BUCCANEERS  14  DUNGANNON  17

Michael Silke

Buccaneers have slipped out of the automatic promotion spot on the league table following their 17-14 home defeat by Dungannon in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B game at Dubarry Park, Athlone.  Apart from a light crossfield breeze, playing conditions were perfect and both teams, although missing many regulars, gave the vocal crowd plenty to shout about in this Glasson Golf Hotel & Country Club sponsored encounter.

Buccs were forced to lineout minus injured duo Daniel Qualter and Adam Kennedy, work commitments ruled out Clifford Richardson while Shane Monahan was in Italy with Connacht but Colin Watters made a belated appearance as he took a break from his ‘best man’ duties! This meant considerable rejigging of their forces with U-21 captain John Hayes making a first Senior start in the back row.  Patrick Jackson and Craig Gilroy have been added to Ulster’s Heineken Cup squad and, along with Conor Gaston, were not released to Dungannon.

A very lively and generally entertaining contest began brightly for Buccs who started strongly and John O’Brien finished off good attacking play for a 7th minute try, his ninth in this season’s All Ireland League. Shortly afterwards two visiting defenders got in a tangle under pressure from Conor Lavelle who chased a sublime Jack Carty diagonal kick and Stephen Burke took full advantage to score a second home try. With Carty converting both, the understrength Pirates led promisingly
14-0 after 16 minutes.

But five minutes later, a home throw in went awry and Buccs conceded a penalty which Michael Kirkwood’s quickly tapped penalty in midfield catching the midlanders off-guard and Stuart Lester got in for a Dungannon try in the right corner. Huge energy was displayed by both sides with Buccs commitment being exemplary, boosted by the introduction of Watters after 31 minutes. As half-time approached, Kolo Kiripati looked like making a scoring break only to be whistled back for a ruck infringement and so the midlanders led 14-5 at the break.

The tempo remained fast after the break and Buccs piled on the pressure for the third quarter but simply could not add to their tally. Thrice Callum Boland came close in the second half, being whistled back twice for tight forward pass calls. David Connellan’s attempt to kick a loose ball at the back of a scrum on 52 minutes resulted in a trip on his opposite number Kirkwood and Dungannon gained some respite with a relieving penalty. But shortly afterwards Paul Harte got up smartly to block down an attempted clearance by the northerners and Buccs forced a penalty but Carty was off-target on the hour mark.

Dungannon now made a trio of substitutions to stem the tide but Boland and Kiripati combined to again come tantalisingly close to the visitors’ line after 67 minutes. But with Buccs not translating possession and territory into scores, they were exposed for a sucker punch which duly arrived one minute later when Michael Lawton scurried away for a try totally against the run of play. Although the referee overruled his touch-judges regarding the conversion and Buccs still led 14-10, this score deflated the hosts who had spent huge amounts of energy and endeavour without outwitting or unlocking a valiant Dungannon defensive effort.

Then, just as they had done three weeks earlier, the Ulstermen rubbed salt in Buccs’ wounds when Rowan Halsall stretched over the home line for a try four minutes from time with Lawton adding the conversion as Dungannon repeated their three points winning margin earlier in the month. They battled hard all afternoon, recovering from a bad start, and left themselves in a position for a smash and grab when it presented itself. Halsall, who moved from the back row to right wing at half-time, made a notable contribution to this win as did scrumhalf Kirkwood with Thomas J. Anderson the pick of their forwards.

Buccs were desperately disappointed afterwards but for an over an hour they were the dominant force but, with no scores coming in the third quarter despite intense pressure, the industry took its toll on the collective input whilst substitutions were made too late to make an impact or change the dynamics. Carty’s line-kicking was topclass, O’Brien and ‘Athlone Springs Hotel man of the match’ Boland always threatened in possession, Padraig de Burca dominated the lineouts and Dylan Rogers was in the vanguard as Buccaneers constantly strove to make inroads.

Despite a fifth successive losing bonus point, Buccaneers have now been overtaken by Lansdowne by virtue of the metropolitans’ superior scoring difference so it is winner take all in the promotion race when the clubs clash in the final series at the Aviva next Saturday.

One minute’s silence was observed before the game in memory of the late Michael Byrne, former President of Athlone R.F.C. and also of the Connacht Branch I.R.F.U. 

BUCCANEERS:- J.O’Brien; C.Lavelle, P.Harte, A.Wynne, C.Boland; J.Carty, D.Connellan; C.Higgins, G.Halligan (captain), C.Higgins; P. de Burca, S.Burke; J.Hayes, E.Rooney and K.Kiripati. Replacements:- C.Watters (for Rooney, 31 mins), M.Madden (for Hayes, 72 mins), A.Hayman (for Harte, 78 mins) and M.Staunton (for Rogers, 78 mins). Blood substitution:- Staunton (for Rogers 38/44 mins).

