Naoise O’Reilly’s nimbly-taken try on the hour mark guided Wicklow to a famous 22-17 Energia All-Ireland League Women’s Conference final win over Galwegians at a bitterly cold Ashtown Lane.
WICKLOW 22 GALWEGIANS 17, Ashtown Lane
Scorers: Wicklow: Tries: Meagan Parkinson 2, Sarah Gleeson, Naoise O’Reilly; Con: Beth Roberts
Galwegians: Tries: Elizabeth McNicholas, Grace Browne Moran; Cons: Nicole Fowley 2; Pen: Nicole Fowley
HT: Wicklow 17 Galwegians 14
It is Wicklow Rugby Club’s first national trophy and a ringing endorsement of their hard work and progress this season, in what is only their second year in the All-Ireland League ranks.
Her Sport recently partnered with Energia to learn the story of Wicklow's foundation and subsequent growth. Watch our feature "The Rise of Wicklow Rugby Club" here or on our YouTube channel:
Twelve months ago they were bottom of the table, having suffered some eye-wateringly heavy defeats, but this term they have looked a renewed force under head coach Jason Moreton and player coach Niamh Ni Dhroma.
League wins over established teams like Suttonians, Cooke and Galwegians, together with more competitive performances against the top four sides, showed their promise and they now have All-Ireland silverware to show for it.
Having finished fifth in the table, Wicklow were determined to secure a historic trophy success. They made a stunning start with tries from Meagan Parkinson (2) and Sarah Gleeson inside the opening 16 minutes.
However, a series of yellow cards – three for Rachel Griffey, O’Reilly and Caoimhe Molloy – left them under the cosh, and Galwegians, steered by experienced captain Nicole Fowley, closed the gap to 17-14 by half-time.
Forwards Elizabeth McNicholas and Grace Browne Moran both powered over from close range, and Fowley drew them level with an early second half penalty. The game was there for the taking with half an hour remaining.
The home support got behind Wicklow and with their scrum holding the edge, winger O’Reilly showed her speed and impressive evasion skills to score out wide. It was the decisive score on a day to remember for Moreton’s young squad.
Wicklow were first to settle and stole a march on Galwegians, whom they defeated 16-14 last month, with a second-minute try. Following Ella Roberts’ initial incision, crisp passing released Parkinson to fend off Sarah O’Connell and score in the left corner.
Fowley marshalled ‘Wegians through some promising phases, a couple of penalties putting them in try-scoring range, yet Parkinson swooped on an Ursula Sammon pass to tear downfield.
The nippy winger stayed clear of the chasing Mairéad Coyne, and despite Laoise McGonagle catching up with her, Parkinson held her off to complete a magical, mazy run-in from inside her own 22. Beth Roberts missed the conversion.
Wicklow picked up another try just past the quarter hour mark. They earned a scrum penalty, on the back of good work at the breakdown from lock Griffey, before Gleeson hurtled onto a Beth Roberts pass to dash in under the posts.
The gap was out to 17 points after Beth Roberts converted from straight in front, but a Coyne break led to Griffey seeing yellow as Wicklow paid the price for repeated infringements.
The hosts were suddenly down to 13 players after winger O’Reilly was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on as ‘Wegians threatened out wide. The visitors’ pack seized control, picking and driving through with McNicholas muscling in under the posts.
Fowley converted and the Blue Belles were quickly back on the attack, O’Connell stretching her legs on the right before Orla Dixon made great headway with a weaving run up into the 22.
Despite some good maul defence, Wicklow’s lead was whittled down to just three points in the 35th minute when replacement Browne Moran crashed over for Fowley to convert.
With Wicklow’s discipline continuing to be an issue, flanker Molloy saw yellow for a high tackle. Ella Roberts covered two dangerous kicks from Fowley and Mary Healy, while McNicholas also had to be brought down as ‘Wegians came close to a third try.
Just four minutes into the second half, Fowley drew last season’s Conference runners-up level with a well-struck penalty from the right. Wicklow tried to wrestle back the momentum with strong scrummaging.
Nonetheless, it was a cagey contest now with scoring chances drying up amid some stop-start exchanges. Dixon won the battle at the breakdown before Molloy responded with a turnover back in midfield.
Following a penalty miss from Roberts, the Wicklow forwards knuckled down again to force another scrum penalty. Their ability to retain possession was rewarded with a brilliant finish from O’Reilly in the 59th minute.
Full-back Roberts and Aoibin Stone did well to unleash O’Reilly outside the ‘Wegians 22, the pocket rocket of a winger getting outside Faith Oviawe and stepping in between Healy and O’Connell to make the line despite McGonagle’s last-ditch tackle.
The closing stages were hotly-contested but ‘Wegians struggled to get out of their own half, following a Roisin Stone break up to halfway. Wicklow’s replacement scrum half increased her influence, almost scoring in the dying minutes.
Crucially, the hosts continued to have the upper hand in the scrums. When O’Reilly dislodged the ball in a tackle on Fowley, the final whistle sparked wild celebrations as Christmas came early to Ashtown Lane.
For ‘Wegians, there is the bitter disappointment of losing a second Conference final. Yet, they are also making encouraging strides under new head coach Eoghan Maher, with talented players pushing through and some solid foundations to build on.
The Energia AIL Women's Division Final was scheduled for Friday Dec. 9th, but rescheduled due to weather conditions; it will now be played at 2pm on Sat, Dec. 17th. Who will be crowned champion? See Her Sport's predictions here or on our YouTube channel.
WICKLOW: Ella Roberts; Naoise O’Reilly, Aoibhin Stone, Sarah Gleeson, Meagan Parkinson; Beth Roberts, Erin McConnell (capt); Linda Dempsey, Eimear Douglas, Lauren Barry, Rachel Griffey, Jessica Schmidt, Caoimhe Molloy, Nicola Schmidt, Niamh Ni Dhroma.
Replacements: Noelle Ward, Becky Condren, Loretta Gilbert, Orla Molloy, Leah Murphy, Roisin Stone, Suzanne Tyrrell, Jocelyn Jones.
GALWEGIANS: Mairéad Coyne; Sarah O’Connell, Orla Dixon, Ursula Sammon, Laoise McGonagle; Nicole Fowley (capt), Mary Healy; Jessica Loftus, Emily Gavin, Ellen Connolly, Fiona Scally, Dearbhla Canty, Elizabeth McNicholas, Nolwenn Dubois, Lisa-Marie Murphy.
Replacements: Ruby Lynch, Hannah Coen, Faith Oviawe, Kayla Waldron, Grace Browne Moran, Olivia Haverty, Tanya Farrell, Sinead O’Brien.