Dublin: 11°C Sunday 26 June 2022

'We're a high-performing team - we like challenges and we like to be pushed'

Railway Union are bidding for another title as the Women’s AIL kicks off this weekend.

Niamh Byrne and Emma Murphy celebrate their 2019 AIL title.
Niamh Byrne and Emma Murphy celebrate their 2019 AIL title.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

TRAINING WEEKS FOR the Railway Union women’s team start with a skills session on Monday, which involves low-intensity work on catch-pass skills or tackle and ruck technique.

Tuesday morning means a gym session with their strength and conditioning coaches before they gather again that evening for a full squad training session out on the pitch at their grounds in Dublin.

Wednesday is ‘honing your craft’ day where hookers work on their throwing with a specialist coach, kickers do the same with their kicking skills, and so on. Some players will focus on their robustness to protect themselves against injury.

Thursday is a repeat of Tuesday with gym and pitch sessions, before a day off on Friday for those involved with the first team’s game on Saturday. Those playing for the second team on Sunday will get an extra S&C hit on Friday.

Throughout the week, players and their coaches use the TeamBuildr app to input their gym work, monitor their training load, and track other things like sleep and soreness levels.

They also use online analysis platform Hudl to dig into footage of their performances and scout the opposition, with the club’s coaching staff recording all of their games using cameras up on masts behind the goalposts and on the sidelines.

These are amateur players, of course, but this kind of preparation helps to explain why Railway Union were the most recent Women’s All-Ireland League champions in 2019, the last time the trophy was lifted.

“It’s on us to commit and go through that plan, do the skills work, use the gym, try to put it all into a good performance every weekend,” says captain Niamh Byrne ahead of the start of the new AIL season this weekend.

niamh-byrne-lifts-the-trophy Railway Union celebrate their success in 2019. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It’s a big commitment but that’s where you spend time with your friends. We’re a high-performing team – we like challenges and we like to be pushed.”

Director of rugby and head coach John Cronin has visited Harlequins, Wasps, Saracens, and Bristol in recent years to study how their men’s and women’s teams operate, bringing many of those elements back to Railway Union in a bid to satisfy his players’ appetite for progress.

“It’s not for everyone because people have full-time jobs,” says Cronin. “The programme we have is what the girls are doing over in the UK. In order to keep our athletes here, we need to offer a performance training environment. Unless we do it, all the athletes are just going to go over there.”

Railway will once again be strong contenders for the AIL title this season, with UL Bohs sure to be battling all the way after winning 12 from 12 in the 2019/20 season before it was cut short and no one got to taste trophy success. As ever, it’s expected that Blackrock and Old Belvedere will also be part of the top four.

There is excitement about the addition of two new teams to the AIL this season in the shape of Ballincollig and Wicklow, with Cronin saying they are “serious clubs who will really shake up the league”. He reckons they will be challenging for the title in two or three years’ time.

There are mixed feelings about the new calendar, which involves a nine-game regular season concluding in December before a top-four round-robin from January onwards, concluding with semi-finals and an AIL final.

The teams who finish from fifth to 10th will go into their own round-robin from January with play-offs for a separate trophy.

For Railway, it’s likely to mean playing the same three sides repeatedly after Christmas right through until May but they are set to add intrigue to their calendar by travelling to England and France to play some of the top clubs there in high-level friendlies.

The Dublin club previously took on Wasps over in England in 2019 and had planned a rematch, as well as a clash with Exeter, last year before the pandemic kicked in.

“We really benefited from that Wasps game, ” says Byrne, “just playing a team that was much more physical than us, trying to figure that out. It would be really good to go abroad again and get more of those fixtures.”

john-cronin Railway Union director of rugby and head coach John Cronin. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s simply welcome to be heading into a season that looks busy after the frustrations of having very little opportunity to play throughout the pandemic, although Cronin explains that the squad remained well-connected thanks to Zoom training sessions and various workout challenges.

Railway Union is a very integrated club, with the women’s and men’s teams often linking up to great effect.

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“There’s absolutely no divide,” says Byrne. “In normal times, our training sessions would start or end with games of touch where you have men against women or you mix the teams.

“Before our AIL final in 2019, the men’s season had ended and our seconds women’s season had ended but we had qualified for the final and they all came down to training and they ran D [defence] against us. They kept showing up for two weeks.

“Then for the final day, they had t-shirts made and during the match, they were roaring their support. It really was a club coming together to help us across the line to our first AIL title.”

The aim is to add another this season. Cronin stresses the importance of building depth over the course of the campaign and giving players a chance – Railway have 54 female players at the moment and expect that number to rise further in the coming weeks.

First up on Saturday, they travel to title rivals Blackrock [KO 2.30pm at Stradbrook] for what should be a good early test.

“We have a big first game away,” says Byrne. “Blackrock are very strong. As always, Bohs and Belvo will be very good teams too.

“With the work we’ve put in, hopefully we can finish top four with a home semi-final and win the league in whatever shape it will be. It’s going to be close but we’re hoping to work hard enough to win.”

Bernard Jackman, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey look ahead to the inaugural United Rugby Championship, and a massive weekend for Ireland in their bid to qualify for the Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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