When a potential second round Buccaneers/Ballinasloe Heineken Junior Cup fixture emerged from the draw supporters from both camps earmarked a battle royale.

The possibility played out as reality in Athlone on Sunday, and the old foes did not disappoint. It boasted ambitious attack, stout defence, nervous errors and a cliff-hanger finish. Buccaneers emerged 12points clear but the 22-10 scoreline defied the opening 80minutes. Ballinasloe missed an opportunity to go three up early on as Robert O’Beirn sent a penalty attempt wide in the first quarter. Buccaneers consolidated and starved Ballinasloe much of the possession and territory but were unable to trouble the scorers.

Ten minutes from the break Buccaneers 10 Timmy Clifford also failed to convert pressure and opportunity into points, and again let Ballinasloe go unpunished just before halftime from 35m out. With the narrowest of opportunities Deccie Byrne capitalised on concerted goal-line pressure and put Buccs on the board, Clifford atoned for his earlier hiccup and added the extras for a 7-0 halftime scoreline.

Buccaneers opted for a new strip at the break, a black-and-white ensemble from this winter’s AIT Christmas collection.

Ballinasloe squeezed the margin to four with a penalty shortly after the restart, but Clifford again found form with the boot and replied in kind. Ballinasloe youngster Ross Keller entered the fray from the bench and took to the Junior rugby pressure-cooker with aplomb. At 10-3 with 15 to go Ballinasloe turned up the heat and forced Buccaneers to defend on all fronts.

The visitors passed up an easy three opting for a quicktap penalty instead but found the Buccaneers homeguard up to the challenge. Buccaneers, with a chance to go beyond a seven point gulf, missed a fourth kick at the posts and Ballinasloe swung on the offensive.

O’Beirne, whose radar may have been off (but boots very much in working order), scythed through a gap on the halfway and took play into Buccs’ territory. Conor Johnston, screaming outside him for the offload, was forced to watch O’Beirne meet the cover.

The position afforded Ballinasloe the only opportunity they needed to take the game into extra time, and with four left on the clock Kealan Headd claimed a long throw at the back of the lineout, and Mark Harrigan (et alia) shoved Ballyhaunis over the line. O’Beirne deadlocked the game with a conversion.

At 10-all, only the steeliest of bookies would have backed the visitors against a heavier Buccaneers pack playing at home.

Buccaneers went into overdrive, made the contact area a one-sided battle and Rory Walsh scored the third try of the afternoon. Valiant Ballinasloe only prolonged the inevitable as Buccaneers snuffed out any opposition attack and posted a fourth of their own, John Maguire touched down, Clifford the extras.

Ballinasloe: D.Burke, C.Loughrey, C.Johnston, L.Feerick, M.Gibbons, R.O’Beirn, J.Kelly, J.J.Carey, A.Wade, T.Dolan, K.Dolan, N,Staunton, H.Reynolds(capt), K.Headd, R.Wakefield. Replacements: (all used) M.Harrigan, A.O’Hara, R.Keller, R.Shepherd, E. Courtney.

(contributed – Liam Courtney)


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