Buccaneers recorded back to back victories for the first time in this season’s All-Ireland League Division 1B when they defeated Old Belvedere 20-12 at Dubarry Park on Saturday.
Concurrently, and just as importantly, they have moved up the league table a notch with each win with Ballymena and now Old Belvedere below the midlander’s.
In front of the biggest attendance of the season at the Athlone stadium, that included home town Ireland star Robbie Henshaw and Connacht Academy manager Eric Elwood, Buccs got off to the perfect start.
They maintained their workrate and endeavour from start to finish in a hard fought contest. Both sides showed six changes apiece from their fixture last month but just two each from last week’s AIL matches.
Darragh Corbett returned after injury on the left wing for Dean McMahon for the homesters with Eoghan Masterson coming in for Joe Maksymiw in the pack.
Both Belvo changes were in their backline, Peter O’Beirne fit again to resume at scrumhalf linking up with Sean Cribben.
Following heavy overnight rain, underfoot conditions were soft with a diagonal breeze favouring the hosts at kick off.
Buccaneers were lively from the offset and applied good early attacks that were finished off by Shane Layden for a sixth minute try between the uprights.
This was the Pirates skipper’s fourth try in successive AIL games. Luke Carty tapped over the conversion and then added a fine 15th minute penalty from 37 metres as Belvo’s infringements stacked up.
But just four minutes later the visitors opened their account following their first raid of any menace.
Buccs stopped that with a tackle into touch on the left but then their lineout went badly awry and the Dubliners mauled over for an unconverted try by Eoin Sweeney.
The tackles were now flying in as the sun came out for a spell but Carty was unable to land a tricky 22nd minute penalty for offside.
Conan O’Donnell was yellow carded for a 31st minute high tackle on Karl Miller. This was somewhat harsh as the Belvo No.8 ducked really low into the tackle.
They promptly made the most of their fortuitous numerical superiority with O’Beirne’s quick snipe making good yardage before Miller stretched over for a try just left of the uprights. Crosbie’s conversion put Old Belvedere 12-10 ahead after 33 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, a Layden sally into the opposition half ended when the Buccs centre pulled a hamstring. He was replaced by Corey Reid, making his first appearance of the season after a lengthy injury lay-off.
Buccaneers regained the lead just before the break, the Belvo cover caught offside again and Carty stroked over a neat placekick to edge Buccs 13-12 ahead at half-time.
Rory O’Connor and Torin Rensford were withdrawn at the break due to injury tweaks, replaced by Graham Lynch and Sean Masterson respectively, the latter making his debut for Buccs.
However, O’Connor was swiftly back into the fray when Corbett was forced off just four minutes into the second-half.
With the breeze getting up a little, Old Belvedere sent Adam Howard in at hooker and Ben Carty at fly-half, where he would be in direct opposition to younger brother Luke!
Buccaneers pack was enjoying the better of the forwards exchanges and Conor Owende was sin-binned for bringing down a Buccs maul on 58 minutes.
The Athlone side then did to the visitors what the metropolitans had done earlier when they had temporary numerical superiority.
Carty made a fine touch on the left with the resultant penalty and the midlanders forwards mauled over for a 60th minute try.
Simon Meagher applied the finishing touch and Carty added a splendid conversion from wide on the left for a 20-12 lead.
Buccaneers then applied massive pressure, picking and going patiently in the face of disciplined and committed defending.
They finally looked like unlocking the Belvo rearguard action but a final pass to Callum Boland was not pinpoint accurate and the ball squirmed from the fullback’s grasp due to Crosbie’s try-saving tackle on 64 minutes.
A terrific arm-wrestle of a contest continued all the way to the finish and Carty had a great opportunity to finish it off for the homesters.
But his final kick penalty was off-target and Belvo ran back at the Shannonsiders to add a nervy minute or two before sustained defending by the Pirates forced an error to close out the match and leave the Dubliners empty-handed.
Roman Salamoa, Miller and Owende tried hardest in the Old Belvedere pack with backs coach Crosbie pick of their backline.
Buccaneers are now in eighth position in what is still an unusually congested league table with a two week break before fixtures against City of Armagh and St. Mary’s College, the two teams just above them.
Buccaneers: C.Boland, R.O’Connor (G.Lynch HT), S.Layden (c) (C.Reid 36), K.Joyce, D.Corbett (R.O’Connor 44), L.Carty, F.Hopkins, C.O’Donnell, J.Sutton, C.Kenny, R.Byrne, T.Rensford (S.Masterson HT), S.Meagher, E.Galvin, E.Masterson
Old Belvedere: D.Riordan, J.Keating, T.Molony, S.Crosbie (c), F.Flood (P.Maher 57), S.Cribben (B.Carty 50), P.O’Beirne, J.Bollard (A.Howard 50), E.Rossiter (K.O’Neill 64), R.Salamoa (J.Bollard 74), J.Kelly, C.Owende, E.Sweeney, E.O’Neill, K.Miller (G.Hill 67)
Referee: Mark Patton (IRFU)