BUCCS BASEMENT BATTLE AT HOME TO DUNGANNON

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

BUCCANEERS drive to avoid relegation begins in real earnest on next Saturday evening when they take on fellow strugglers Dungannon in an AIB League Division 1B match at Dubarry Park, Athlone, that kicks off a bit later than usual at 5 p.m.  Buccs absolutely must win this basement battle to have any hope of dodging the dreaded drop, and it will take a massive rejuvenated effort by the squad to do so.

With four matches remaining, Buccaneers trail at the bottom of the table on 11 points, five points behind Saturday’s visitors Dungannon and a further point adrift of Ballynahinch who are on 17. These two northern teams are Buccs immediate next opponents and the Athlone club simply must target wins in both these crunch encounters. However, Buccs must focus one game at a time and Saturday’s duel against the Tyrone standard bearers must be treated as the mother of all Cup finals by Buccs. Nothing less than a home win must ensue, while Dungannon cannot be afforded the luxury of a bonus point in this game sponsored by Ganlys of Athlone.

Consequently, each and every Buccaneers player must stand up and be counted, and take personal responsibility for their input. Commitment must be total and sustained, discipline and focus of the highest order, and every player selected must give of their best whilst playing for each other. Pride must be restored to the jersey in what has been a disappointing and often disjointed campaign to date. Key players from captain Colm Rigney down must show the requisite leadership and enthusiasm; otherwise, Dungannon (also desperately striving to stay up) will punish any weaknesses in the home camp. But Buccs cannot worry about the northerners. They must simply get on with their own game plan, build on it, get momentum going and also get the home crowd behind them.

There is tons of talent and potential in this Buccaneers squad, but the players just need to harness that potential with the right mix of self-belief and pragmatism. All too often, players have been left isolated whilst a real problem throughout the season has been the concession of very early scores. Dungannon cannot be allowed get a foothold or grow in confidence, so Buccs must impose themselves on the proceedings right from the first whistle. Here the home pack must dominate, and quicker ball needs to be delivered to a backline that holds so much promise. With Ulster at home on Friday night,  Dungannon are likely to look to have their provincial front row of Neil Brady and the Fitzpatrick boys available to give them a platform to build on from which backs like Chris Cochrane and Craig Gilroy can capitalise on. Conor Higgins, Garreth Halligan and Martin Staunton or Benny Gilligan must front up here to deny them this luxury and the back five must make a collective and mobile nuisance of themselves. Here home supporters will be looking to some vintage play from skipper Rigney while they can bank on the battling qualities of Stephen Burke, Kolo Kiripati and Colin Watters. Padraig Burke and James Tormey may lack bulk at lock but they certainly don’t shirk in effort or in getting around the paddock, and the home pack will need to be in the faces of their opponents all evening come game time. Anthony Hughes and Marcus Madden provide options in the pack.

Half back may be the key and here Buccs have two young players still developing their own games. But if Adam Kennedy and J.H. Potgeiter get a decent supply of possession, they both are smart and skilled operators who can thrive in what will surely be a cauldron on Saturday. Alex Hayman and (if available) Conor O’Loughlin are the anchors in this area and can bring the best out of the burgeoning talent that Paul Harte, Billy Henshaw and John O’Brien possess. Sean Stapleton, Conor Lavelle, Gavin Kelly and Brian O’Carroll are others champing at the bit to show what they too can do. With Connacht away to the Ospreys on Sunday, it’s likely that Brian Touhy may be the only contracted player available but Buccaneers have three of their four remaining games at home in Dubarry Park and must make that advantage really pay-off.

If the spirit and application is right, and with a big home turnout on Saturday evening, Buccaneers can overcome the first critical hurdle to preserving their Division 1B status. 

KEY MATCHES:-
This weekend:-  Buccaneers v Dungannon and UCC v Ballynahinch.
March 6th:-    Ballynahinch v Buccaneers and Dungannon v Old Belvedere.
March 27th:-    Buccaneers v UCC; Old Belvedere v Ballynahinch; Ballymena v Dungannon.
April 10th:-    Buccaneers v Young Munster; Dungannon v Galwegians; Ballynahinch v Ballymena.