DUNGANNON:- C.Cochrane; S.Lester, P.Magee (captain), G.Telford, D.Simpson; M.Lawton, M.Kirkwood; P.Whyte, A.Duhig, G.Sinnamon; A.Fry, M.Rainey; T.J.Anderson, R.Halsall and A.Birch. Replacements:- C.Threlfall (for Lester, h/t), T.Smith (for Fry, 63 mins), M.Farquhar (for Sinnamon, 63 mins) and Sinnamon (for Whyte, 77 mins).

REFEREE:-  G.Clancy. (IRFU).

BUCCANEERS  21  N.U.I.G. 10

BUCCANEERS and N.U.I.G. served up another well contested Connacht U-21 Cup semi-final battle before the Athlone side prevailed 21-10 after an engrossing duel at Dubarry Park on Saturday. Both sides enjoyed spells of superiority but Buccs grabbed control when the game was still finely balanced to take the spoils with a strong final quarter finish.

Buccs got off to a flying start with good recycling leading to the opening score, a 6th minute try in the right corner by Eoin de Burca with Jaryd Bennett adding an excellent conversion. The Students were not fazed, however, and Micheal Roche got in for a try for College after 12 minutes but Padraic Jennings could not convert from the left touchline. The remainder of the opening half was fairly even and the score remained unchanged at the break when Buccs held a slender 7-5 advantage.

College were the dominant force after the restart and enjoyed decent spells of pressure but without reward on the scoreboard. A tidier home pack gradually got the upper hand on their more sizeable opposing unit where N.U.I.G. were substantially bigger in the front row. As Buccs began to assert themselves on the proceedings, the Students began to cough up penalties but Bennett was off-target with two placekicks close to the hour mark. However, the growing pressure told and Kevin Naughton waltzed through for a well taken try after 64 minutes following a good period of home dominance. Bennett’s conversion gave improving Buccs a bit more breathing space, now 14-5 ahead.

Robert Reid looked like he had grabbed a third try five minutes later following more concerted pressure but the touchdown was ruled out due to a forward pass. Fierce pressure on the visitors’ line resulted in a series of close-in penalties to the midlanders, all of which they opted to scrum. Barry Stewart too was stopped short but successive College infringements eventually resulted in a penalty try being awarded with fullback Naughton drilling over the conversion. To their credit, N.U.I.G. battled to the bitter end and Sean Og Higgins gave them some hope with a 75th minute try which Jennings failed to convert but Buccs now held the upper hand and they closed the game out to win 21-10 after a testing and sustained joust.

Some poor tackling and occasional bad handling cost Buccs in the opening period but some stern words at half-time rectified that although poor lineout throws remained an area of concern. N.U.I.G. were the better outfit on the restart with Wilhiem van der Walt winning much lineout possession but the Buccs pack in which Reid was their man of the match got to grips with the challenge and Liam Doran, Enda O’Brien and Stewart excelled in the forwards battle. Naughton’s running from fullback posed a constant threat to the visitors while Bennett, despite some inconsistencies, orchestrated the play well at standoff and substitute Liam Claffey made a decent competitive debut at this level.
Buccaneers now face the winners of the Corinthians v Galwegians replay in the final. 

One minute’s silence was observed before this game in memory of former club President Michael Byrne who passed away during the week.

BUCCANEERS:-  K.Naughton; C.Greene, E.Keena, C.Gormley, G.Fallon; J.Bennett, B.Digby; L.Doran, E.O’Brien, T.Thompson; R.Byrne, C.Donnelly; E. de Burca, R.Reid and B.Stewart. Replacements:- E.Doolan (for Fallon), A.Connaughton (for Greene), L.Claffey (for Keena), D.Tierney (for de Burca) and R.Wakefield (for Donnelly).

N.U.I.G:-  A.Kirwan; S.Corroon, S.Butler, R.Tiernan, M.Roche; P.Jennings, C.Fay; R.Colligan, A.Brady, A.Kelly; W.van der Walt, R.Hogan; S. Og Higgins, D.O’Deasmhunaigh and S.Casey. Replacements:- S.Wootton, J.Delany and S.Woods.

REFEREE:- Joe Doyne. (Connacht Branch).

Final showdown at Lansdowne

After such a promising opening half to their Ulster Bank League campaign, much has gone awry for Buccaneers as they shipped five successive defeats in the lead up to Saturday’s final series of Division 1B fixtures away to Lansdowne on the back pitch at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium. Kick off to this winner takes all match is 2.30 p.m.

