By Michael Silke

A splendid opening quarter gave Ballinasloe a match-winning platform when they overcame Buccaneers Reserves 26-21 in a keenly contested Heineken Connacht Junior Cup game at Dubarry Park on Sunday. This much-anticipated derby encounter was twice postponed due to the weather conditions and, with the elements again deeming Moher Road unplayable, this tie was switched to the Athlone venue at short notice.                              

This certainly did not unsettle Ballinasloe in the early exchanges as they were promptly into their stride to build up a 15-0 advantage in the opening quarter. With the weather taking a brief respite from the persistent storms, conditions were bright and relatively benign. The visitors, beginning with purpose and a high tempo, got a tonic start when John Hayes rampaged through for a try on the left inside two minutes with Ruaidhri Doolan adding a decent conversion. Buccs had problems containing the westerners pack at this stage and this yielded a successful penalty by Doolan seven minutes later. The Pirates then seemed to be getting into the contest but a quick counter-attack was finished off by Conal Gormley on the left for a 19th minute try. Although Doolan was unable to convert, Ballinasloe were a healthy fifteen points to the good.

But Buccs quickly responded to force a penalty which David Fagan punted to the left corner. Following the lineout, the homesters piled forward and Saba Meunargia looked like he was over the visitors’ line close to the posts. However, several tap and goes later saw Sean Byrne squeeze over in the left corner for a 23rd minute try with David Fagan’s conversion dropping short. Six minutes later, the hosts were again discommoded in the tight and Doolan tapped over the straight-forward penalty to leave Ballinasloe 18-5 ahead.

Buccs riposte was immediate, winning a penalty on halfway from the restart to get a foothold inside the Co. Galway side’s 22 where Meunargia smartly tapped another penalty to power over for a 31st minute try which David Fagan converted. As half-time approached,  Cian O’Reilly did enough to force Hayes knock on with the home try-line in sight but Buccs were forced to concede another penalty from the subsequent scrum and Doolan’s penalty with the final kick of the half gave Ballinasloe a 21-12 lead at the interval.   

With the wind becoming more of a factor, Buccs were quickly on the offensive following the change of ends. David Fagan drilled over a 43rd minute penalty and then added a fine placekick six minutes later to build home momentum, tightening the arrears to 18-21. On the testing underfoot conditions, stamina now became a factor and both sides used the replacements bench. Apart from Ballinasloe’s lightening start, this was arguably the decisive factor of a fervent battle. Buccs, disappointingly, had some late defections and thus had only three substitutes which resulted in a major upheaval in starting postions following an injury to scrumhalf O’Reilly shortly after the hour mark. Meanwhile, Stanley Hayes made an immediate impact for Ballinasloe when introduced two minutes later as he dived over the home line for a 65th minute try which Doolan converted to stretch the lead out to 26-18.

Whatever shortcomings Buccaneers may have had, throwing in the towel was not one of them and they continued to take the battle to Ballinasloe. Now needing two scores to salvage their Cup hopes, they opted for touch with a kickable 72nd minute penalty and the lineout went awry. However, two minutes later they forced another penalty and this time David Fagan, now operating at scrumhalf, slotted it over to set up a grandstand finish.

However, Ballinasloe always had their noses in front and they held on to deservedly progress for a meeting with Monivea in the next round. They were physically stronger in the pack and better organised overall. Their bright start gave them breathing space throughout and they held their composure in an exciting climax. Buccs, with seven changes in their starting XV, were at sixes and sevens in the opening quarter when the outcome was, in hindsight, decided and they lacked sufficient options from the bench. Nevertheless, this young squad displayed tremendous heart and endeavour to make a real Cup match of it and, with a little more experience and guile, the outcome could have been different.

BUCCANEERS:-  B.Carty; H.Hughes, B.Walsh, S.Doyle, D.Byrne; D.Fagan, C.O’Reilly; L.Doran, R.Grenham, S.Meunargia; R.Byrne, S.Byrne; N.Flynn, R.Enraght-Moony and B.Fagan (captain). Replacements:- T.Thompson (for Doran, h/t),  S.Flynn (for Walsh, 53 mins) and J.O’Donoghue (for O’Reilly, inj. 63 mins).

BALLINASLOE:- D.Burke; C.Gormley, R.Cullinane, D.Freeman, J.Dillon; R.Doolan, Conor Loughrey; J.J.Carey, A.O’Hara (captain), T.Dolan; N.Staunton, K.Headd; A.Loughrey, R.Wakefield and J.Hayes. Replacements:- H.Reynolds (for Headd, 53 mins), K.Gavin (for Carey, 53 mins),  S.Hayes (for A.Loughrey, 65 mins) and Cian Loughrey (for Gormley, inj. 70 mins).


Referee:- Emmet Dormer (Connacht). 


BUCCANEERS U-20s resume South-West Conference League action when they once again head south to Cork to take on Sundays Well in a rescheduled Division One fixture at Musgrave Park on Saturday, kick off 2.30 p.m. Hopefully, the young Pirates won’t be too rusty after a longish break. They have made a very promising start to this league and, following the aborted earlier fixture against the Cork club, certainly have an added incentive to win. Complacency could be dangerous but, if Buccs recapture the pace and potential displayed pre-Christmas, then they can maintain their winning sequence and join Cork Constitution at the top of the table.

BUCCANEERS SECONDS get a quick chance to bounce back from their Cup exit when they take on Dunmore in the Connacht Junior 1B League at Dubarry Park on Sunday, kick off 2.30 p.m. The sides drew 16-16 in the first round but Buccs need to go one better at home to maintain their current third position in the league table.

BUCCANEERS THIRDS entertain N.U.I.G. in a rescheduled Connacht Junior 2 League fixture at Dubarry Park on Sunday, kick off 2.30 p.m. The lowly Students should be accounted for on home turf by this well-oiled Pirates outfit who will be keen to keep the pressure on pace-setters Corinthians.


Deepest sympathy is extended to Brian Kelly and family on the unexpected death of his brother Paul. Heartfelt condolences also to the family of 8-year-old Cara Curley, a neice-in-law of Micky Carroll, who passed away last week. 


Applications for International Match Tickets should be submitted, accompanied by payment, by now to our Administrator Geraldine Kenny. Forms are available in The Bounty. Allocation depends on supply (which is limited) and demand with, naturally, paid up members getting priority. The Wales match is clearly the most popular fixture and already looks like it is over-subscribed.


Congrats to Gallen Community School duo Conor Kenny and Colin Kenny who played against each other last week in the Irish Schools v Irish Youths match. Conor, who was Buccaneers U-15 Player of the Year two seasons ago, propped for the Schools side while his cousin Colin featured in the centre for the Youths selection. Well done too to Jack Carty who can be well pleased with his first RaboDirect start for Connacht against Leinster.


Concussion is presently a hot topic in rugby and there will be an education/information evening in Ballinasloe RFC on this subject next Friday night, January 10th beginning at 7.30 p.m. All interested parties are welcome to attend, particularly coaches, managers, players and parents. 




Gallery: HT minis – Ballinrobe, Ballyhaunis, Corinthians and Dunmore