It’s top against bottom as Buccaneers and Dolphin battle for precious Ulster Bank League points at Dubarry Park tomorrow (Saturday).
By Michael Silke
Buccaneers are within touching distance of promotion to the top flight and they will be eager to stretch their superb unbeaten sequence. Kick off for this key Division 1B match in Athlone is 2.30pm.
At present they are sixteen points clear of both UL Bohemian and Naas with just five matches remaining so a home win would virtually secure the Pirates passage to 1A. For Dolphin the points are equally priceless for they prop up the division on eighteen points, a third of what the midlanders have claimed to date. The Cork side lie five points adrift of Galwegians and a further two behind Shannon, whom they defeated 24-11 in their most recent outing. This bonus point victory has thrown Dolphin a lifeline and they will be buoyed by that crunch win so will prove dangerous foes.
Buccaneers enjoyed a merited bonus point 31-22 win over Dolphin at the former Musgrave Park at the end of October but the Athlone side will be prudent to recall that Dolphin came out on top both home and away the previous season. So focus and respect will be key for the Pirates as the Corkonians will be fighting desperately to avoid relegation. Coached by David Corkery and with assistance from Denis Hurley (who could feature), the southerners have some decent operators in their ranks none more than Barry Keeshan. The veteran out-half can dictate the tempo and style of the game if given latitude while he will also punish any indiscipline by the midlanders from placed balls. Will Hanly and Cian McGovern are two other lively backs. John Madigan is a richly promising young lock and the more experienced Brian Scott a highly competitive prop; both these forwards have enjoyed game time with Munster this season. Barry Fitzgerald and Ryan Murphy are part of a mobile back row unit and Buccs will have to work hard to dominate this sector.
Saba Meunargia’s departure to Doncaster is a massive loss to Buccs but Ryan O’Meara’s recent form has been encouraging following recent injury setbacks so he could join Martin Staunton and John Sutton in the home front row. Simon Meagher has done very well partnering Danny Qualter at lock in the absence through injury of Cian Romaine while the Pirates back row trio of Rory Moloney, Stephen McVeigh and Kolo Kiripati can match the best at this level. Evan Galvin, Rory Grenham, Shane Delahunt and Ruairi Byrne are solid alternatives in the home pack where Conor Kenny is close to a comeback.
Shane Layden and Jordan Conroy return after their Ireland Sevens camp in Portugal to add firepower to the Pirates backs unit. Alan Gaughan has come on in leaps and bounds this season and Frankie Hopkins has slotted in more or less seamlessly alongside him and the best is yet to be seen from Luke Carty. Shane O’Leary, Rory O’Connor, Callum Boland and Alex Hayman will all be vying for starting berths but Mata Fifita is ruled out due to injury but Eoghan O’Reilly could be fit again. U-20’s Dean McMahon and Dan Keane acquitted themselves well when sprung at UL Bohemian.
So head coach Brett Wilkinson has permutations to work with but, first and foremost, he must ensure his charges are focussed and committed, and guard against any complacency. Buccaneers have worked hard all season and their momentum can take them one step closer to sealing promotion. With the team going so well and playing attractive rugby in the process, here’s hoping for a bumper attendance on Saturday.
Buccs Womens Team in Connacht Cup Final on Sunday
Buccaneers Womens team also have a vital match this weekend when they tackle Tuam in the final of the Connacht Womens Cup at the Sportsground on Sunday. This decider kicks off at 2 pm. in Galway. There is a wonderful spirit and work ethic in this Buccs Womens squad and they can be counted to give their all on the field of play until the final whistle. They have trained diligently under coaches Sean Byrne and Ger Fallon all season and are raring to reverse a recent narrow loss to Tuam.
The experienced Niamh Gough captains the team and she will look to her pack to dominate this decider. Here Ciara Malone, Sarah Kelly, Lorna Stuart-Trainor and Heather Sheridan are abrasive and competitive players who won’t shirk hard work. Alex Hennessy, Gohar Kostanyan, Andrea Antonissen and Anto Kemmy could revel in the wide open spaces at the Sportsground as could backs Hazel Kilduff, Shannon Hennessy and especially Anna McGann. But first the pack will have to provide the necessary service of quality ball. Emma O’Brien, Katy Ryan, Judy Dowling and Lizzie Flynn are other strong contenders for starting berths as are Susan Ni Saoraigh and Aileen Hynes. While Tuam are another team that won’t shy away from effort and commitment, Buccs have the potential to prevail provided they are smart and patient. They would also benefit from big numbers supporting them so let’s see hordes of Pirates at the Sportsground on Sunday!
Buccaneers U-20’s are home to Naas in the J.P.Fanagan Leinster League Premier 2 division on Sunday. Buccs are doing very well in a healthy second place on the league table while Naas are somewhat inconsistent. There could be a number of these young Buccs involved with the Senior squad, yet with Corey Reid, Thomas McGann, Ryan Convey, Niall Farrelly, Brian Collins and Jack Delahunt on board they should prove too strong for the visitors at Dubarry Park where kick off is 3 p.m.
Buccaneers Seconds are on the road again this Sunday when they face the lengthy trip to the western seaboard to square up to Connemara in their penultimate Connacht Junior 1A League fixture of the season. Kick off is 2.30 p.m. at the Monastery Ground, Clifden, where the Blacks are formidable opposition. But this band of Buccs have shown great resolve and endeavour in recent outings and will give it their all in search of the coveted league points on offer.
Pre-Match For Dolphin Game
Buccaneers are hosting a pre-match function in The Bounty prior to Saturday’s joust with Dolphin. Cover charge is €30 per person which includes 3-course dinner with wine, souvenir matchday programme, and free admission to the big match in which Buccs could clinch promotion. Groups and individuals can be catered for. Contact our Administrator Geraldine at 0861732711 or Pat Hynes 0876883833 to book.