Buccaneers and Ballymena traded places in the All-Ireland League Division 1B when the Athlone side came from behind to fashion a fully-merited 20-16 crunch victory at Eaton Park, Ballymena, on Saturday.
Aided by the breeze, Ballymena opened on the offensive but, encouragingly, Buccs forced penalties from two early scrums, before Ballymena took the lead with an eighth minute penalty which Tim Small squeezed over via an upright.
In the 22nd minute, Buccs Callum Boland made a fine break but it was Ballymena who got the next score. Buccs were embarrassment at thier scrum, being shunted off the ball and Small added a 30th minute penalty.
He made it a hat-trick of penalties six minutes later when Buccs did not roll away. Ballymena could have been further ahead at half-time but a forward pass denied Reynolds a try. Ballymena leading 9-0 at half-time.
Buccaneers were a rejuvenated and more purposeful following the change of ends with the dominance of their pack becoming increasingly evident.
Simon Meagher won a good lineout ball following a penalty to the right and the Pirates pack got down to business in earnest.
A splendid maul saw referee Barrie O’Connell apply good advantage which Carty availed of to send a teasing grubber in behind the home cover.
There Shane Layden was braver than Rodger McBurney to ground the ball for a 44th minute try which Carty converted.
Prop Ignacio Caldera Crespo, whose influence was greatly curbed on this occasion, was withdrawn shortly afterwards and this further boosted Buccs sense of belief.
Another scrum penalty was forced and Carty judged this 53rd minute placekick from 40 metres to perfection to put the Shannonsiders 10-9 ahead.
But more or less from the restart, Joyce’s attempted clearance was blocked down and, although the centre got back to retrieve the situation, Ballymena earning a five metre scrum.
Although Buccs drove the hosts back, Michael Stronge was allowed get the ball away and found Foster with a skipped pass for a 56th minute try. Small added an excellent touchline conversion, edging Ballymena back in front at 16-9.
Buccaneers were not ruffled by this and their forwards were now dictating matters. As the game entered the final quarter, a Carty penalty found a terrific touch on the left.
Another super drive followed and earned Marcus Rea a 61st minute trip to the sin bin for illegally slowing this maul.
Buccs continued to apply fierce pressure and a series of splendid drives inevitably earned a 65th minute penalty try to nose ahead by the minimum.
Three minutes later a magnificent Boland break past a handful of tacklers warranted a try while cross-field kicks to opposite flanks by Joyce and Carty just eluded McMahon and Rory O’Connor respectively as the visitors turned the screw.
Buccaneers sealed the victory, their fourth in their five most recent visits to Eaton Park, three minutes from time, Carty slotting over another penalty to complete the 20-16 score-line in favour of the Athlone club.
The Pirates move up to ninth in the league table which is now propped up by the Co. Antrim outfit.
Ballymena: R.McBurney, J.Foster, M.Norris, D.Montgomery, D.Reynolds, T.Small, M.Stronge, I. Caldero Crespo (J.Bill 51), J.Spence (A.Ferguson 58), C.Cundell, D.Whann, J.J.McKee (C.Smyth 72), C.Smyth (, S.Mulholland 58), M.Rea (captain), C.Ross.
Replacements Not Used: C.Whyte and G.Baillie.
Buccaneers: C.Boland, R.O’Connor, S.Layden (captain), K.Joyce, D.McMahon, L.Carty, F.Hopkins, C.O’Donnell, J.Sutton, C.Kenny, R.Byrne, J.Maksymiw, T.Rensford, E.Galvin, S.Meagher.
Replacements Not Used: R.Grenham, L.Winnett, O.Treacy, G.Lynch, M.Hanley, R.Enraght-Moony.
Referee: Barrie O’Connell (IRFU).