Buccaneers Seconds 26 Connemara 18
Buccaneers Seconds and Connemara served up a compelling Connacht Junior 1A League encounter at Dubarry Park on Sunday with the home side coming out on top 26-18 after a well-contested duel played in perfect conditions on the Athlone club’s main pitch.
Both teams gave it their all in this basement battle and the deserved victory by the Pirates ensures they avoid automatic relegation whilst the Blacks cannot now escape the drop.
Both teams were missing some regulars for this ‘must win’ contest. The home mentors were innovative in replacing the vacationing Byrne brothers in the Buccs pack with Niall Flynn (at lock!) and Jimmy O’Connell (blindside flanker). Although both played out of position, they stepped up to the challenge. Two further changes were made to the backline with the vastly experienced Darin Classen coming in at fullback and Eoghan O’Reilly adding pace on the left flank.
Buccaneers made the perfect start with O’Connell making early yardage to earn a penalty that was punted to touch on the left. From the lineout, the homesters surged forward and Sean Flynn burst through in typical fashion for a 4th minute try at the posts which Cameron Hertz converted. Connemara made a quick riposte with David McDonagh striding in for a try within three minutes and Ian Heanue’s conversion made it 7-7 after a mere seven minutes.
The midlanders replied almost as swiftly and Paul Gallogly was held up on the visitors line but, from the resulting five-metre scrum, O’Reilly sped in at pace to notch a 14th minute try which Hertz converted. Ten minutes later, the young South African was unlucky when his 38 metre penalty rebounded off an upright and Connemara were fortunate to escape unscathed as they dallied in dotting down the ball. The chasing O’Reilly almost got to the ball before a hesitant Blacks defender and then the home wing was just denied shortly afterwards by his opposite number when he followed up an Alex Hayman grubber kick.
On the latter occasion, the referee was playing advantage and Buccs kicked the penalty to touch on the right. From the lineout the homesters went through the phases with James Tormey and Conor Morrissey both having cuts at the westerners’ defence before Hertz powered through for an unconverted 30th minute try on the left. Connemara responded with a 32nd minute Ian Heanue penalty to leave the half-time score 19-10 in favour of the hosts.
Exchanges were evenly contested on the change of ends and fullback Heanue reduced the visitors’ arrears with a 51st minute penalty. But Buccs struck back with a try within five minutes, albeit they enjoyed a bit of good fortune when a Connemara back knocked on straight in front of his posts. From the resultant scrum, Gallogly made the initial progress before the ball was moved to the left where Morrissey did very well to stretch through a number of tacklers to ground the ball for a bonus point try which Hertz converted. This made it a double scores advantage 26-13 for the Pirates and they could now utilise their bench.
A Heanue penalty on the hour mark tailed wide while, five minutes later, his brother Derek did very well to hold up Classen on the Connemara line following a sweeping home counter attack. As befits a club with a proud tradition, the Blacks battled to the bitter end and were rewarded for good pressure with a 71st minute Niall Staunton try to the right of the uprights. Heanue’s conversion was never on target and Connemara’s hopes vanished some minutes later when impetuosity by a front-rower conceded a relieving penalty kick that enabled Buccaneers to play out the closing stages in some comfort.
Thus Connemara will ply their trade in Division 1B with Corinthians Seconds next season despite the best endeavours of the Heanue brothers, Eoin Bourke, Kevin Keogh and skipper McDonagh. Buccs did well to earn promotion last season but rarely reached their collective potential in what proved a difficult campaign this year. They will now hope that Sligo retain their place in the AIL, otherwise they will face a promotion/relegation play-off. With that in mind, the players must continue to train hard but the squad possesses enough talent to overcome that challenge if it materialises. Gallogly, Rory Grenham, Keith Grehan and Morrissey were to the fore in the forwards exchanges while Hertz and O’Reilly were prominent in the endeavours of the Pirates backline where Hayman was a sure hand on the tiller at flyhalf.
BUCCANEERS:- D.Classen; B.Walsh, C.Hertz, S.Flynn, E.O’Reilly; A.Hayman, G.Fallon; C.Walsh, R.Grenham, K.Grehan; J.Tormey (captain), N.Flynn; J.O’Connell, C.Morrissey and P.Gallogly. Replacements:- H.Hughes (for Walsh, 60 mins), D.Griffiths (for S.Flynn, 60 mins), N.Purcell (for Fallon, 66 mins) and G.O’Loughlin (for N.Flynn, 66 mins).
CONNEMARA:- I.Heanue; T.Mullin, E.Bourke, D.McDonagh (captain), P.O’Toole; F.O’Rourke, M.O’Toole; E.Conroy, A.Pryce, C.Keane; N.Staunton, K.Keogh; D.Clancy, D.Heanue and C.King. Replacements:- C.Reilly (for Keane, 66 mins) and C.Casey.
Referee:- Jason Cairns (Connacht).