A final move of the match try by former player Mata Fifita denied an inexperienced Buccaneers victory in their opening Connacht Senior League game with Sligo writes Michael Silke.
Fifita’s try seeing the spoils shared 21-21 at Hamilton Park, Sligo, on Sunday as Buccs fielded a patchwork squad with a number of players operating out of position.
The Pirates were understrength for a variety of reasons including some key players attending Electric Picnic! Consequently they had to align their resources as best as possible for their first game of the new season.
Youth was given its fling as the backrow consisted of three players more associated with front row duty.
Sligo fielded a considerably meatier outfit, particularly noticeable in the pack, and with a match already under their belts they opened the sharper.
Sligo’s first real threat arrived on 13 minutes but Callum Boland’s tackle forced Rob Holian to knock on close to the visitors’ line.
A series of close-in scrums ensued and the bulkier home forwards set up the opening score, Brendan Cunningham darting in for a 17th minute try converted by Jack Keegan.
Conceding significantly in both weight and height at the scrum, Buccs endured early difficulties in the set-piece but their pack got it right just five minutes later to send Eoghan O’Reilly scampering away on the right to mark his return to the club with a try which Michael Hanley converted.
On the half-hour mark, Buccs won good lineout possession on the left, neat interplay brought the ball to midfield where Hanley dinked a delicious grubber kick which Rory O’Connor collected, outpacing the home defence for a try just right of the posts. Hanley duly added the conversion.
Fifita was yellow carded five minutes later for a late tackle on O’Connor that forced the latter off to be replaced by Darragh Corbett. In deteriorating weather conditions, Buccaneers led 14-7 at half-time.
Sligo resumed in determined fashion, but following a Hanley grubber kick that created confusion in the home ranks, Buccs were patient and organised when going through the phases that led to their third try.
Teenager Darren Browne applied the finishing touch to score on 50 minutes and Hanley’s conversion gave Buccaneers a promising 21-7 lead.
Both teams now rang the changes in the testing conditions before Sligo reduced the arrears after 68 minutes, Fifita surging over after Enda Gavin had made good ground down the left for a Sligo try.
Euan Brown landed the conversion setting-up a dramatic finale. Fifita, fortunate to escape a second yellow card for another intemperate tackle, powered through between the uprights right at the death when a rare gap opened in the Pirates defence.
Brown’s straight-forward conversion salvaged a draw for Sligo for whom Holian, Ciaran Cassidy and Shane Boyle did best in the pack while Ryan Feehily was their liveliest back.
Sligo: E.Gavin; C.Goddard, J.Keegan, M.Fifita, P.Carter; R.Feehily (c), B.Cunningham; B.Sala, S.O’Hehir, T.Gormley, C.Trimble, S.Boyle; R.Holian, S.Wynne, C.Cassidy
Replacements: M.Earley, R.O’Boyle, S.Mullin, B.West, M.Davey, E.Brown and C.Cooper.
Buccaneers: C.Boland (c), Eoghan O’Reilly, R.O’Connor, R.Enraght-Moony, T.McGann; M.Hanley, G.Fallon, H.O’Reilly, R.Grenham, M.Murphy, R.Byrne, T.Rensford; S.O’Connell, D.Browne, M.Staunton.
Replacements: D.Corbett (O’Connor, inj. 35), C.Harewood (Staunton, inj. 45), D.Buckley (Grenham 62), Eoin O’Reilly (Hanley 62), G.Catarino (Murphy 73), M.Hanley (Eoghan O’Reilly 78), D.O’Rourke
Referee: Danny Maguire (Connacht)