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Belvo meet Railway in eagerly-awaited Dublin derby, and this weekend's Women's AIL previews

Dave Mervyn looks ahead to the weekend’s domestic action in the Women’s AIL.

Ailsa Hughes and Railway beat Galwegians last weekend to remain on top of the Women's AIL.
Ailsa Hughes and Railway beat Galwegians last weekend to remain on top of the Women's AIL.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Energia Women’s All-Ireland League Previews

Kick-off Saturday 5pm unless stated

BALLINCOLLIG (8th) v BLACKROCK COLLEGE (3rd), Tanner Park, 3pm

Maeve Óg O’Leary is set for her first appearance for Blackrock College since making her Ireland debut last month. Along with Hannah O’Connor, she bolsters the ‘Rock back row for the trip to Ballincollig.

Meabh Deely, Natasja Behan, Maeve Liston and Aoibheann Reilly, fresh from her World Sevens Series debut, also come into the Dubliners’ back-line for this final game of the regular season.

Fiona Hayes’ Ballincollig played much better against UL Bohemians than the one-sided scoreline suggested. Heather Kennedy, their pacy centre, had some strong runs and deservedly got over the whitewash late on.

GALWEGIANS (6th) v WICKLOW (10th), Crowley Park, 4pm 

Wicklow welcome back Ella Roberts and Vicky Elmes Kinlan from their stint with the Ireland Women’s Sevens Development squad in Dubai. Full-back Roberts was previously in camp with the Ireland 15s set-up.

After losses in the last round, Galwegians and Wicklow are both eager to finish the first half of the season on a winning note. Fit-again captain Mary Healy returns at scrum half for ‘Wegians, with Saskia Morrissey reverting to the right wing.

Tracy Lawlor, Ellen Connolly and Sabina Egan come into the Blue Belles’ tight five. Along with a rejigged back-line, Wicklow give starts in the pack to Caitlin Griffey, Robyn Mullen and player-coach Niamh Ni Dhroma, at number 8.

COOKE (9th) v MALONE (7th), Shaw’s Bridge, 4.15pm 

Having missed last week’s bonus point win in Wicklow, Ulster captain Beth Cregan is back at hooker for Cooke’s derby showdown with Malone. The Belfast rivals meet in the league for the first time in 26 months.

Malone were involved in a closely-fought encounter of their own, being edged out 13-12 by Suttonians last Saturday. Captain Peita McAlister, Neve Jones and try-scoring number 8 Lauren Maginnes were the pick of their players.

Winger Georgia Boyce and lock Sorcha Mac Laimhin are the two personnel changes for Cooke, who move Megan Simpson and Naomi McCord into the back row. Number 8 Helen McGhee is their top try scorer now with four.

OLD BELVEDERE (4th) v RAILWAY UNION (1st), Ollie Campbell Park 

Incoming Ireland head coach Greg McWilliams is set to attend this eagerly-awaited Dublin derby, as reigning champions Railway Union look to finish the first half of the season unbeaten and at the top of the table.

Both sides will advance to the top-four round robin series in the New Year, those games likely to provide some ultra-competitive fare for Ireland’s leading players ahead of the start of the Six Nations in late March.

Lindsay Peat reverts to her regular position of loosehead for Railway, who bring in Deirdre Roberts at number 8 and Aoife Doyle in midfield. Claire Boles is back from Ireland Sevens duty, featuring on the bench.

John Cronin, Railway’s director of rugby and head coach, commented: “We’ve had a strong start to the league, which reflects the work that the players, coaches and club have been putting in for a number of years now.

“It’s three days a week on the pitch, two days gym, video analysis, stats, recovery sessions, etc. It’s a simple equation of dedicated athletes, hard work, a well-developed and coached programme, investment, and time.

“The results come from the process. We’ve two big games this weekend – our 2s are playing Tullamore in a top of the table clash in Leinster Division 1. Two very good sides out, and we’re expecting a strong finish to the first half of the season.

“There’s an element of sameness with the same three opponents (in the round robin series) but, in theory, it should result in more competitive games. We also plan to play games in England and France to keep the athletes engaged and challenged.”

Old Belvedere welcome back talented youngster Katie Whelan from Sevens action in Dubai. She returns at scrum half with Jemma Farrell shifting to out-half this week.

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Ailbhe Dowling and Belgian Sevens international Manon Nairac are the two other changes behind the ‘Belvo scrum. Captain Jenny Murphy will be aiming to carry strongly off the base, having switched to number 8.

Niamh O’Dowd’s inclusion in the second row means a positional switch for Elaine Anthony, a Lieutenant in the Irish Army, who joins the Murphy-led back row at blindside flanker.

SUTTONIANS (5th) v UL BOHEMIANS (2nd), JJ McDowell Memorial Grounds 

Enya Breen, who got her first start at out-half for Ireland last month, is back for UL Bohemians. She will line out at full-back away to Suttonians, with Kerry youngster Muirne Wall also back at scrum half.

Suttonians have done well to move into fifth place, following back-to-back victories, and Stephen Costelloe’s side will want to take that form into the Conference competition in the New Year.

With their close ties built with Naas and Tullamore, Sutts have some key dual-status players in joint-top try scorer Mary Healy (4 tries) and recent Ireland cap Shannon Touhey, who was involved off the bench against Malone last time out.

Alana McInerney, the scorer of a hat-trick for Bohs against Ballincollig, is moved into midfield, Lily Brady switches to hooker, and Ciara O’Halloran’s inclusion in the engine room sees Sarah Garrett start in the loose forwards this time around.

– Updated 23.48: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the Railway Union scrum-half; her name is Ailsa Hughes.

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