Buccaneers extended their lead at the top of the Ulster Bank League Division 1B following a highly entertaining 25-14 bonus point victory over Galwegians at Crowley Park, Glenina, on Friday night.
By Michael Silke
Results elsewhere mean that Buccaneers are now six points clear of UL Bohemian while ‘Wegians drop to second from bottom, five points ahead of basement club Dolphin. The Pirates were full value for their victory, forged after a committed and fast-moving contest, but the westerners can feel unfortunate not to have salvaged at least a losing bonus point.
Buccs made five changes for this Connacht derby. Danny Qualter and Luke Carty were not made available while Mata Fifita and Cian Romaine were injured. With Graham Lynch back at college in Europe and Conor McKeon still injured, U-20 Frankie Hopkins made his AIL debut at scrumhalf. Ruairi Byrne and Simon Meagher replaced the absent locks while Shane Layden and Callum Boland returned at centre and fullback respectively. Galwegians had a quartet of changes with Adam Leavy and Ciaran Gaffney being replaced in the backline by Matthew Byrne and Alan McMahon. Dominic Robertson-McCoy deputised for prop Ronan Loughrey with Paul Hackett starting in place of Peter Claffey in the home pack.
Although sleety pre-match showers made the pitch greasy, conditions were otherwise good on a nippy but thankfully dry night. Playing up towards the clubhouse and assisted by the slight breeze, Buccs made the early running with Rory Moloney and Stephen McVeigh prominent and they opened the scoring with a 7th minute Alan Gaughan penalty. Five minutes later, Jordan Conroy made a slippery break before Eoghan O’Reilly and Layden failed to take command of an Aidan Moynihan clearance deep in the home half and Brian Murphy steamed away with possession to set off a splendid counter attack carried on by Ed O’Keeffe and finished off by Morgan Codyre. Moynihan duly converted. Layden and O’Reilly were then on the same wavelength in a promising Buccs raid soon afterwards but the Wegians defence held firm.
The midlanders continued to take the game to the hosts before another enterprising counter attack by the light blues was finished off by Moynihan at the posts who added the conversion to give Galwegians a 14-3 lead against the run of play at the end of the opening quarter. Injury forced the home side’s lock Anthony Ryan off after 22 minutes being replaced by Eoin Tarmey. After a knock on ended another promising Layden charge, Buccs looked certain to score on 26 minutes when the Ireland Sevens player again made terrific ground up the middle but just as he endeavoured to apply the touchdown McMahon put in a superb try-saving rob. However, the Athlone side’s opening try eventually arrived just two minutes later following a magnificent 20-metre maul after a lineout. John Sutton applied the finishing touch and Gaughan slotted over the conversion.
Kolo Kiripati and Saba Meunargia made the initial yardage following a 35th lineout on the right before Gaughan kicked a pinpoint crossfield kick to Conroy and the Buccs winger had both the pace and desire to stretch over for an unconverted try wide on the left. This gave the Pirates a slim 15-14 advantage at half-time and, with Rory O’Connor replacing O’Reilly at the break, they stepped up their efforts following the change of ends but did not add to their tally. McMahon was an early second half withdrawal for Wegians with David Clarke replacing the injured centre and Jack Dineen came on for Dom Robertson-McCoy in the front row. They were still very much in the lively contest and enjoyed good territory too. However, Moynihan was off-target with a 52nd minute penalty following a high tackle. Conor Lowndes joined the action shortly after this in place of scrumhalf Barry Lee.
Buccs had a setback close to the hour mark when the influential Layden was pitilessly yellow-carded but, nevertheless, they added to their tally whilst temporarily depleted. Gaughan made huge yardage with a penalty to the right and, following the lineout, Buccs again got another superb maul going towards the home line. When the move stopped just short, Hopkins popped a quick ball to Gaughan and the outhalf arced on the blindside to somehow stretch over the line for a 65th minute unconverted try in the right corner despite Dineen’s despairing tackle.
It remained nip and tuck and Galwegians quickly got a chance to reduce their 20-14 arrears when Buccs did not release in front of their posts. However, the Tribesmen opted for a punt to the corner and the Pirates held their line intact. In a ding-dong tussle, Buccaneers had the final say when, after Layden made another impressive romp upfield, the Athlone side then went patiently through a series of phases before stretching the home cover to breaking point and Conroy scurried in at the left corner for his second try, his tenth of the AIL season. This completed the 25-14 winning margin and secured a winning bonus point whilst also denying Galwegians a losing bonus point.
This was a derby full of passion and commitment but untypically open. Eoghan Masterson and Dineen battled bravely in the home pack with Murphy and particularly O’Keeffe a constant threat in the Wegians backline. Buccs made a lot of handling errors and seemed to rush matters once they got to the home 22. But they were the stronger and more clinical outfit. Meunargia, Kiripati and Moloney did sterling work in the forwards exchanges and Sutton was a pest throughout. Hopkins settled into the game as the contest progressed, benefiting from Gaughan’s guidance, and Conroy has regained his try-scoring mojo while Layden was decidedly unlucky not to grab a try or two. Overall, this was an earnest and sustained all-round effort by the Pirates who host Old Wesley in Dubarry Park on Saturday next with an unusual 4.30 p.m. kick off time.
One minute’s silence was observed before the match in memory of the late Pearse O’Toole, former past President of the Association of Referees, Connacht Branch.
Galwegians: M.Codyre; M.Byrne, A.McMahon, B.Murphy (captain), E.O’Keeffe; A.Moynihan, B.Lee; D.Robertson-McCoy, J.Moloney, J.East; A.Ryan, M.Kelly; P.Hackett, J.Pim and E.Masterson. Replacements:- E.Tarmey (for Ryan, inj. 22 mins), D.Clarke (for McMahon, inj. 42 mins), J.Dineen (for Robertson-McCoy, 50 mins), C.Lowndes (for Lee, 58 mins), D.Robertson-McCoy (for East, 66 mins) and P.Curran (for Moloney, 76 mins).
