RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

DUNGANNON  28
M.Lawton (try, con & 2 pens), R.Halsall (try), C.Cochrane (try) & C.Gaston (try).
BUCCANEERS  25
E.Rooney (try), J.O’Brien (try), S.Monahan (try), G.Halligan (try) & A.Kennedy (pen & con).

BUCCANEERS and Dungannon served up an eight try scoring feast in their Ulster Bank League Division 1B encounter at Stevenson Park where the home side triumphed 28-25 at the end of a hugely entertaining contest on Saturday. Both teams contributed to a thoroughly entertaining affair in which the lead changed hands six times in a lively match played in fine conditions at this neat venue.

Buccs had three changes from last week’s defeat at Galwegians. Colin Watters was unavailable and Eoin Rooney made his first start at blindside flanker with Stephen Burke switching to openside. Shane Monahan returned in place of the injured Callum Boland on the right wing while Conor Lavelle started on the left flank with Paul Harte moving to the centre in place of Jarrod Bennett. Dungannon fielded a relatively youthful side including a compact pack that featured none of their major Ulster stars.

An Adam Kennedy penalty after just two minutes settled Buccs’ nerves and their defence was decent as Dungannon applied some early pressure including a mazy Conor Gaston run. But the Ulster club suffered a setback when Michael Rainey’s rashness at a ruck earned him a yellow card after 12 minutes. Buccs promptly endeavoured to make their temporary numerical superiority pay and Monahan’s great charge down the right was stopped just short of the line when Ali Birch hung on for dear life to deny the big winger. However, Buccs recycled possession and the ball was moved from right to left where Lavelle hared in to touchdown but a try was not allowed as referee Darragh McCormack ruled the final pass forward. This decision was the matter of some debate afterwards. But Buccs continued to press forward and, with Dylan Rogers carrying good ball forward, the northerners were stretched and Rooney got in on the right for his first AIL try for Buccs. Kennedy converted to put the midlanders 10-0 ahead at the end of the opening quarter.

Five minutes later, Dungannon opened their account when Kieran Campbell’s clever diagonal kick was fastened onto by Michael Lawton to dive over near the right corner. It appeared the winger may have knocked on in grounding the ball but the referee, after consulting a touch judge, awarded the try which Lawton also converted. Michael Kirkwood made a fine break for Dungannon on the half-hour and the ball was again kicked diagonally to the right where Jack Carty made a great fetch but the referee harshly deemed he was offside and Lawton duly converted the penalty to level the scores. Carty, who had been injured earlier, was replaced by Alex Hayman and despite a good break by Paul Harte the score remained 10-10 at halftime.

Dungannon restarted in spritely fashion with Gaston making good ground following a quickly tapped penalty while Chris Cochrane was stopped inside the Buccs 22. Buccs were guilty of not rolling away in the face of this early pressure and Lawton added a 45th penalty to give Dungannon the lead for the first time. Buccs replied in enterprising manner with Monahan and Harte combining in a move that saw Lavelle flick the ball inside when running out of space on the left and the supporting John O’Brien eased through for a 48th minute try. Almost immediately, Lavelle gave a most delightful dummy in the centre to hare in for another touchdown but the referee again denied the winger a score signalling crossing. This certainly looked inexplicable but justice was done when Buccs turned over possession from the resultant scrum and the ball was moved smartly via Kennedy, Kolo Kiripati and Aidan Wynne to Monahan who thundered in for a 52nd minute try wide on the right. Although Kennedy could not convert either try, Buccaneers now held a very promising 20-13 advantage.

But Dungannon refused to wilt and they too demonstrated good handling in the lead up to Rowan Halsall’s 59th minute try wide on the left. Buccs introduced David Connellan and Martin Staunton for Kennedy and Rogers as the game entered the final quarter before Dungannon regained the lead on 67 minutes when Cochrane looped around the cover without a hand being laid on him for a rather soft score. Lawton too missed both conversions to leave the game still finely balanced with the homesters 23-20 ahead.

