BLISTERING START SETS BUCCS ON THEIR WAY

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

BUCCANEERS  22  LANSDOWNE  16

BUCCANEERS and Lansdowne served up a compelling opening day contest to this season’s All-Ireland League Division 1B in which the midlanders prevailed 22-16 in a nail-biting encounter at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday last. With the IRFU “minding” the recently improved main pitch at the venue, consequently this game was played on the side-pitch sheltered by the main stand. It was akin to a throw-back to the ‘good old days’ with the crowd on top of the players, thus recreating that atmosphere were every good deed is suitably lauded but no place to hide for those who make mistakes!BuccsLandsdowne300

The playing surface was well up to requirements and a blustery diagonal breeze from the clubhouse corner favoured the hosts in the opening half. Buccs fielded as near to full strength as they possibly can with a pack along anticipated lines. Jarrod Bennett and David Connellan’s performances against Garryowen the previous week secured their combination at half-back while the luxury of the availability of Connacht duo Aidan Wynne and Brian Touhy meant that Alex Hayman was surprisingly located at fullback. Development player Shane Monahan was on the right wing and a third Connacht stalwart Conor O’Loughlin featured on Buccs bench as did unlucky duo Adam Kennedy and Sean Stapleton along with Michael Diffley and Eoin Rooney.

Lansdowne too fielded a very strong squad, generally bigger sizewise than Buccs, and with at least ten who have represented Ireland at various levels. Leinster’s Stephen Keogh anchored their pack at No. 8 and they had a very decent front row trio in Jack O’Connell, Tom Sexton and skipper John Lyne for this Tubbercurry Engineering sponsored fixture that warranted a larger attendance.

Buccaneers got off to the perfect start. Aided by the elements, they punished a Lansdowne offside with a second minute penalty by Connellan. Within two minutes, Colin Watters was burrowing in far too easily for a try close to the uprights which Connellan comfortably converted for a 10-0 advantage by the fourth minute! Lansdowne were in some disarray in the early skirmishes and they suffered a further setback when towering centre Eamon Sheridan went off injured after just nine minutes, replaced by another recent Ireland U-20 Shane Gahan.

But Buccs did not press home their early superiority or harness the breeze to best effect and Lansdowne steadied themselves by the half-hour with the help of two Eoghan Hickey penalties from three placekicks. On 33 minutes, Hayman was indecisive in possession near his own ten-metre line and he knocked on in the tackle. Lansdowne hoovered the ball and it was transferred smartly to the left flank where substitute Gahan scampered in for a soft 33rd minute try that nosed the metropolitans ahead. Although Hickey was unable to convert from out wide, Lansdowne’s 11-10 lead at half-time was merited as they had the greater share of possession in the opening period and they then looked to be in the driving seat.

The visitors made one change at the break, Jordi Murphy coming in for Ben Horan in the back row and shortly into the second half Buccs made an enforced change with Rooney coming on for the injured Stephen Burke. But Buccaneers were now playing much more pragmatically and they also curtailed the amount of errors they had been committing. The pack were now coming to the fore, cohesive and driven, as the hosts took the game on. Possession was retained and used more smartly now, the support play uplifting as they steadily made inroads against the teasing breeze towards the visitors’ danger zone. They piled on fierce pressure for a spell of perhaps six minutes, edging ever closer to the try line. In this period, Lansdowne were perhaps fortunate to retain their full complement as the referee spoke to them on a number of occasions in respect of offside and slowing possession. But eventually Buccs got their due reward when, after Martin Staunton had been stopped almost within touching distance of the line, Kolo Kiripati powered over from the subsequent move for a hard earned 55th minute try which Connellan converted for a 17-11 advantage.

With the home supporters now too finding life to roar on the Pirates, Buccs tackling and workrate was relentless, albeit there were a few hairy moments when touch was not found on a number of occasions. But the midlanders worked their collective socks off against both the opposition and the elements and Lansdowne were unable to build on their promising half-time position. Buccaneers looked relatively comfortable in a highly competitive joust until the game approached added time when Hayman didn’t simply clear his lines, opting to pass to Monahan who got nailed and Lansdowne booted the ball forward with Ross McCarron steaming down the left flank to win the race for possession and grab a try that left the minimum between the sides. However, the normally reliable Hickey missed the conversion and their chance was gone.

Buccs retrieved possession from the restart and steadily picked and drove deep into opposition territory where Paul Harte showed his instincts for a score when he smartly picked from the back of a ruck and hared in for a 84th minute try that sealed the issue. With Connellan carrying a knock, substitute Kennedy assumed place-kicking duties but was unable to convert and thus Lansdowne salvaged a bonus losing point.

Overall, a splendid display by Buccaneers against one of the teams that will still be there or thereabouts come promotion time. The effort and industry all-round was magnificent, especially by the forwards where Garrett Halligan was named ‘Athlone Springs Hotel man of the match’. Pocket dynamo flanker Watters surely ran him close for this accolade while Staunton and James Tormey too were outstanding in a wonderful pack effort. Connellan and Monahan shone brightest in the backline. This was a stirring and sustained display by Buccaneers and the tackle count must have been enormous. But there is, nevertheless, some room for improvement, with touch needing to be found consistently and perhaps some refining in the backs division. Application, bravery and sheer heart, however, were there in spades and a fully justified winning start will bring the players on after overcoming this particularly tricky hurdle.

