Monday 15 October 2018

The best aim to get better and capture league again

Club focus: UL Bohemians

UL Bohemians players after their AIL final victory last year
UL Bohemians players after their AIL final victory last year
UL Bohemians’ Fiona Hayes and teammates celebrate last season’s AIL final win over Old Belvedere

Declan Rooney

They're undoubtedly the most successful team in recent Munster Rugby history, but UL Bohs women are keen to add more silverware to the trophy cabinet tomorrow.

While last year's treble-winning campaign cannot be matched after defeat in the cup final, the Annacotty girls are aiming to claim back-to-back AIL titles by beating Old Belvedere in the league final, which takes place in Portlaoise at 1pm.

Former Ireland prop Fiona Hayes will skipper her club as they seek a 13th league win since 2002, but she is expecting a huge test from the Dubliners, who were league champions themselves in 2015 and '16.

"They will be tough opponents in the final," said Hayes. "We had a great year last year and it was unbelievable to win everything going: the Munster Cup, the All-Ireland Cup and the league.

"We got the cup final this year but unfortunately we lost to Railway, so we are determined to retain the AIL."

That 33-3 loss in the cup final came as a bit of a shock to Bohs, but since then they have really lifted their game with a 78-0 win over Tullamore, before a 58-8 triumph against Cooke in the semi-final.

"I think we needed something to get us going. We have been scoring well and performing at times, but we want to perform for a full 80 minutes and be ruthless.

"We had that streak last year and definitely in the past and that's what you need to win the league."

Staggering

There is no doubt that UL Bohs are the stars of Irish women's club rugby though. In recent times Old Belvedere and Blackrock shared three titles between before Bohs got back to winning ways last season, but their history before that was staggering. From 2002 to 2013 they won the league every year - apart from their 2008 loss to Blackrock in a drop goal competition. Hayes was not involved that year - although she says she'd have fancied a kick! - as she played a season in Sydney, but she is fiercely proud to have played her role in the club's development. A native of Limerick City, she's now a Cork resident, but the club colours still run deep.

"I moved to Cork in 2009 but I stayed at Bohs all the time. I travel up and down for training but I don't mind going home. I'd be loyal enough, I'd never join another club.

"At the time I joined UL Bohs you had players like Fiona Coghlan and Louise Beamish, who were Irish-capped, so it was daunting going in there. Women's rugby was about to take off so they were very open to anyone joining the club.

"There was about 20 or 25 training so there was never a seconds team. Everyone was in together and you were thrown in with international players which was great.

"Being a forward, Fiona Coghlan was a big deal in the club, she would always look after you. She wouldn't be the most complimentary but that got me where I am now. She always gave you something to work on - if she spoke to you about making mistakes you knew she thought you had potential."

While silverware has been a frequent companion of the UL Bohs women's team, they have struggled in recent seasons to gain commensurate financial backing. This season has been tougher than most, with the players resorting to dipping into their own pockets at times to fund their campaign. According to Hayes, they are eager to step up that part of the game next season.

"Over the years the club is what has made the women's team as strong as they are. They have backed us a lot over the years. I've played in Australia where the women's team has been kicked off a pitch in favour of the U-7s boys, but it's a very different vibe down here.

"This year has been more difficult and I think it's just the way rugby and the economy is. We've had to pay for own buses at times. We wear men's jerseys and they're huge. I know I'm a prop but I'm not a triple-XL with the shirt down to my knees.

"When it comes to facilities it's great, Dave Mahedy in UL has been very good to us and we get to use the 4G pitch there. We don't really have our own sponsorship, but we're really trying to go and do that next year and try and get our own money for these things."

While Hayes has stepped away from the international game where she won 15 caps and two Six Nations, she was thrilled to face some of the world's best again when representing Munster against the Barbarians last November. Having so many of her clubmates there made it even sweeter.

Talent

"I have played with Ireland before but just seen the talent in that Barbarians team was just amazing. And to play a Thomond Park too, somewhere we don't get to play too often, was very special for us.

"We didn't really realise how many Bohs' girls were involved until one of the club members, John Keane, organised a photo outside the club bar. We had to come 15 minutes early in our Munster gear and it was only then we realised it. John took the photo, had it framed and gave it to all of us, which was brilliant."

A win tomorrow would be Hayes's eighth league success with Bohs and she says she's enjoying playing for the club more than ever. Since she finished with the international game she has had more time to soak up the successes and invest in her private life and the club game.

"I'm 35 this year and there comes a time where you have to say: 'Right, I need to concentrate on my life now'.

"Last year we were just delighted to win the league. We lost the final the year before by two points and we had a conversion from the touchline to level it and we missed. We came together after that and said we're going to come back and it's been great since.

"This is something we want to win and if we do it we'll look for three in a row then. But winning this one would be great, with the depth we've had to use, being without the internationals during the Six Nations for the first time. We are extra keen to win again."

Irish Independent

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