On Saturday December 17th, Blackrock and Railway will come head-to-head in their rescheduled AIL Final. The game kicks off at 2pm in Energia Park in Donnybrook after being postponed last Friday following a failed pitch inspection.
The 2022 AIL season has been incredibly fast, with 8 rounds of games in the season before last weekend's semi-finals which saw Railway come from behind to beat Old Belvedere and Blackrock overcome UL Bohemians in a tough competitive battle.
Last year's champions Railway will be looking to go for three in a row after beating Blackrock 24-18 last season.
Railway's Captain Niamh Ryan said the standard of the league has gone up a gear since last year "That top 4 bracket has gotten even more competitive" adding that "the skill level is higher across the board, the margins are closer".
"We're excited, but nervous, but more excited than nervous maybe" she said with a smile.
Blackrock have been an extremely strong side and beat Railway in their meeting early this season, which sets up for an exciting and competitive final.
"We know it's going to be a very big game, a close game, regardless of what way it ends up" said Ryan.
The coverage and exposure for this years league has been significant, and the game will be aired live on TG4 for those who can't make it to Energia Park.
The Railway Captain said: "I think it's brilliant and I was talking about this last night to someone, I think even you look at last years final, it was televised, and after the final you got texts and you got messages from people who might not have been able to make it but happened to flick on TG4 at the right time and I think it's getting the sport out there more and showing people that it's actually a good game"
Blackrock captain and former Irish international Michelle Claffey echoed these sentiments saying "it's finally taking the step forward that it needs"
"The argument is always 'womens rugby doesn't generate enough income' but we don't have enough exposure, so it's kind of like, something has to happen".
Claffey added that providing coverage "allows people to see it and creates an audience and a market for it".
International commitments for some players have affected teams in the AIL this season with the World Rugby Sevens Series happening in Dubai last week, this week in Cape Town, which has consequentially deprived teams of several Irish stars.
The Blackrock captain expressed that the club scene must be protected by the IRFU as the game moves toward a more professional structure. There are concerns about the future of the domestic club side following the introduction of professional contracts for 15s players recently and plans to introduce a Celtic Cup with Welsh and Scottish teams in the next few years, as well as the conflicting Sevens schedule.
"I think getting rid of the club is wrong." said Captain Claffey, adding "the club belongs at the heart of the rugby journey of anyone who puts on an Irish jersey,"
"Rugby is about community, it’s about community spirit and people being able to come down to the club on a Friday or Saturday or Sunday and participate. To sever a link with the club, it would be terrible for rugby as a whole."
The former Irish player, who only retired from Test rugby this summer, said that the AIL is key to keeping young girls playing rugby and the future success of the game.
"Where will a nine-year-old girl go, who's living in Dublin, to play rugby? They see it at the professional stance and wonder, 'how do I get there?'
"If you take away that club element, they see girls playing on TV and wonder, 'how do I do that?', and there's a bit of uncertainty."
Blackrock have topped the table in this years League with 8 wins from 8, but looking towards the final, they will be determined to make amends for last years tough defeat and improve on their 2 point win over Railway earlier this month.
Offaly native Claffey said although the hurt is there, the squad won't let it be their only motivation for this years final "I don't think I've ever gotten over it, and I don't think I will ever get over it, but it's parked for this season."
"It's not going to change, what happened last year was tough, but I'm not using it as motivation this year, because we're a very different group of players. We just go out there, perform, and hopefully get a better result than last year.
"The hurt is still there, but we just have to push it aside for a couple of more days,".
Tickets for the Energia AIL final are on sale and are priced at just €10, with a concession price of €5 for students/OAPs.
Buy your tickets here: https://www.universe.com/events/womens-all-ireland-league-final-blackrock-college-v-railway-union-ko-745-tickets-8D5NHX
Can't make the match? Tune into TG4 for live coverage of the game.