Buccaneers centre Shane Layden darts forward in muddy conditions during the Pirates’ 14-point victory over Dolphin on Saturday afternoon.

Buccaneers 19-5 Dolphin

Match report by Michael Silke

Buccaneers maintained their relentless drive for promotion when they defeated Dolphin 19-5 in Division 1B of the Ulster Bank League at a sodden Dubarry Park on Saturday.

This match pitting top against bottom, sponsored by Glasson Country House Hotel & Golf Club, turned in to a real dogfight in testing weather and underfoot conditions. The incessant rain of recent days meant that it surely was appropriate that the combatants were Pirates and Dolphins!  With the pitch cutting up badly, it militated greatly against the home side’s favoured style of fast, flowing play but the Athlone standard bearers showed true grit and resolve in overcoming a very determined challenge by the visitors.

Buccs had just one change in their pack with Jamie Dever starting in place of the departed Saba Meunargia. They had two changes in the backline with a new half-back pairing, the experienced Shane O’Leary switching to scrum-half instead of Frankie Hopkins and Luke Carty moved to fly-half for the injured Alan Gaughan. The Leesiders, with a new coaching team at the helm, were unchanged from the side that defeated Shannon.

The Pirates got off to a perfect start, Carty’s cross-field kick being gathered by Jordan Conroy to score an unconverted try wide on the left after just seven minutes. But Dolphin dominated territory and possession for lengthy swathes of the opening half in a game that was in total contrast to the Pirates’ swashbuckling affair away to UL Bohemian last time out. The Corkonians were here to battle for survival in this division — and battle they did. But the usually reliable Barry Keeshan was off-target with kickable penalties on 4 and 30 minutes in a half when scoring opportunities were at a premium. They applied fierce pressure close to the half-hour mark but just could not get over the home line in the face of defiant defending.

Matters briefly ran amok in the muck when the intense exchanges boiled over on 35 minutes and referee Oisin Quinn red carded both openside flankers, Rory Moloney of Buccs and Dolphin’s Kevin Allen. Quite how he singled these players out is unclear as both teams were wearing similar strips that were virtually indistinguishable in the mud at that stage! A block by Conroy in the final minute was deemed to be deliberate and the Midlanders’ winger was yellow carded just before the interval with his try proving the only score of the first half, leaving Buccs 5-0 ahead.

Buccaneers reappeared for the second half in their canary yellow ‘away’ colours and, although restarting with only 13 players, they quickly illuminated matters. They raised their tempo and got a foothold in the Cork side’s 22 where, following a scrum, the ball was moved left and Rory O’Connor fastened onto Carty’s perfectly angled grubber kick to swoop for a 48th minute try. Carty added a terrific conversion but Dolphin soon responded when Eoin Griffin perhaps could have reacted more sharply to cut out Keeshan’s long clearance. Instead, the home substitute was forced to tap the ball into touch close to the home line and Dave O’Mahony surged his way over in the right corner following the lineout for a 54th minute try. Cian McGovern, now entrusted with the place-kicking, was unable to convert from near the touchline and he was also off-target with a penalty ten minutes later.

Buccs looked like adding to their 12-5 advantage in a sparkling attack started by O’Leary and carried on by Griffin and Shane Layden but, with the visitors’ defence stretched to breaking point, Layden’s offload just missed the supporting Eoghan O’Reilly on 72 minutes. Two minutes later, the Pirates got the breathing space they craved when Dolphin were forced to carry a chip ahead over their own line. From the ensuing scrum, Buccs drove the Cork side’s pack inexorably over their line where Kolo Kiripati grounded the ball and Carty added another top-notch conversion.

The hosts were most unfortunate in the final play not to secure a bonus point try when Conroy, in a typically mesmerising run from end to end, was adjudged to have put a foot in touch as he raced to the Dolphin line in search of his 15th try of the campaign. That would have been hard on the losers who journeyed home empty handed despite rattling Buccaneers but the winners showed necessary traits of character and mettle in this hard-earned victory in which U-20 Simon Meagher was named Audi Athlone Man of the Match. It was hard to single out individuals in this all-round team effort and their mightily impressive unbeaten streak now stretches to 14 matches. Buccs now lead the league table by 16 points with just 4 matches remaining, including next Saturday’s game away to UCC at The Mardyke.

Buccaneers: C.Boland; R.O’Connor, S.Layden, A.Hayman, J.Conroy; L.Carty, S.O’Leary; J.Dever, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; S.Meagher, D.Qualter; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney and K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements used:- E.Griffin (for Hayman, h/t), E.O’Reilly (for Boland, inj. 50 mins), A.Hayman (for O’Connor, 52 mins), E.Galvin (for McVeigh, 60 mins), R.O’Meara (for Dever, 63 mins), R.Grenham (for Sutton, 73 mins) and S.McVeigh (for Meagher, 75 mins).

Dolphin: T.Phelan; G.Ryan, C.McGovern, I.O’Donoghue, W.Hanly; B.Keeshan, D.Foley; L.Walsh, C.Scott, J.Rochford; R.O’Herlihy, D.O’Mahony; B.Fitzgerald (captain), K.Allen and R.Murphy. Replacements:- D.Byrne (for Scott, h/t), C.Scott (for Byrne, 60 mins), K.Keogh (for Fitzgerald, 71 mins), S.Kennedy (for Foley, 76 mins), C.Monahan (for O’Donoghue, 73 mins) and J.Leahy (for Walsh, 76 mins).

Referee: Oisin Quinn (IRFU).

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