Buccaneers again demonstrated their purpose and intent with the impressive Monahan making another typical rampage down the park that was carried on by substitute Staunton who off-loaded to Garreth Halligan and the visitors’ captain did very well to ground the ball for a well taken 73rd minute try which Connellan failed to convert. This nosed Buccs 25-23 ahead and really they should have had the wherewithal to close out the game but the home back three, who had caused regular discomfort to the Athlone side, combined again to turn the tide with a late try. Cochrane looked certain to score four minutes from time but Monahan made up huge ground on the Ulster Ravens starlet to put in a try-saving tackle. However, Dungannon coolly recycled possession and Gaston got in for the match-winning try on the left. Although Lawton could not land the conversion, Dungannon held on in the face of spirited final flurry from Buccaneers to edge a narrow victory which earned them five points that surely secures their Division 1B status.

Thus disappointment again for Buccs as they reverse last season’s sequence of results, now suffering four defeats in succession. But they secured two bonus points (one losing and a second for scoring four tries) and retain second position in the hunt for promotion while extending their points advantage over third-placed Lansdowne to four with just two series of matches remaining. While the disallowed tries played a part in this setback, the most disappointing feature was Buccs inability to close out the game at two stages in the second half, primarily when they had secured their fourth try late in the match. Cool heads and more clinical play were sorely absent then. Arguably, they did not maximise the amount of possession they had at stages when as one Pirate compared it “they had as much ball as Charlie McCreevey had cash but like him did not know what to do with it!” Nevertheless, this was a very spirited performance by Buccaneers, including four very well worked tries, whose small panel have faced a tough sequence of consecutive matches and they will be glad of the three weeks break to regroup and recuperate before Dungannon (who play Corinthians in the All-Ireland Cup semi-final next Saturday) visit Dubarry Park. Monahan and Lavelle shone in the backline while Conor Higgins and Kiripati led by example in the pack.          

DUNGANNON:-  C.Gaston; M.Lawton, P.Magee (captain), G.Telford, C.Cochrane; K.Campbell, M.Kirkwood; P.Whyte, A.Duhig, G.Sinnamon; M.Rainey, A.Fry; C.Threlfall, R.Halsall and A.Birch. Replacements used:- S.McKenzie (for Rainey, 71 mins), B.Howard (for Whyte, 73 mins) and D.Simpson (for Cochrane, inj. 75 mins).

BUCCANEERS:- J.O’Brien; S.Monahan, P.Harte, A.Wynne, C.Lavelle; J.Carty, A.Kennedy; D.Rogers, G.Halligan (captain), C.Higgins; P. de Burca, C.Richardson; E.Rooney, S.Burke and K.Kiripati. Replacements used:- A.Hayman (for Carty, inj. 30 mins), D.Connellan (for Kennedy, 62 mins) and M.Staunton (for Rogers, 64 mins).

REFEREE:- Darragh McCormack. (Munster).

BUCCANEERS  8  UCC  13

BUCCANEERS U-21’s did not make the most of their chances or territory and University College, Cork, made it prove costly when the Students progressed to the quarter-finals of the National League winning 13-8 at Dubarry Park on Saturday.

Buccs made a very promising start and forced three kickable penalties in the opening quarter hour but spurned them all. Their pack had the bigger UCC unit in trouble too but Buccs did not translate their possession onto the scoreboard. The Students survived this pressure and opened the scoring with a converted try close to the half-hour mark. Both sides traded penalties before the interval, Jarrod Bennett now taking over the place-kicking role for the midlanders, and UCC led 10-3 at this stage.

Buccs were not helped by injuries to Robert Henshaw and Conal Gormley in the second half while Callum Boland bravely played through the pain barrier. College now grew in confidence, helped by a third quarter penalty and Buccs had to put in some decent defending for a spell before regrouping and finishing on the offensive. A teasing crossfield kick by Bennett just failed to reach winger Conor FitzGibbon while a good maul by the home pack got over the visitors’ line but the referee, rightly, could not see a touchdown so Buccs luck was out until very late in the game. Then a good drive from a five metre scrum saw Brendan Fagan pop the ball to Barry Digby and the scrumhalf drew the cover before releasing Ethan Keena for a try wide on the right. Bennett was unable to add the conversion from the touchline but he displayed a fine array of his skills throughout while cousins Henshaw and FitzGibbon gave real evidence of their potential. As ever, John Hayes was dynamic in the forwards exchanges and lock Barry Stewart proved a handful throughout while the home front row trio generally got the better of their bigger direct opponents.

