A 13-all draw with Ballymena was enough to keep Buccaneers top of the pile in Division 1B of the All Ireland League at the weekend, while Galwegians lost out to Shannon as the Limerick club picked up their first win under new head coach Tom Hayes.

Crowley Park will host the big local derby between Galwegians and Buccaneers on Friday night with the clash kicking off at 7.30pm.

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE/JUNIOR CUP: RESULTS ROUND-UP

ULSTER BANK LEAGUE TABLES

Shannon 17-14 Galwegians, Thomond Park back pitch

Scorers: Shannon: Tries: Jack Stafford, Keith Kavanagh; Cons: Fionn McGibney 2; Pen: Fionn McGibney

Galwegians: Tries: Aidan Moynihan, Penalty try; Cons: Aidan Moynihan 2

HT: Shannon 10 Galwegians 0

New Shannon head coach Tom Hayes enjoyed a winning start as they gained revenge on Galwegians, prevailing by three points on Thomond Park’s back pitch.

Young half-backs Fionn McGibney, Jack Stafford and Keith Kavanagh – the latter’s replacement at scrum half – all came up trumps for Hayes, with Stafford and Kavanagh scoring a try in each half.

Galwegians were looking to follow up on last month’s 53-12 demolition of the Limerick men, but a fiercely contested first half, which ended 10-3 in Shannon’s favour, was evidence of their much-improved performance.

Place-kickers Aidan Moynihan and McGibney both missed their opening penalties, the latter’s effort coming back off a post, before the young Shannon out-half, backed by the wind, found the target in the 17th minute.

‘Wegians, who had Connacht’s Ronan Loughney and Eoghan Masterson in their pack, suffered another penalty miss from Moynihan and then lost flanker Josh Pim to the sin-bin for hands in the ruck as Shannon’s confidence visibly grew.

Captain Lee Nicholas and tricky backs Stephen Fitzgerald and Luke O’Dea were all prominent, the pressure building for Shannon and leading to a five-metre scrum. Stafford managed to snipe over in the 30th minute with McGibney converting for a 10-0 lead.

A heavy rain shower gave way to bright sunshine at the start of the second period and ‘Wegians scored within 10 minutes, their scrum getting on top close to the posts and forcing a penalty try which out-half Moynihan converted.

Handling errors prevented both sides from building for further scores in the third quarter and Shannon, with centre Will Leonard returning from a yellow card, were in resilient form as they determinedly held onto their slim advantage on the scoreboard.

With 10 minutes remaining, Kavanagh struck for Shannon’s all-important second try. Their hard-working pack won a scrum penalty five metres out and the replacement scrum half’s decision to take a quick tap paid off as he wriggled over. McGibney converted for good measure, giving the home side some breathing space at 17-7.

‘Wegians mixed the good with the bad in the closing stages, a cracking break from centre Ciaran Gaffney getting them deep into Shannon territory before their scrum coughed up a penalty. A yellow card for Shannon winger Greg O’Shea gave the visitors another chance and they spread the ball wide for Moynihan to touch down and convert.

However, a knock-on from the restart summed up what was a mostly frustrating afternoon for Galwegians whose inconsistent form leaves them seventh in the table – a full nine points behind sixth-placed Ballymena. Shannon’s second victory of the campaign lifts them two points above Dolphin at the foot of the table.

Shannon: Stephen Fitzgerald; Greg O’Shea, Jack O’Donnell, Will Leonard, Luke O’Dea; Fionn McGibney, Jack Stafford; Conor Glynn, Ty Chan, Tony Cusack, Riley Winter, Ronan Coffey, Lee Nicholas (capt), Niall Mulcahy, Brian Downey.

Replacements: Jordan Prenderville, Ryan Healy, Ollie Lyons, Keith Kavanagh, Ronan McKenna.

Galwegians: Adam Leavy; Morgan Codyre, Ciaran Gaffney, Brian Murphy (capt), Ed O’Keeffe; Aidan Moynihan, Barry Lee; Ronan Loughney, John Moloney, Jason East, Anthony Ryan, Peter Claffey, Marc Kelly, Josh Pim, Eoghan Masterson.

Replacements: Patrick Curran, Jack Dinneen, Paul Hackett, Conor Lowndes, Alan McMahon.

Buccaneers 13-13 Ballymena, Dubarry Park

Scorers: Buccaneers: Try: Shane O’Leary; Con: Alan Gaughan; Pen: Alan Gaughan; Drop: Alan Gaughan

Ballymena: Try: Penalty try; Con: Ritchie McMaster; Pens: Ritchie McMaster 2

HT: Buccaneers 13 Ballymena 0

Buccaneers and Ballymena shared the spoils after a competitive floodlit encounter at Dubarry Park that was well attended despite the bitterly cold conditions.

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.

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 Connacht’s Shane O’Leary to mark his home debut with a fifth minute try converted by Alan Gaughan.

The Buccs out-half was prominent from the start and, after he was narrowly off target with a long-range place-kick, he duly slotted over a 14th minute penalty for a 10-0 lead.

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 the 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 Ricky Lutton switching to loosehead.

Ballymena then got a grip on the set piece 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 Marty Irwin and the visitors forced another penalty deftly dispatched between the posts by out-half Ritchie 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 elected to award a penalty try – much to Buccaneers’ annoyance.

Best was ahead of Lynch and still had lots to do wide on the left, 20 metres out from the try-line and with defenders swiftly converging in his direction. However, Conway decided that Lynch’s infringement was enough to warrant a yellow card and penalty try which McMaster converted to make it 13-all.

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.

With the legacy of the recent meeting 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 kicked poor drop goal efforts for the Ulster side.

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-minute spell, as they drop two places in the league standings as a result.

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 in pole position ahead of next Friday’s Connacht derby joust away to Galwegians.

Buccaneers: Luke Carty; Eoghan O’Reilly, Shane O’Leary, Mata Fifita, Jordan Conroy; Alan Gaughan, Graham Lynch; Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Saba Meunargia, Daniel Qualter, Cian Romaine, Stephen McVeigh, Rory Moloney, Kolo Kiripati (capt).

Replacements: Rory Grenham, Jamie Dever, Evan Galvin, Frankie Hopkins, Alex Hayman.

Ballymena: Rodger McBurney; Jonny Rosborough, Callum Patterson, Marty Irwin, Mark Best; Ritchie McMaster, Glenn Baillie; Bryan Young, James Taggart, Ricky Lutton, Alan O’Connor, David Whann, Connor Smyth, Stephen Mulholland, Matthew Rea.

Replacements: Chris Cundell, Andrew Cundell, Tony McGuinness, John Creighton, James Beattie.

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