Reigning champions UL Bohemians targeting 13th league title
In-form side gearing up for ‘very big, physical game’ against rivals Old Belvedere
Railway Union’s Cliodhna Moloney and Sophie Spence in action with Old Belvedere’s Fiona O’Brien earlier this month. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Women’s All-Ireland League Final
Ul Bohemians v Old Belvedere
Portlaoise RFC, Saturday 1pm
By the time referee Daithi Flood calls time on the Women’s All-Ireland League final today at Portlaoise (kick-off 1pm), either UL Bohemians will have extended their record haul to 13 titles in a successful defence, or Old Belvedere will have wrestled back the trophy as four-time champions.
Reigning champions and convincing table-toppers Bohs registered 13 wins and 12 try-scoring bonus points to finish 10 points clear of second-placed Railway Union, who were knocked out by Old Belvedere 10-7 in last weekend’s semi-finals. UL reached another decider with a 58-8 hammering of depleted Cooke, aided by two tries each from Nicole Cronin, Ireland captain Ciara Griffin and Laura Sheehan.
Cronin and Niamh Briggs control matters behind a well-drilled Limerick pack which is marshalled by captain Fiona Hayes, consistently-excellent hooker Gillian Bourke and Griffin. Both clubs had new coaches to get used to this season – Sean Fitzpatrick at UL and Josh Brown at Belvo – and loosehead prop Hayes, who skippered Bohs to a league and cup double last year, is quietly confident about keeping the league silverware in Munster.
“We’re expecting a big game against Old Belvo. We’ve played them the last three years in a row [in finals], it’s going to be a very physical game,” she said. “We both pride ourselves on our set piece and it’s going to be seen dominantly, I think, in the game, but also we’ve both got expansive back-lines. So I think it’s going to be a good mixture there.
“It’s a big deal for us to defend the title. The year before last, we lost to them by two points (19-17) and it was very, very upsetting. We’ve played them twice this season and it’s one [home] win apiece. To defend it and bring it back to Limerick is going to be something special for us, because as a team, we always say that that AIL Cup belongs down here in Munster.”
Brown’s Belvo side took their time to settle – losing three of their first six league games – but with current and former Ireland internationals of the calibre of Nora Stapleton, Sene Naoupu, Elise O’Byrne White, Sharon Lynch and the retiring Sophie Spence to the fore, the Dublin 4 club have won their last nine league matches, including that battle-hardening semi-final defeat of Railway.
Impressive new winger Ailbhe Dowling ran in an intercept try and outhalf Stapleton, so many times a match winner for Belvo when they were three in-a-row champions (2013/14 to 2015/16), slotting the decisive penalty.
Belvedere tighthead and captain Fiona O’Brien said: “These are the weeks you want to be involved in. We’re really looking forward to it, it’s our fifth year in a row [challenging for the title] and after losing it last year, we’re looking to get it back. Bohs are formidable opposition and they’ve been the form side in the league this year. They have a strong squad and we know what they’ll bring, so it’s up to us to bring our game, knowing how they play too.
“There’s a really dedicated group of girls who have been around for a few years now, and they’ve really been looking after the club. I think that’s why Old Belvedere have been so successful in continually producing top-class players.”
Tomorrow’s showpiece day for the women’s domestic game in Portlaoise also includes the All-Ireland League promotion play-off final between Tralee and a Paula Fitzpatrick-inspired St Mary’s, kicking off at 12.30pm on the second pitch. The winners will replace Tullamore in the eight-team league next season.