The Women’s All Ireland Cup kicks off this weekend with three Ulster clubs involved in the opening round which takes place on Sunday 13th January.

The leading AIL sides, UL Bohemian, Railway Union and Old Belvedere have been awarded a first round bye, the remaining fixtures are as follows.

13:00 Shannon v Blackrock College Coonagh
13:00 Suttonians v Cooke JJ McDowell Memorial Ground
13:00 Tralee v Galwegians O’Dowd Park, Tralee
13:00 Tullow RFC v Malone Tullow
14:30 Ballynahinch v St. Mary’s College Ballymacarn Park

Suttonians v Cooke

Ulster’s most senior women’s side make the trip to Suttonians RFC on the outskirts of Dublin and it’ll be a difficult trip for the Belfast players as they face the top side in the Leinster Women’s All Ireland Qualifying League.

Suttonians have won 10 from 10 so far in their league, racking up a phenomenal 10 bonus point wins the way, with one match conceded, which gives them a remarkable 100% record of 55 points from a possible 55. This makes them the team most likely to be promoted into the AIL next season.

Cooke on the other hand have had a mixed season in the AIL, their 40% match point haul over their eight games to date leaves them second from bottom in that league. The Belfast side have played some good rugby but they have scored the second lowest number of tries and their try conversion rate is the lowest in the AIL at 32%. Their points conceded is currently the second highest in the league.

The match certainly looks like a chance for a possible upset and a home win. However, the great unknown is the difference in the standard of rugby played in the two leagues. The last two entrants into the AIL, Tullamore and St Mary’s College, came from the Leinster Qualifying league and both struggled at the higher level so we are going to tip Cooke for this one, but they will need to be at their best.

Tullow RFC v Malone

Malone Women make the longer trip to the far side of the Wicklow mountains to play Co Carlow side Tullow RFC who sit second in the Leinster Women’s All Ireland Qualifying League.

Tullow have won 6, drawn 1 and been awarded 1 of their 11 fixtures to date picking up 8 bonus points on the way and appear to be on a good run of form with three significant wins on the trot.

Malone are sitting clear at the top of the Ulster Women’s Championship D1 but they have only played 4 of their 6 matches with 2 conceded by their opponents. Their main problem is lack of game time. They appear to have shown another large step forward this season under the guidance of Grace Davitt but this will be their first real test.

This one could go either way but I’m expecting the savy of Davitt to be enough to see the Ulster side through to the next round.

Ballynahinch v St Mary’s College

Ballynahinch Women welcome St Mary’s College to Ballymacarn Park on Sunday with the visitors looking to get a win under their belt after a disappointing start to their AIL campaign.

St Mary’s lost a few key players over the summer and, despite showing round by round improvements, they have still to record their first win in that competition. However on their last trip up north, at the tail end of last season, the Dublin side recorded a memorable win against the then Ulster Champions Malone in the qualifying play offs.

Ballynahinch also lost a few key players over the summer and a fair amount of experience went with them. Like Malone they have struggled for fixtures this season but they have won 3 of the 5 fixtures played and were awarded a walkover in another. However, by the time Sunday comes it will be six weeks since they last played a competitive fixture.

Unfortunately for Hinch I expect St Mary’s to be too powerful up front with the Dublin club expected to progress to the next round.