The management team of David Henshaw, Paudge O’Donnell, Leighton Christopher, Willie Galvin and Pearse O’Connell wish to thank the players for their endeavours to date (and they have the Connacht Cup coming up on Saturday). They acknowledge too the support of all the parents and families as well as CARTY MEATS for their generous team sponsorship. 

BUCCANEERS:-  R.Henshaw; C.FitzGibbon, S.Flynn, C.Gormley, C.Boland; J.Bennett, B.Digby; D.Henshaw, E.O’Brien, D.Higgins; R.Byrne, B.Stewart; R.Reid, J.Hayes (captain) and B.Fagan. Replacements used:- K.Naughton (for Henshaw, inj.), E.Keena (for Gormley, inj.), E. de Burca (for Reid, inj.) and J.Kenny (for Byrne).

SLIGO  52 BUCCANEERS 5

BUCCANEERS DEVELOPMENT SQUAD found the gulf in divisions too much to handle when Sligo dumped them out of the Heineken Connacht Junior Cup for the second year in succession in a near replica scoreline at Hamilton Park where the north-westerners were comprehensive 52-5 winners.

Buccs fielded a depleted side and had no substitutes for what was inevitably going to be a mountain to climb. Their pack put in a manful effort with Marcus Madden and Benny Gilligan to the fore but the Sligo backs were much too slick for a weakened Buccs backline where only Colin Draper, who took ball on willingly and also made some fine darts, was up to the tempo and power of this contest. The scrumhalf’s endeavours were rewarded with Buccs solitary score, a smartly-taken try following a quickly tapped penalty. Sligo’s half backs and centres, where Niall O’Hara was returning after injury, impressed throughout as did their openside flanker and teenage substitute Aaron Spring. This Buccs squad will now complete their season in the new Plate competition.

BUCCANEERS:-  G.Walsh; L.Downey, A.Downey, E.Keena, S.Coyle; L.Mitchell, C.Draper; E.Bracken, D.Lennon, B.Gilligan; G.Duffy, B.Moore; M.Madden, H.Reilly and A.Hughes (captain).  

FIXTURES

BUCCANEERS U-21’s have been drawn away to N.U.I.G. in the opening round of the Connacht Cup and this fixture is scheduled for Dangan in Galway on Saturday afternoon. If Buccs walking wounded are fit and available, then the Athlone outfit have the potency and power to progress. The Thirds are also in Galway next weekend being away to Corinthians in the Connacht Junior 2A League at Clounacauneen on Friday night.

CONDOLENCES

Deepest sympathy is extended to the Rattigan family on the death of Padraig, brother of Liam and John.

EASTER DRAW

Tickets for the club’s EASTER DRAW should be distributed and on sale from various members, team mentors, etc., at this stage. Tickets are priced €20 each or book of three for €50 for a range of attractive Cash prizes. Your support is urged for this necessary fund-raiser.

IRELAND PLAY ENGLAND IN ATHLONE

IRELAND will complete their U-20 Six Nations Championship fixtures when they tackle England in what could be a title and Triple Crown decider under the Dubarry Park, Athlone, floodlights on Friday, March 18th, kick off 7.45 p.m. Tickets for this ‘ESB ELECTRIC IRELAND’ match are now on sale at The Bounty and from Buccaneers office as well as being available at Musicworld, Golden Island, Athlone. Stand tickets are keenly priced at €18 while Ground/Terrace tickets cost €15. OAP/Student tickets are just €5 each and Family tickets (covering 2 adults and 2 children) are only €30. Early purchase particularly of Stand tickets is urged for what should be a cracking match when local supporters may get the chance to see two local players DANIEL QUALTER and MARK DOLAN wear the green of Ireland.

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