Buccaneers RFC

Buccaneers V Ballymena battle ends in a draw

Buccaneers RFC

h4>Buccaneers and Ballymena shared the spoils 13-13 after a competitive Ulster Bank League Division 1B encounter at Dubarry Park that was well attended despite the bitter cold.

By Michael Silke

Both teams were much changed from their niggly early December clash with Buccs fielding five changes. The visitors went one better including an Ulster-experienced quartet to bolster their pack for this Russell Brennan Keane sponsored match played in excellent conditions.

Wearing their alternative canary yellow strip, Buccs quickly illuminated the proceedings under the impressive revamped floodlights at the Athlone venue. Eoghan O’Reilly created space for Shane O’Leary to mark his home debut with a fifth minute try converted by Alan Gaughan. The outhalf was prominent from the start and, after he was narrowly off-target with a long-range placekick, he duly slotted over a 14th minute penalty. The Pirates continued to force the pace and Gaughan extended their advantage when drilling over a splendid 30th minute drop goal. Ballymena did not get into the home 22 until the closing stages of this half and then an impressive maul came threateningly close to getting over Buccs line. But the midlanders held out despite O’Reilly incurred a sin-binning and they led 13-0 at halft-time.

Both teams made alterations in their front rows at the break and the changes had a significant influence on the outcome. Debutant Jamie Dever replaced Martin Staunton for the midlanders while the Braidmen brought on Chris Cundell for Bryan Young with Richard Lutton switching to loosehead. Ballymena then got a grip on the setpiece to get into the contest and open their account with a 52nd minute Richie McMaster penalty. Two minutes later Graham Lynch’s clearance was blocked down by Martin Irwin and the visitors forced another penalty deftly despatched over the bar by McMaster. Buccs were now making errors and, three minutes later, a Gaughan kick was charged down by Callum Patterson. Mark Best and Lynch tangled for the loose ball and referee Gary Conway incredibly awarded a penalty try. Penalty yes as Best was ahead but the yellow card very harsh while it never looked a penalty try as the visitors’ winger was over 20 metres out, with lots of work still to do wide on the left and with defenders swiftly converging in his direction. But McMaster did not worry about the ease and generosity of this award as he thumped the conversion over to level the scores.

Shortly afterwards Gaughan saw his drop goal attempt as advantage was played dip under the crossbar before his penalty from the left tailed just wide. The referee again drew the ire of the home support when he did not penalise Best for a late 74th minute tackle on Mata Fifita. The winger was committed but patently late on the home centre who was forced off as a result. With the legacy of the recent clash between the teams now simmering, the contest threatened to boil over but did not get out of hand in a rousing finale when both McMaster and Rodger McBurney made poor drop goal efforts for the northerners.

A draw was perhaps a fair outcome as both teams enjoyed dominance for a half in a passionate affair but it was of less value to Ballymena, who scored all their points in a five minutes spell, as they drop two places in the league table as a result. Meanwhile, although Buccaneers for whom Saba Meunargia was named AUDI ATHLONE man of the match did not extend their eight match winning sequence, the draw keeps them on top of the leaderboard ahead of Friday night’s Connacht derby joust away to Galwegians.

Buccaneers:- L.Carty; E.O’Reilly, M.Fifita, S.O’Leary, J.Conroy; A.Gaughan, G.Lynch; M.Staunton, J.Sutton, S.Meunargia; C.Romaine, D.Qualter; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- J.Dever (for Staunton, h/t), A.Hayman (for Fifita, inj. 45 mins), M.Fifita (for Hayman, 60 mins), E.Galvin (for McVeigh, 64 mins), R.Grenham and F.Hopkins.

Ballymena:- R.McBurney; M.Best, C.Patterson, M.Irwin, J.Rosborough; R.McMaster, G.Bailie; B.Young, J.Taggart, R.Lutton; D.Whann (captain), A.O’Connor; C.Smith, M.Rea and S.Mulholland. Replacements:- J.Beattie (for Rosborough, inj. 25 mins), J.Creighton (for Bailie, 30 mins), C.Cundell (for Young, h/t), A.Cundell and T.McGuinness.

Referee:- Gary Conway (IRFU).

In other news

Buccaneers Seconds put in a storming second half to overcome Galwegians 30-14 in the Connacht Junior Cup to set up a home derby semi-final against Ballinasloe on Sunday next.

Meanwhile, Buccaneers U-20s retain second place in the Leinster League Premier 2 following a hard-earned 10-6 home win over Old Wesley.