The Mighty Buccs one win away from promotion

Buccaneers maintained their relentless drive for promotion when they defeated Dolphin 19-5 in an Ulster Bank League Division 1B game at sodden Dubarry Park on Saturday. This match pitting top against bottom, sponsored by Glasson Country House Hotel & Golf Club, turned in to a real dogfight in testing weather and underfoot conditions. The incessant rain of recent days meant that it surely was appropriate that the combatants were Pirates and Dolphins! With the pitch cutting up badly, it militated greatly against the home side’s favoured style of fast, flowing play but the Athlone standard bearers showed true grit and resolve in overcoming a very determined challenge by the visitors.

Buccs had just one change in their pack with Jamie Dever starting in place of the departed Saba Meunargia. They had two changes in the backline with a new halfback pairing, the experienced Shane O’Leary switching to scrumhalf instead of Frankie Hopkins and Luke Carty moving to fly-half for the injured Alan Gaughan. The Leesiders, with a new coaching team at the helm, were unchanged from the side that defeated Shannon.

The Pirates got off to a perfect start, Carty’s crossfield kick being gathered by Jordan Conroy to score an unconverted try wide on the left after just seven minutes. But Dolphin dominated territory and possession for lengthy swathes of the opening half in a game that was in total contrast to the Pirates swash-buckling affair away to UL Bohemian last time out. The Corkonians were here to battle for survival in this division, and battle they did. But the usually reliable Barry Keeshan was off-target with kickable penalties on 4 and 30 minutes in a half when scoring opportunities were at a premium. They applied fierce pressure close to the half-hour mark but just could not get over the home line in the face of defiant defending.

Matters briefly ran amuck in the muck when the intense exchanges boiled over on 35 minutes and referee Oisin Quinn red carded both openside flankers, Rory Moloney of Buccs and Dolphin’s Kevin Allen. Quite how he singled these players out is unclear as both teams were wearing similar strips that were virtually indistinguishable in the mud at that stage! A block by Conroy in the final minute was deemed to be deliberate and the midlanders’ winger was yellow carded just before the interval with his try proving the only score of the first half, leaving Buccs 5-0 ahead.

Buccaneers reappeared for the second half in their canary yellow ‘away’ colours and, although restarting with only 13 players, they quickly illuminated matters. They raised their tempo and got a foothold in the Cork side’s 22 where, following a scrum, the ball was moved left and Rory O’Connor fastened onto Carty’s perfectly angled grubber kick to swoop for a 48th minute try. Carty added a terrific conversion but Dolphin soon responded when Eoin Griffin perhaps could have reacted more sharply to cut out Keeshan’s long clearance. Instead the home substitute was forced to tap the ball into touch close to the home line and Dave O’Mahony surged his way over in the right corner following the lineout for a 54th minute try. Cian McGovern, now entrusted with the place-kicking, was unable to convert from near the touchline and he was also off-target with a penalty ten minutes later.

Buccs looked like adding to their 12-5 advantage in a sparkling attack started by O’Leary and carried on by Griffin and Shane Layden but, with the visitors’ defence stretched to breaking point, Layden’s offload just missed the supporting Eoghan O’Reilly on 72 minutes. Two minutes later the Pirates got the breathing space they craved when Dolphin were forced to carry a chip ahead over their own line. From the ensuing scrum, Buccs drove the Cork side’s pack inexorably over their line where Kolo Kiripati grounded the ball and Carty added another top-notch conversion.

The homesters were most unfortunate in the final play not to secure a bonus point try when Conroy, in a typically mesmerising run from end to end, was adjudged to have put a foot in touch as he raced to the Dolphin line in search of his 15th try of the campaign. That would have been hard on the losers who journeyed home empty handed despite rattling Buccaneers but the winners showed necessary traits of character and mettle in this hard-earned victory in which U-20 Simon Meagher was named AUDI ATHLONE Man of the Match. It was hard to single out individuals in this all-round team effort and their mightily impressive unbeaten streak now stretches to 14 matches. Buccs now lead the league table by 16 points with just 4 matches remaining, including next Saturday’s game away to UCC at The Mardyke.

BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; R.O’Connor, S.Layden, A.Hayman, J.Conroy; L.Carty, S.O’Leary; J.Dever, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; S.Meagher, D.Qualter; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements used:- E.Griffin (for Hayman, h/t), E.O’Reilly (for Boland, inj. 50 mins), A.Hayman (for O’Connor, 52 mins), E.Galvin (for McVeigh, 60 mins), R.O’Meara (for Dever, 63 mins), R.Grenham (for Sutton, 73 mins) and S.McVeigh (for Meagher, 75 mins).

DOLPHIN:- T.Phelan; G.Ryan, C.McGovern, I.O’Donoghue, W.Hanly; B.Keeshan, D.Foley; L.Walsh, C.Scott, J.Rochford; R.O’Herlihy, D.O’Mahony; B.Fitzgerald (captain), K.Allen and R.Murphy. Replacements:- D.Byrne (for Scott, h/t), C.Scott (for Byrne, 60 mins), K.Keogh (for Fitzgerald, 71 mins), S.Kennedy (for Foley, 76 mins), C.Monahan (for O’Donoghue, 73 mins) and J.Leahy (for Walsh, 76 mins).

REFEREE:- Oisin Quinn (IRFU).

