Buccaneers lose out in opening Division 1A game

Buccaneers were desperately unfortunate to come away empty-handed from their Ulster Bank League Division 1A game against Lansdowne which the visitors won 19-10 after a hard-fought encounter in miserable weather conditions at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. With five debutants in their side, Buccs put it up to Lansdowne from start to finish before last season’s table toppers took the spoils.

 BUCCANEERS 10 LANSDOWNE 19  Report by Mike Silke

Half the starters in the home pack was comprised of newcomers in prop Conan O’Donnell, lock Peter Claffey, backrower Dan Law and No.8 Paul Boyle. Teenager Thomas McGann made his first AIL start on the left wing for the Pirates who were short a frontline trio of injured backs in Jordan Conroy, Callum Boland and Mata Fifita while prop Conor Kenny was not available to the homesters for this Dubarry of Ireland sponsored match.

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Drizzle arrived to coincide with kick off time and the more experienced Lansdowne outfit were quickest to settle but Buccs were resolute in defence in the opening ten minutes. After their initial nervousness, the midlanders got into their stride with Dan Law making the first telling raid and Shane Layden then found room but kicked ahead a shade too early. They built on this to force a penalty but Alan Gaughan’s 14th minute effort from the ten metre line dipped under the crossbar. Three minutes later, Luke Carty was flagged for blocking and Lansdowne’s Scott Deasy opened the scoring with the resultant penalty.

Buccs responded and Simon Meagher got up swiftly to tackle Deasy over the visitors’ line to force a five-metre scrum.  From this the Athlone side built up a promising attack with numbers to the left but Gaughan attempted an ill-judged grubber kick and the metropolitans cleared the danger. Then following a penalty punted to the right, Buccs won lineout possession and moved the ball in-field where Rory O’Connor made a break before chipping over the cover and Lansdowne were mightily relieved that Foster Horan won the race to touchdown.

The visitors got the rub of the green shortly afterwards when fullback Eamonn Mills brought the ball back from a Buccs kick ahead over his own line to ground it with the referee ignoring the hosts justifiable pleas for a five metre scrum. Five minutes before half-time, McGann chased another teasing chip ahead and Daniel McEvoy was forced to concede a penalty for not releasing the ball but Gaughan was untypically off-target with the kickable placekick and so Lansdowne led 3-0 at the interval.

Lansdowne dominated the opening exchanges of the second half also but Deasy’s 43rd minute penalty fell short. However, the Corkonian’s 50th minute penalty earned some reward for their pressure to edge 6-0 ahead. But, virtually straight from the restart, Carty drilled over a sensational drop goal from close to his own ten metre line that finally fired up the home supporters. However, he then dropped a pass from Conor McKeon and Lansdowne booted ahead with Charlie Rock getting the vital touch for an opportunist 53rd minute try. The homesters were aggrieved with this as speedster McGann was clearly impeded in this chase and Lansdowne made the most of their further good fortune with Deasy’s conversion putting them 13-3 to the good.

But Buccs struck back following a penalty to the right and, when possession was moved infield, Conor McKeon’s smart show and go wrong-footed the Leinster side’s defence as he darted in for a 57th minute try between the posts. Gaughan’s conversion left just three points between the teams as the contest entered the final quarter. However, Buccs were punished for indiscipline in this period with Shane Delahunt incurring a yellow card for rashly kicking the ball away after the hosts conceded a penalty in midfield. Deasy stretched Lansdowne’s advantage with penalties on 66 and 73 minutes following offside and scrum infringements respectively.

The Pirates continued to battle and O’Connor showed great desire when getting a boot to the ball on the Lansdowne ten metre line but, with the Dublin side’s defence breached, his second kick ahead was a shade too strong and the ball edged over the deadball line just before he could ground it. Thus Lansdowne, arguably the most consistent club in the AIL for the past five seasons during which they twice won the title and topped the league table last year, got off to a winning 19-10 start. Their pack was physically stronger and they were the more pragmatic and seasoned outfit whilst seemingly benefiting from the majority of the marginal decisions by referee Eddie Hogan-O’Connell, who looked off the pace of the game.

Meanwhile Buccaneers can take encouragement and belief from their display as they were far from outplayed in their return after a decade to the top flight when they possibly granted Lansdowne too much respect on occasion. They kicked away far too much possession and need to be more patient and disciplined. But they had the far greater number of try chances that with a bit more cuteness and luck would have earned the spoils that the endeavours of Audi Athlone Man of the Match Boyle would have deserved. Claffey, John Sutton and O’Connor were others to the fore in Buccaneers cause.

BUCCANEERS:- L.Carty; R.O’Connor, S.Layden (captain), D.Poolman, T.McGann; A.Gaughan, F.Hopkins; M.Staunton, J.Sutton, C.O’Donnell; P.Claffey, C.Romaine; D.Law, S.Meagher and P.Boyle. Replacements:- C.McKeon (for Hopkins, 47 mins), S.Delahunt (for Sutton, 47 mins), E.McKeon (for Law, 50 mins), C.Reid (for McGann, 59 mins), T.McGann (for Reid, inj. 70 mins), J.Sutton (for E.McKeon, temp. 60/70 mins) and N.Farrelly.

LANSDOWNE:-  E.Mills; D.McEvoy, I.Fitzpatrick, F.Cleary, F.Horan; S.Deasy, A.Bennie; I.Prendiville (captain), T.Moran, A.Boland; P.Donnellan, J.O’Rourke; J.Dwan, C.Butterworth and W.Earle. Replacements:- C.Rock (for Bennie, 50 mins), S.Coughlan (for Cleary, 52 mins), N.Mpiko (for Boland, 60 mins), J.Dineen and B.Fitzpatrick.

Referee:- Eddie Hogan-O’Connell (IRFU).