BUCCANEERS:-  A.Hayman; S.Monahan, P.Harte, A.Wynne, B.Touhy; J.Bennett, D.Connellan; M.Staunton, G.Halligan (captain), C.Higgins; P.de Burca, J.Tormey; S.Burke, C.Watters and K.Kiripati. Replacements:-  E.Rooney (for Burke, inj. 44 mins), C.O’Loughlin (for Touhy, 64 mins), A.Kennedy (for Bennett, 71 mins), M.Diffley (for Staunton, 75 mins) and S.Stapleton (for O’Loughlin, inj.). Temporarry blood substitution:- B.Touhy (for O’Loughlin). 

LANSDOWNE:-  D.Kearney; C.O’Boyle, K.Lewis, E.Sheridan, R.McCarron; E.Hickey, J.Cooney; J.Lyne (captain), T.Sexton, J.O’Connell; N.Keogh, E.Sheriff; W.Earles, B.Horan and S.Keogh. Replacements:- S.Gahan (for Sheridan, inj. 8 mins), J.Murphy (for Horan, h/t) and S.Smyth (for O’Connell, 59 mins).

REFEREE:-  Trevor Collins. (Munster).        
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BUCCANEERS  55  N.U.I.G. 3

BUCCANEERS DEVELOPMENT XV emerged 55-3 victors over N.U.I.G. in their Connacht Junior 1B League encounter at Dubarry Park on Sunday but the final scoreline flattered the hosts who took a long time to get to grips with the Students. A salvo of tries in the final quarter, when Buccs finally got their collective act together, was perhaps an unfair reflection on the endeavours of the College squad who ran out of steam after putting up a really gritty battle for an hour or thereabouts.

Although fielding in the main the same squad that demolished Portumna the previous week, Buccs took far too long to get into their stride. Perhaps there was some complacency but NUIG certainly put it up to the hosts in the first half. Buccs were at sixes and sevens in the opening half hour when errors abounded including a straight-forward penalty miss by Domhnall Corbett while Sean Stapleton was sin-binned for an over zealous tackle. The Students opened the scoring, Padraig Cuddy slotting over a 28th minute penalty for what proved to be their only score. Five minutes later, Corbett found the range to level with a penalty and, just before the break, he converted Declan Byrne’s try at the posts after NUIG were punished for straying offside. This gave Buccs a 10-3 lead at the break but it could well have been the opposite.

Stapleton got in for a try eight minutes after the restart to give Buccs a bit of breathing space but then the homesters went on a fourteen minute scoring spree when they grabbed six tries in quickfire succession as the Students capitulated. Lachlann Mitchell, John Connellan, John O’Brien, Colin Draper, Henry Reilly and Mark Coleman all dotted down in this blitz and Corbett tacked on five out of six conversions as Buccs ran riot. To their credit, NUIG finished on the offensive and were decidedly unfortunate not to notch a try or two in the final minutes that their endeavours warranted.

That scoring salvo apart, Buccaneers did not hit the heights one would expect with classy operators like O’Brien, Henshaw and Stapleton in a potent backs unit. But once they got their passing and linkage in order, they really turned it on. Connellan confirmed his potential when introduced and David Dunning, Mitchell and Giovanni Bianco did well throughout.

BUCCANEERS:-  L.Mitchell; B.Henshaw, D.Byrne, S.Stapleton, J.O’Brien; D.Corbett, C.Draper; G.Bianco, D.Egan, D.Lennon; G.Duffy, D.Dunning; T.Couper, H.Reilly and Adrian Hughes. Replacements used:-  J.Connellan (for Egan), J.Kenny (for Couper), M.Coleman (for Duffy), G.Walsh (for Byrne) and D.Henshaw (for Lennon). 

BUCCANEERS  11  CLONTARF  33

CLONTARF outsmarted Buccaneers in the second half of this U-21 friendly played in wet conditions at Dubarry Park on Friday night. Buccs put in a decent first half and deserved to lead at the break albeit their advantage was the minimum at 6-5, courtesy of two Stewart Flynn penalties.

Their mentors unloaded at least ten replacements during the second half which disrupted their endeavours somewhat. However, the real thorn in their side was of their own making by kicking too much poor ball in the second half. As Buccs persisted with this aimless ploy, Clontarf profited, countering to good effect to run out comfortable winners on a 33-11 margin.

BUCCANEERS:-  D.Fagan; C.Greene, E.Keena, C.Gormley, K.Naughton; S.Flynn, P.Butler; D.Henshaw, E.O’Brien, L.Doran; R.Byrne, J.Clarke; B.Stewart, J.Hayes (captain) and B.Fagan.

