Buccaneers moved five points clear at the top of the Ulster Bank League Division 1B following their 24-12 victory over Galwegians in front of a decent attendance on a raw evening at Dubarry Park last Friday night.
Buccs were full value for their win in this Hodson Bay Hotel group sponsored match which, on the evidence of the first half, should have been a lot more comfortable for the Athlone side but derby contests can be notoriously tricky to predict and to prevail in.
Neither side had any Connacht full-timers released to them so there was much change in both starting lineups. This had the greater impact on Buccs who were without Danny Qualter, Saba Meunargia, Danie Poolman and Rory Moloney as well as Stephen McVeigh, who was absent due to injury. Kolo Kiripati returned at No.8 after injury, Martin Staunton switched sides in the front row with Rory Grenham coming in at loosehead prop while Ruairi Byrne returned to the second row. The preference for Conor McKeon at scrumhalf on this occasion was the solitary change in the home backline. Meanwhile, Wegians had three changes from their previous outing. Mitch Lam and Dom Robertson-McCoy were not available, being replaced by Matt Quinn and Martin Fox with Aidan Moynihan moving from fullback to standoff. Josh Pim replaced Jack Dineen at No.8 with the latter named on their bench.
In the showery conditions with a resultant soft surface, the exchanges were a lot hotter than the weather and there was an early exchange of handbags in the opening moments but, thereafter, the game was contested in a committed but sporting manner. Despite the visitors having the advantage of the diagonal breeze at the start, Buccs relentless endeavours forged a firm grip on the proceedings in the opening period, penning the westerners deep in their own half. It took the Pirates 15 minutes before their first real chance evolved when Alan Gaughan was stopped close to the Wegians line where the homesters forced a five-metre scrum. From it, McKeon dummied and darted through for a smartly taken try which Gaughan converted. Four minutes later a second home try looked likely with Evan Galvin, Kiripati and John Sutton surging forward but possession was then hastily kicked away inside the Wegians 22.
However Luke Carty found an excellent touch on the right soon afterwards and the light blues just could not clear their lines before Mata Fifita thundered through for Buccs second try on 22 minutes with Gaughan adding the conversion. Seven minutes later another highly promising raid was spoiled by a crossing offence before further intense pressure by the midlanders in which Staunton was prominent yielded a 33rd minute penalty slotted comfortably by Gaughan to put Buccaneers 17-0 to the good, a scoreline that reflected their dominance.
But just a minute later the Tribesmen stunned the hosts with a try in their first real inroad into the home half when substitute Doron McHugh made an immediate impact as he burst through to touchdown at the posts. Moynihan’s conversion left the scoreboard reading 17-7 at half-time.
Five minutes after the change of ends, Buccs endeavoured a rash and ill-judged quick restart, gifting possession to the visitors who promptly put their best move of the match together and deft handling left to right sent Anthony Ryan over for an unconverted try near the corner. Galwegians, who had struggled from the start, were now resurgent just five points adrift and, from here to the final whistle, it was a much more evenly contested affair.
However, Buccaneers resettled to enjoy another spell of promising pressure. Eoghan O’Reilly, Galvin, Cian Romaine and Gaughan all got close to the visitors’ line in this period with the latter looking certain to score before a desperate Wegians defence somehow turned over possession. However, Buccaneers were eventually rewarded when O’Reilly finished off a further wave of Pirates’ attacks for a 57th minute try wide on the right. Gaughan landed an excellent conversion with what proved to be the final score. Try as both sides earnestly did thereon to the very end, neither team could secure a coveted bonus point, a mazy run by Galwegians Alan McMahon being the most threatening effort of the final quarter.
Best for Buccs
Overall, Buccs had the greater class with the Athlone side’s busy hooker Sutton taking the Audi Athlone Man of the Match accolade in their double score 24-12 victory. Fifita, Romaine, Galvin and McKeon were also prominent for the winners who have now made it seven successive victories in their climb to the summit. However, this ended up being a tighter contest than it looked likely to be in the early exchanges and, in the difficult conditions (not best suited for the Athlone side) and close nature of the game, the Shannonsiders did not utilise their inexperienced bench bar one late substitution.
Buccaneers:– L.Carty; E.O’Reilly, S.Layden, M.Fifita, J.Conroy; A.Gaughan, C.McKeon; R.Grenham, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; R.Byrne, C.Romaine; S.Meagher, E.Galvin and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- G.Lynch (for McKeon, 78 mins), E.Maher, R.O’Meara, J.Foley A. Hayman.
Galwegians:- A.McMahon; M.Quinn, C.Brennan, B.Murphy (captain), E.O’Keeffe; A.Moynihan, B.Lee; M.Fox, J.Moloney, J.East; A.Ryan, M.Kelly; R.Moore, P.Hackett and J.Pim. Replacements:- D.McHugh (for Fox, 34 mins), M.Towey (for Hackett, 58 mins), C.Lowndes (for Lee, 58 mins), J.Dineen (for McHugh, 64 mins), B.Lee (for Quinn, inj. 64 mins), D.McHugh (for East, 76 mins) and P.O’Beirne.
REFEREE:- Frank Murphy (IRFU).