Buccaneers maintained their perch at the top of the Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B after a splendid 23-9 victory over fellow St. Mary’s College.
Although making four enforced changes from the win over UCC, including a total new front row trio. The Pirates were again relentless from start to finish in a fast-moving and highly entertaining contest.
St Mary’s took were ahead when after three minutes. Oisin McCormack was harshly penalised for not rolling away in front of his own uprights. Michael O’Gara opened the scoring with the straight-forward penalty.
Buccaneers fight back
Buccs were soon back on the offensive, Shane Layden making significant yardage with a kick to touch on the left.
The Saints infringed as they tried to get a maul going, Buccs worked the line where Darragh Murray won clean possession and hooker Lombard powered over for a 12th minute try. Harry West’s conversion fell short.
St. Mary’s survived another Pirates raid up their left flank when Saul O’Carroll and McCormack combined. The return pass was intercepted by Foley.
The game continued to flow from end to end. Conor Hickey made a terrific break for the metropolitans that eventually led to a second successful O’Gara penalty.
Buccaneers continued to take the game to the hosts and a wild clear-out on Frankie Hopkins by Ethan Baxter merited more than the penalty. The penalty was punted to the left to set up a serious assault on the home line by the visitors.
During this sustained pressure, West got closest to scoring but for Foley’s try-saving 29th minute tackle on the line.
Still the momentum remained with the midlanders. As they continued to attack, West kicked a smashing cross-field kick to the left where O’Carroll untypically knocked on with the line at his mercy.
McCann made a terrific offload to Layden but his link with O’Carroll was closed down.
St. Mary’s finally made some inroads into Buccs territory in the closing stages of the half and Hopkins incurred a career-first yellow card for an untidy tackle on Kilgallen.
St. Mary’s somehow still led 6-5 at the break.
Although temporarily depleted after the change of ends, with Will Reilly in at scrumhalf and McCann being the sacrificial lamb, Buccs remained on the offensive.
Lombard thought he had touched down for a second try but Buccs had knocked on at a Blues lineout.
However, the Pirates continued to raid, probing with some sublime handling from side-to-side. Their enterprise was rewarded when Jennings showed tremendous strength and desire to crash through three St. Mary’s tacklers for a 47th minute. West added the conversion.
Seven minutes later the out-half put Buccs 15-6 ahead with a fine penalty but O’Grady replied for the hosts within two minutes.
West was off-target with a longer placekick when it may have been more prudent to work the touchline. Although Buccaneers were dominating, the game remained finely balanced as it entered the final-quarter.
St. Mary’s eventually enjoyed some attacking territory in the final 10 minutes when O’Carroll was sin-binned for a perceived deliberate knock-on.
Mary’s found the Pirates defence impenetrable with the slight frame of Reilly getting in under a home maul to deny them a touchdown at the left corner.
Josh O’Connor ran on to a super West diagonal kick but the Blues cover got back to halt his progress. However, the Shannonsiders forced a 75th minute penalty which West slotted over to put two scores between the teams.
O’Gara was yellow carded at this stage following a late tackle. Buccs sealed the victory when Jennings read a St Mary’s offload and sent West haring down the left flank for an unconverted try.
Buccs taking a marvellous 23-9 win that keeps the Athlone club on top of Division 1B.
St. Mary’s College: C.Hickey, H.Conway, M.Fogarty, M.O’Gara, S.Kilgallen, C.Dean, A.McEvoy, A.Mulvihill, S.O’Brien, J.Reidy-Walsh, P.Starrett, D.Leane, R.Watters (c), E.Baxter, R.Foley.
Replacements: T.O’Reilly for Reidy-Walsh (32), R.Halpin for O’Brien (45), H.McDonald for Starrett (45), N.Hurley for Baxter (50), P.Dundon for O’Reilly (58), T.O’Reilly for Mulvihill (64), A.Walsh for McEvoy (67).
Buccaneers: S.Jennings, J.O’Connor, S.Layden (c), S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll, H.West, F.Hopkins, J.Kelly, S.Lombard, S.O’Connell, R.Byrne, D.Qualter, C.McCann, D.Murray, O.McCormack.
Replacements: W.Reilly for McCann (temp. 40/50 mins), W.Reilly for Hopkins 64), D.Browne, C.Fokam, F.Galvin, M.Hanley, O.Burgess.
Referee: Oisin Quinn (IRFU).