TUAM  5  BUCCANEERS  10

BUCCANEERS THIRDS continued their good run of form as they still await the unveiling of their Connacht League fixtures with a good 10-5 friendly win away to Tuam on Wednesday night. Any victory in Tuam is hard-earned and this was no exception in a mainly forwards duel in which the midlanders had a brace of yellow cards. The home side led 5-0 at the interval but Buccs dogged spirit and commitment yielded reward in the shape of tries by Mossy Turley with a typical pick and go touchdown and Enda Haughey who finished well after a fine Declan Byrne break. Haughey and Eamonn Bracken excelled throughout and Mark Coleman did well when introduced.

BUCCANEERS:-  G.Fallon; R.Silke, G.Walsh, A.Roche, T.Couper; M.Donohoe, K.Turley; R.O’Brien, K.Grehan, E.Bracken; D.Dunning, G.O’Loughlin; D.Lennon, E.Haughey and T.Turley. Replacements used:-  D.Costello, D.Byrne, M.Coleman, P.Hewitt, K.O’Neill, S.Coyle and D.Keogh.

BUCCS AWAY TO BRUFF

BUCCANEERS make a first ever trip for a Senior game to Kilballyowen Park, Bruff, on Saturday when they square up to the Limerick club in the second series of All-Ireland League Division 1B fixtures, kick off 2.30 p.m. Buccs can expect a hot welcome there, hospitable before and after the game, but definitely partisan while the action is in progress!

Founded in 1969/70, Bruff finally made the breakthrough in the ‘noughties’ winning three Munster Junior League titles in four years before finally qualifying for the All-Ireland League as recently as 2005. After a spell of consolidation, the club gained promotion to Division 1B where they compete for the first time this season.They have also fielded pretty decent and competitive sides at U-21 grade so the side will be fairly battle-hardened. Their most famous player is John Hayes and fortunately ‘The Bull’ won’t be lining out on Saturday!

There are no other “big names” in their squad but Buccs can rest assured that they will be passionate, well drilled and committed, particularly on their own ground about one mile out of Bruff. (Check their website for helpful directions, especially for the bus driver!). They went down 26-11 away to Clontarf last weekend. Buccs have never relished their trips to Castle Avenue, so they will be prudent not to read too much into that scoreline. On their own patch, Bruff warrant the highest respect and they defeated Shannon in the Munster Senior Cup there just a fortnight ago in a game that went to the wire. A little earlier in the season, Shannon pipped them in the Limerick Charity Cup, scoring two tries in a rather extended ten minutes period of added time so the Munster Cup victory was no mere flash in the pan.

A trio of Cahills (outhalf Tony and centres placekicker Brian and the vastly experienced Eoin) typify the side. Adroit and canny footballers as well as doughty battlers when the going gets tough. Brendan Deady at fullback is a regular try scorer and scrum half Eoghan Maher is a handy performer. Front rower Cathal O’Regan captains the squad and John Shine and Andrew Laffan are other forwards who will need to be curbed.

However, Buccs are well equipped themselves. Confidence is high on the back of a good run of results and, more importantly, decent and consistent performances. Competition for positions is much stronger than in recent seasons and coach Hendre Marnitz is imposing his ideas and discipline on his charges. Stephen Burke is his key injury worry and Bruff is the type of fixture that is likely to bring out the best from him and his back-row colleague Colin Watters. If Burke is fit to start, then the Buccs pack is unlikely to be changed from the win over Lansdowne although Michael Diffley and Eoin Rooney will be itching to start.

Some fine tuning may take place in the backline with, of course, the availability or otherwise of Connacht players a key influence here. Alex Hayman looked uncomfortable at fullback last Saturday but ‘Haggy’ warrants inclusion, perhaps in the centre with maybe Paul Harte at fullback where his pace can trouble Bruff. John O’Brien is another contender for a starting berth and, if he keeps knuckling down, then his chance will come sooner rather than later. But, overall on the display against Lansdowne, team mentors are likely to keep tweaking to the minimum for that was a solid, sustained, terrific all-round effort by the full match squad; just the kind of endeavour that will undoubtedly be required to overcome Bruff and build Buccs momentum that bit further.

OTHER FIXTURES

BUCCANEERS U-21’s are also in Limerick on Saturday when they kick off their South-West Conference campaign in the National League away to Shannon at Coonagh. This Buccs outfit has bags of talent and potential but they need to listen to coaches and be more pragmatic now that the real action is under way.

But they have quality players in the likes of Joe Kenny, Daniel Qualter, Callum Boland, Jack Carty, Jack O’Carroll and the Fagan brothers. “Our” John Hayes skippers the side with useful allies such as Rory Byrne, Neil Quigley and Trevor Thompson in the pack. It is never easy to win away to Shannon but Buccs have shown previously that it can be done at this level. It will take a disciplined, sustained all-round effort but, if the players front up, they have the skills to sink Shannon.

Buccaneers Development squad head west to Ballyhaunis on Sunday for the next round of the Connacht Junior 1B League on the back of two bonus point wins. They will surely face a more searching test from Ballyhaunis so will need to hit the ground running in this encounter. There is talent and pace aplenty in the backline that, if the pack hold their own to forge a decent supply of possession, can capitalise on to maintain their winning momentum.

CONDOLENCES
Deepest sympathy is extended to the Gilligan family on the death of Benny’s uncle Jimmy.x

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