Buccaneers Seconds suffered a 42-19 defeat away to Connemara in this Connacht Junior 1A League game played at the Monastery Field, Clifden, on Sunday. Connemara, harbouring hopes of taking the league title, began much the better and built up a halftime lead of 42-0. They were assisted by the strong wind and showers in that opening half while the pitch was in very good condition bearing in mind the recent downpours. The Blacks scored six tries, all converted, in that period as they punished Buccs for errors committed.

With their U-20’s inactive, it was surprising that only three were available to bolster this Buccaneers squad who travelled with just one substitute for this vital encounter. Although the elements were much more benign in the second half, the Pirates put up a much better performance and Nicky Purcell opened their scoring with a try early in this half. Garreth Halligan, who had replaced the injured Conor Cleary midway through the first half, then showed that he still has the scoring touch when notching two tries in the final quarter. Ger Fallon landed a brace of conversions to complete Buccs tally.

Buccs dug deep with the pack battling to the bitter end. Here Rory Grenham, Ruairi Byrne, Jimmy O’Connell and Purcell did well with Sean Flynn putting up stout resistance in the backline where Eoin O’Reilly and Harry Hughes were prominent.

BUCCANEERS:- H.Hughes; B.Walsh, S.Flynn, E.O’Reilly, J.Lopez; G.Fallon, D.McMahon; K.Grehan, R.Grenham (captain), C.Cleary; T.Couper, R.Byrne; N.Purcell, J.O’Connell and S.Byrne. Replacement:- G.Halligan (for Cleary, inj.).
Buccaneers continue their quest for promotion when they head south to The Mardyke in Cork where they take on University College Cork as the Ulster Bank League enters the final straight. This Division 1B game kicks off at 2.30 p.m. and it should prove a lively affair. The Students have not quite secured their 1B status yet so will be battling for points while victory would virtually assure promotion for the Athlone side.

The teams served up an 85 point thriller in Dubarry Park last October with Buccs coming out on top 49-36. The Pirates were firmly in the driving seat for long spells in that encounter but the Students kept coming back from the dead to set up a nervy finish. Weather conditions permitting, scores could be plentiful again on Saturday although it is unlikely that eleven tries will again be scored. UCC lie in seventh place in the table, having won six but lost eight matches. Many of those defeats have been by close margins which means, that typical of College sides, they battle to the very end. They have a potent backline that includes a pair from the famed Kiernan clan in Paul and James. Tom Kiersey and Charlie O’Regan are lively options at half back and Kevin Slater is strong in the three quarters line. Wing Kevin O’Keeffe is one of the division’s leading points scorers so discipline could be vital. Indeed both teams incurred a brace of yellow cards at Dubarry Park so this is an area where they will be striving to improve on. The UCC forwards features another surname synonymous with rugby in the real capital with Paul Derham a key in the College pack where Richie Moran, Daire Feeney and Rob O’Donovan can trouble the midlanders.

However, Buccs have their eyes firmly on the prize of promotion now and destiny is very much in their own hands. They showed both sides of their capabilities when defeating nearest challengers UL Bohemian in a fast-moving contest and then accounting for basement strugglers Dolphin in a real arm-wrestle in atrocious conditions. Buccs will be hoping that Alan Gaughan, who sustained an injury at training last week, will be fit for this test while good ground at “the Dyke” could enable Jordan Conroy to add to his try tally. In the pack, Jamie Dever improved considerably on his debut against Ballymena while Buccs don’t yet know Rory Moloney’s fate following his red card against Dolphin. However, there is some strength in depth in the Pirates’ crew with Evan Galvin a ready made replacement in the back row. With Buccaneers now within touching distance of their holy grail, they can forge a vital win provided they continue to maintain the impressive work ethic and flair that they have shown throughout the campaign.

Other Fixtures

Buccaneers U-20’s are away to leaders Maynooth University/Barnhall in the J.P.Fanagan Leinster League Premier 2 division on Sunday. Both teams were inactive last weekend as their fixtures fell victim to the weather. MU/Barnhall top the league table on 53 points, eight ahead of second placed Buccs. The Athlone team has lost just twice while the combination side have tasted defeat only once. However, they have picked up 11 bonus points in their 12 matches to date and that has been crucial to putting them in the driving seat in this division. Nevertheless, Buccs have acquitted themselves excellently despite often losing influential players to the Senior squad and the Pirates defeated Sunday’s opponents 36-31 when the sides met in Athlone. Sunday’s joust could be another cracker.

Buccaneers Seconds travel to Clifden for the second week in succession to tackle Connemara in the Connacht Junior 1A League. Kick off at the Monastery Field for this final league game of the season is 2.30 p.m. Despite winning last weekend, the Blacks cannot now deprive Ballina the league title and Buccs will be hoping that Connemara may not be as interested on this occasion. That may be wishful thinking as the proud Blacks have always been competitive but, with Galwegians securing a bonus point win over Ballinasloe last weekend, the Tribesmen are now just three points adrift of the Pirates. Wegians play already relegated NUIG and will be expected to win that game so Buccs absolutely must pull something out of the hat for this match as defeat will mean they face a relegation play-off. It was hugely disappointing that they could only muster 16 players last Sunday but hopefully they will rally sufficient troops for this crunch tie.

Buccaneers Womens Connacht Cup final was postponed last Sunday as the Sportsground was deemed unplayable. At time of writing there is no information to hand as to when this decider will now be played.