroll, Niamh Byrne (capt), Meg Kendal, Emer O’Mahony; Claire Keohane, Molly Scuffil-McCabe; Shirley Corcoran, Chloe Blackmore, Katie O’Dwyer, Siobhan McCarthy, Aoife McDermott, Emma Murphy, Emma Taylor, Lindsay Peat. Replacements: Aimee Clarke, Lisa Callan, Sonia McDermott, Daisy Earle, Clare Coombes, Laura Barachetti, Erin Coll.
Referee: Helen O’Reilly (IRFU)