Buccaneers face Corinthians in the Connacht Senior Cup Final on Saturday with the game taking place at Corinthian Park after the Galway club won the toss for home advantage.
By Michael Silke
This will surely be a tough examination for Buccaneers as the westerners will be primed to prevail on their own patch and will be greatly encouraged by their surprise and convincing 46-19 triumph over city rivals Galwegians in the semi-final.
Adding spice to the occasion will be a trio of former Buccaneers players in the home side’s squad. Sam McCormack is likely to operate at openside flanker, Ger O’Connor will link backs and forwards from his scrumhalf berth and Ross Keller should line out at fullback. His brother Simon partners the wily and experienced O’Connor at halfback where the Monivea man’s influence must be curbed by the midlanders. Craig Hansberry, Sean Masterson and No.8 Lise Soloa are key forwards in the Corinthians ranks and the latter’s battle with Kolo Kiripati could be a deciding factor in the outcome of this final. Corinthians have scored a couple of vital AIL home wins just before the mid-season break that saw them climb away from the danger zone.
The Pirates had a comfortable 36-3 victory when the sides met in the opening fixture of the season but Corinthians are a much-changed squad in the interim. It being a Cup Final, Saturday’s decider is likely to be a lot closer especially as the Athlone side are likely to be missing a goodly portion of their Connacht players. However, Buccaneers have been playing very well in recent outings which included their heavy defeat of Sligo in their semi-final as well as an eight match winning sequence in the Ulster Bank League where they top Division 1B.
Kiripati, Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Evan Galvin and Ruairi Byrne give the pack an experienced and aggressive spine while young guns such as Eoghan Maher, Simon Meagher, Ryan O’Meara and James Foley will be vying for places alongside Rory Grenham. If the Buccaneers pack edges the forwards battle, then they have strength, pace and craft in their backline to dominate the scoreboard. Mata Fifita and Roscommon’s Shane Layden have formed a powerful and formidable pairing in the centre this season while Alan Gaughan has blossomed at standoff. Graham Lynch could get a winning send-off before he departs overseas to study while Eoghan O’Reilly, Callum Boland and Alex Hayman should relish this encounter. Rory O’Connor could be another starter if fit after injury.
Brett Wilkinson (whose assistant Darin Claasen played many a match for Saturday’s opponents) will undoubtedly have it well drilled into his charges heads not to underestimate the home side and to maintain their focus, discipline and workrate – aspects that have served Buccs well this season. If Buccaneers play to their potential, they can complete a rare Connacht Senior League and Cup double. The game goes ahead at Corinthian Park with a 2 p.m. kick off so let’s see hordes of Pirates supporting Buccs in Clounacauneen. The winners have been drawn away to holders Cork Constitution in the Bateman Cup semi-final on January 21st.
Seconds Away To Monivea
Buccaneers Seconds are also back in action this weekend when they travel to the Castle Grounds to tackle Monivea in the Connacht Junior 1A League on Sunday, kick off 2.30 p.m. This could be a sticky test for the Pirates as fourth-placed Monivea will be keen to avenge their 27-20 defeat in Athlone.