Buccaneers wonderful unbeaten run stretching all the way back to the second round of the Ulster Bank League last September came to an end at The Mardyke, Cork, yesterday (Saturday) where a massively committed University College, Cork, edged this compelling Division 1B encounter by the minimum on a 13-12 scoreline.
By Michael Silke
Buccs had the majority of possession and territory but lacked their usual precision and resourcefulness, but the losing bonus point claimed keeps them firmly in control of their own destiny.
The midlanders made four changes, three enforced, for this game. In the pack Evan Galvin replaced the red-carded Rory Moloney in the backrow while Ruairi Byrne started at lock for the injured Simon Meagher. Conor McKeon returned after a lengthy injury lay-off in place of Callum Boland whose hamstring injury incurred against Dolphin ruled him out. The other change in the backline saw Eoin Griffin start in the centre instead of Alex Hayman while a realignment of the backline saw Luke Carty starting at fullback and Shane O’Leary anchoring the fly-half berth. UCC made just one change, Darragh Moloney replacing Eddie Earle at lock.
A gorgeous sunny afternoon and a firm sod meant conditions were near ideal, apart from a diagonal breeze that favoured the visitors in the opening half. Buccs made all the early running but several promising raids floundered mainly on knock-ons. Such was the early pressure by the Pirates that a score seem inevitable but it was UCC who opened the scoring in their first foray into the Athlone side’s 22 after 11 minutes. The Students won good lineout ball following a penalty that brought them inside Buccs half and a lovely reverse pass in midfield eventually led to College having the extra man out wide where Kevin O’Keeffe applied the finishing touch for a try which he also converted from wide on the right.
Buccaneers continued to press forward but spoiled good approach work time and again and they also got no return on a series of penalties kicked to touch on the left. UCC forays into Buccs territory were much rarer but they forced a 26th minute penalty which O’Keeffe converted to edge them 10-0 ahead. However, the Pirates finally got their picking and driving working to better effect in the closing stages of the half and Galvin burrowed over at the posts for a try which Carty converted with the final act of a lively first half.
O’Keeffe landed a 53rd minute penalty for the Students as Buccs penalty count mounted but the Athlone side, with Mata Fifita, Shane Delahunt and Eoghan O’Reilly now on the park, finally got due reward for their endeavours when substitute O’Reilly finished off sustained pressure for a 69th minute try. Carty’s conversion from wide on the right did not curl in the breeze and shaved the wrong side of the far upright.
With just a solitary point now separating the teams, Buccaneers piled on the pressure and were camped in the home 22 for long spells but just could not unlock a fiercely committed defensive effort by the Students. UCC’s hard-earned victory in this high tempo encounter surely guarantees their place in 1B next season. Meanwhile just one more win will guarantee promotion for Buccaneers who top the league table by 13 points with 3 fixtures remaining.
UCC: R.Walsh; K.O’Keeffe, K.Slater (captain), P.Kieran, J.Kiernan; T.Kiersey, C.O’Regan; S.O’Hanlon, E.McCarthy, R.O’Donovan; D.Moloney, B.Mitchell; C.Barry, C.Gallagher and P.Derham. Replacements:– E.Earle (for Mitchell, 50 mins), D.Feeney (for Barry, 50 mins), T.McCarthy (for E.McCarthy, 60 mins), E.McCarthy (for T.McCarthy, 73 mins), C.Gallagher (for Earle, 73 mins), C.McHugh and C.McAuliffe.
Buccaneers: L.Carty; R.O’Connor, S.Layden, E.Griffin, J.Conroy; S.O’Leary, C.McKeon; J.Dever, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; D.Qualter, R.Byrne; S.McVeigh, E.Galvin and K.Kiripati (Captain). Replacements: M.Fifita (for Carty, h/t), S.Delahunt (for Sutton, h/t), E.O’Reilly (for O’Connor, 50 mins), F.Hopkins (for McKeon, 61 mins), L.Carty (for O’Leary, 65 mins) and R.Grenham (for Dever, 67 mins).
Referee: Andy Brace (IRFU).