It’s an unusually early start to the Women’s All Ireland Cup this season, a competition that has usually kicked off around January.
It’s a big season for Irish Women’s rugby as they build towards the 2021 WRWC qualifiers in September 2020 with the IRFU managing a 13 month season integration plan.
Cup holders UL Bohemian and finalists Blackrock have been given a bye in the first round which traditionally pitches AIL Senior sides against the top provincial junior sides.
The AIL welcomed two new senior sides over the summer with Suttonians and Malone joining the senior league, both women’s sides achieving senior status for the first time I believe.
This gave the following senior sides going into the first round draw: Railway Union, Old Belvedere, Galwegians, Cooke, Suttonians and Malone
The Junior provincial sides are represented by Tullamore and Tullow (Leinster), Shannon and Tralee (Munster), Westport (Connacht) and City of Derry (Ulster), the draw giving the following first round fixtures.
All Ireland Cup Round 1
|16:30||CITY OF DERRY||v||OLD BELVEDERE||Judges Road|
|17:00||TULLOW||v||RAILWAY UNION||Rathoe Road|
The first of 12 projected Ireland Camps takes place this weekend and the 7s World Series kicks off so a lack of player availability may make some senior sides somewhat vulnerable. However this is somewhat lessened by the early season start with few of these sides have played much, if any, club rugby.
I would normally expect top sides Old Belvedere and Railway Union to progress fairly comfortably against City of Derry and Tullow respectively. The former D4 Dutchesses and their Usurpers have excellent squad depth and pedigree though with both losing 11 players each to the Ireland Camp and Ireland 7s team their depth will be tested.
Tullow showed some Cup pedigree last season and shouldn’t be underestimated by Railway but, in the other match, I think it’s too early in the season for a rebuilding City of Derry who are on the first steps back to their glory days.
Galwegians v Tullamore could be interesting with, it seems like, half the Galwegians side in Japan and another three in Ireland camps. Though with Tullamore losing their only outing this season and with Galwegians welcoming back their provincial players the home side should be comfortable enough.
You would also expect Cooke to return from Westport with a place in the next round under wraps though with storm Lorenzo lurking and heavy rainfall predicted all Saturday the conditions and home field advantage may have some say in the outcome of this one.
Shannon entertain Malone in what will be a difficult game for the AIL’s latest newcomers with match levelling conditions also expected in Limerick on Saturday evening. However I expect the Ulster provincial contingent in the games at Westport and Limerick to be doubly determined to get a W of any description against their team after a desperately disappointing interpro series.
“Probably” the match of the round will be Suttonians against Tralee at Station Road. Tralee got all the way to the shield final last year, where they lost to Cooke, and will prove difficult opposition. However, there seems to be a buzz and enthusiasm developing around the Suttonians TRIBE, for a few seasons, which culminated in their promotion to senior rugby, and I expect this to carry them through.