Buccs began their season with an uplifting home win over the much-vaunted Lansdowne, who are dearly itching for retribution on Saturday! In their subsequent seven matches, Buccs sustained just one loss, a narrow defeat away to eventual champions Clontarf. Buccs redressed that defeat with a splendid win over Tarf at Dubarry Park but, since then, the Pirates challenge has wilted. A squad small in numbers and physical size has found the going tough with matches coming fast and furious following the prolonged break at Christmas. Injuries mounted up and some players were not available from time to time. Consequently, the young side struggled for consistency, yet did not play badly apart perhaps from the home loss to UL Bohemian, who are now hot on their coat tails for third place which gives a playoff chance for promotion. Buccs had chances aplenty away to UCC but did not take them while they let Dungannon off the hook twice, conceding late scores on both occasions.

Hopefully, the Pirates will not have suffered further injuries last Saturday and perhaps Daniel Qualter, Clifford Richardson, Shane Monahan and maybe Brian Touhy will be available next weekend to boost their chances at Lansdowne. Adam Kennedy is definitely ruled out through injury but if the aforementioned quartet were added to the last week’s depleted but gutsy squad, then Buccaneers could be counted upon to mount a real challenge to fancied Lansdowne.

The Leinster outfit have a formidable pack led by prop John Lyne with two recent Ireland U-20’s Tom Sexton and Jack O’Connell in their front row. Neilus Keogh, Aidan McCullen, Ron Boucher, Eoin Sherriff and Willie Earle are experienced forwards and former Bucc Trevor Conneely will be hoping to start at flanker. Eoghan Hickey is an assured presence at outhalf where he partners another recent Ireland U-20 scrumhalf John Cooney. Ireland U-20’s have been tapped into too in the backline where wings Shane Gahan and David Kearney as well as imposing centre Eamonn Sheridan are likely to feature. Ciaran O’Boyle, ex-Garryowen, lines out at fullback and Kieran Lewis adds strength and pace in the centre. It is a formidable squad that, with the decided advantage of playing on their own “artificial” surface, will pose a huge challenge for Buccaneers.

However, Buccs have trumped them once this season and if the midlanders are close to full strength and play with consistency, commitment and discipline, then the Pirates will make it one hell of a battle. The fact that Lansdowne have nosed ahead of Buccs through their scoring difference should not make one iota of difference to Saturday’s duel. Buccaneers would have had to beat Lansdowne regardless of last weekend’s results when all away teams won. If focus and organisation is right, then Buccs can come out on top in what is in effect a Cup final but the attitude and application of ALL players must be spot on and the more experienced players must demonstrate the requisite on-field leadership. That being so, what odds a return to winning ways when it matters most!

Thirds kick off Cup campaign

BUCCANEERS THIRDS get their Ard-Na-Cregg Cup campaign under way when they face up to Galwegians at Dubarry Park on Sunday, kick off 3 p.m. With a little bit more work on the training paddock, this Buccs outfit have the potential to enjoy a good Cup run and they really must make home advantage pay in Athlone. There is a promising blend of seasoned operators and burgeoning youth in the mix, who if organised effectively can prove a handful for any opposition in this competition. As with all battles with Galwegians, neither club will go down without a fight so a right old ding dong affair could be in prospect.

Michael Byrne

Michael Byrne, who was President of Athlone Rugby Football Club in 1982/3, passed on to his eternal reward at the age of 88 last week. “Chivery Mick”, as he was affectionately known far and wide, was particularly good company to travel to a game or function with. A civil gentleman, he believed in good old fashioned manners. Michael had a lengthy involvement in the club, holding several key Executive Committee positions including Connacht Branch Representative over the years, and the opening of Squash courts at the club’s former location opposite his own home took place under his Presidency. He was honoured to be elected President of the Branch for season 1988/89. Deepest sympathy is extended to his wife Therese, sons Conor (a former referee) and Darragh, daughter Doreen and extended family. Ar dheis De a anam.

Condolences are also extended to Vincent Caffrey and family on the death of his brother Jimmy.

Table Quiz on Thursday

Buccaneers Thirds are holding a Table Quiz in The Olive (Ballymahon Road) on this Thursday night. Cash prizes and spots will be on offer and an enjoyable night out is assured. Scheduled starting time is 8.30 p.m. Entry fee is €40 per team of four players. All support is welcome.

Easter Draw

Meanwhile, the club has some fund-raising to do too and tickets are now on sale for an EASTER DRAW. Tickets are priced at €20 each or three for €50 with decent cash prizes on offer. Again, the support of all members, supporters and players families is especially welcome. 

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