Buccaneers: C.Boland; E.O’Reilly, S.Layden, S.O’Leary, J.Conroy; A.Gaughan, F.Hopkins; M.Staunton, J.Sutton, S.Meunargia; R.Byrne, S.Meagher; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- R.O’Connor (for O’Reilly, h/t), E.Galvin (for Kiripati, 52 mins), K.Kiripati (for McVeigh, 63 mins), A.Hayman (for Layden, 70 mins), R.Grenham (for Staunton, 76 mins) and E.Maher (for Sutton, 76 mins).
Referee:- Leo Colgan (IRFU).
Buccaneers Seconds bowed out of the Connacht Junior Cup when losing to neighbours Ballinasloe 25-8 in a well-contested semi-final at Dubarry Park on Sunday.
The visitors were that bit better organised and more committed but the winning margin flattered them as errors did not help the homesters’ cause.
Buccs sorely felt the loss of lock Ruairi Byrne and outhalf Callum Boland, who had both been on duty with the Senior squad on Friday night along with Alex Hayman but another loyal servant James Tormey made his first appearance of the season. Ballinasloe had a more settled side and it showed, particularly in the opening half when crucially they built up a 15-0 advantage when aided by the elements on a gloriously sunny but cold afternoon. They opened the scoring after only 3 minutes when Keelan O’Neill stroked over a penalty. The Pirates had a quick chance to level but Ger Fallon was off-target with a penalty three minutes later.
Buccs went tantalisingly close to scoring a try after a quarter of hour but, after a good spell of close in pressure, they knocked on in the face of staunch defending. At the other end, the home defence was more porous as Kieran Coughlan romped from halfway virtually unchallenged before sending Andy O’Hara over for an unconverted try on the right after 20 minutes. The Athlone side’s cause grew more difficult when Keith Grehan was yellow carded for an ill-judged tackle and Ballinasloe soon added to their discomfort when John Hayes’ strong running saw him get through for a 35th minute try which O’Neill converted. Fallon was off-target again with another penalty three minutes from the interval while Buccs did very well to hold O’Hara up after he had surged over the home line between the uprights in the final move of the half.
Back to full complement following the change of ends, Buccaneers attacked strongly and forced a series of penalties. Some of these were “gimmes” in golfing parlance and it beggars belief that they opted for a number of scrums which dogged Ballinasloe repelled. Eventually Buccs opted for a kick at goal and Fallon opened their account with a 51st minute penalty. However, the Galway side weathered this storm and got a slice of good fortune to knock the stuffing out of the hosts. Ballinasloe seemed to knock the ball on when close to the home line and a number of Buccs defenders stood off but Niall Staunton played the whistle and grabbed the loose ball to poach a 56th minute try which O’Neill converted to extend their lead to 22-3.
Buccaneers continued to battle valiantly and again put the visitors under some sustained pressure that yielded another series of penalties until referee Jason Cairns lost his patience and sin-binned Ballinasloe’s hooker O’Hara on 64 minutes. Buccs had another series of snipes and their persistence was rewarded when Rory Grenham powered through for an unconverted 68th minute try. Despite pounding the Ballinasloe line when Sean Flynn and Sean Byrne were both held out, that was as close as Buccs got with substitute Eoin O’Reilly having a late try chance too but his grubber kick ahead was overhit and O’Neill sealed the issue with a late Ballinasloe penalty to complete the 25-8 margin.
Ballinasloe were more voracious at ruck time and also profited from O’Neill’s boot with placed balls and out of the hand. Hayes and O’Hara were to the fore in the forwards tussle where Coughlan had an influential first half until injured while Andrew Mannion was secure at fullback. Buccs got themselves into trouble through aimless kicking especially in the first half and their tactics in the third quarter were naïve when they should have got the scoreboard ticking from a number of kickable penalties. Their lively back three also saw too little of the ball and here Rory O’Connor looked a real threat as did bustling centre Sean Flynn. Grenham, Byrne and Jimmy O’Connell were industrious throughout in a Pirates pack that never gave up.
Buccaneers last won the Junior Cup ten seasons ago but Ballinasloe’s wait is even longer. Hence their desire was greater and we wish them well in the final.
Buccaneers: R.O’Connor; C.Forde, S.Flynn, D.Griffiths, H.Hughes; G.Fallon, N.Purcell; K.Grehan, R.Grenham (captain), T.Thompson; T.Couper, J.Tormey; N.Flynn, J.O’Connell and S.Byrne. Replacements:- D.McMahon (for Purcell, inj. 53 mins), R.Flanagan (for N.Flynn, inj. 60 mins), N.Farrelly (for Thompson, 60 mins), E.O’Reilly (for Hughes, 70 mins) and G.Halligan. N.Farrelly (for O’Connell, temp. 31/40 mins).
Ballinasloe: A.Mannion; M.Tierney, J.Parsons, R.Cullinane, R.Wakefield; K.O’Neill, C.Loughrey; J.J.Carey, A.O’Hara (captain), G.Donnellan; H.Reynolds, N.Staunton; K.Coughlan, C.Harewood and J.Hayes. Replacements:- C.Malone (for Donnellan, 23 mins), G.Donnellan (for Malone, 50 mins), J.Codyre, Harrigan.
Referee:- Jason Cairns (Connacht).
Buccaneers 0 Tuam 5
Buccaneers Women team exited the AIL Plate at the quarter-final stage when an early try, the solitary score of an evenly contested affair, earned victory for the visitors at Dubarry Park on Sunday.