LEAGUE TABLE:-
Ballynahinch         17 points
Dungannon        16 points
Buccaneers        11 points

SLIGO  54  BUCCANEERS  12

Buccs_SligoJCBUCCANEERS RESERVES run in the Heineken Connacht Junior Cup came to a shuddering halt at Hamilton Park, Strandhill, where Sligo emerged convincing victors on a clearcut 54-12 scoreline in front of a modest attendance at the cramped seaside venue. The north-westerners were afforded three first half tries all too easily by the midlanders to lead 21-7 at halftime, which was not perhaps a true reflection on the proceedings to that juncture. Thereafter, however, Sligo were far too strong and slick for a willing but limited Buccs outfit who simply could not match the pace or panache of their hosts.

Sligo got a tonic start when Jordan Barrington got through the centre far too easily for the opening try after just five minutes, Paddy Pearson converting. Buccs recovered and got into the game, bravely working the line with a 15th minute penalty to the right. Kevin Creaven claimed possession at the back to set up David Burns for a try which Michael Donohoe converted to tie the scores at 7-7. However, Sligo struck back with the hugely impressive Pearson delivering a replica of the opening score for his side’s second try seven minutes later. Sligo continued to force the pace but Cormac Sheehy and especially Darren Costello cleared their lines with good use of the boot before Barrington repeated his opening score when he weaved his way past floundering defenders all too handily to deliver a knockout blow four minutes before the interval, Pearson again adding the conversion. Buccs finished the half on the offensive but, although Sligo threw the ball the dead over their own goal-line, the referee did not give Buccs any chance to benefit from this infringement by whistling somewhat presumptuously for halftime.

Five minutes into the second half, Sligo really had their tails up when substitute prop Adrian McHale crashed through for a try and, within another five minutes, they added their fifth try through Andy Feeney when Declan Byrne was quite harshly yellow-carded for alleged off-side with Pearson adding one conversion. Buccs continued to battle and got into promising positions on a number of occasions but, typical of their luck, an attempted grubber kick was blocked down and Sligo used their pace to sweep downfield from their own 22 to grab a 58th minute David Geraghty try.

Sligo were now out-gunning their visitors for whom the lineouts were torrid setpieces with the much taller homesters calling virtually all the shots there. Buccs gave them plenty of food for thought in the scrums but such was the speed of foot and movement by a lightening quick backline that the midlanders were regularly roasted, especially when they coughed up loose ball. Yet Buccs battled willingly and ‘Milky’ Creaven applied the finishing touch to some impressive driving and rucking for a deserved 63rd minute try on the right to put some respectability on the scoreboard at 40-12 adrift.

However, Sligo had the final say when substitute Niall O’Hara displayed that Ronan O’Gara is not the only one who can loft a divine diagonal ball for fullback Geraghty to swoop on to for a 70th minute try before Ted Mulvanney finished off the haul of eight tries by the home side just two minutes before a premature finish to the second half also, although on this occasion Buccs were probably not complaining! Gary Collinson tacked on Sligo’s last three conversions after Pearson sustained an injury.

Pearson was outstanding in a terrific backline with stand out support from Geraghty and Barrington. Wilson lorded the lineouts and a hardy backrow trio generally kept the homesters driving forward, and Sligo certainly look well capable of lifting this trophy this season. Buccs made too many weak tackles in the first half and were always struggling thereafter, while Sligo’s superior size in the forwards was too much for the midlanders to contain as was the winners pace and direct running in the backline.

BUCCANEERS:-  C.Sheehy; K.McIntyre, G.Kelly, D.Byrne, M.Donohoe; D.Costello, C.O’Keeffe; B.Gilligan, D.Burns, G.McGill; B.McManus, Anthony Hughes; P.Galvin, K.Creaven and Adrian Hughes (captain). Replacements used:- D.Lennon (for Burns, h/t), D.Dunning (for Galvin, 50 mins) and G.Walsh (for O’Keeffe, 66 mins). 

YOUNG MUNSTER  14  BUCCANEERS  19

BUCCANEERS U-21’s recent run of decent form continued when they accounted for Young Munster in a lively, open encounter at Clifford Park, Limerick, on Saturday, winning their South-West Conference National League game on a 19-14 margin in ideal playing conditions.

Buccs got off to flying start and, with Jack Byrne and Colin Draper making ground at will in the opening half, the midlanders opened their account with a try by Byrne after only seven minutes. Overall, there was loads of open play but in the first half it was primarily Buccaneers who were making inroads and it was no real surprise when centre Byrne grabbed his second try, both of which were set up by exquisite passes from Adam Kennedy who added one conversion for a 12-0 halftime lead. The forwards had been providing plenty of go forward ball in this period but, on the turnover, Buccs collectively seemed to take their feet off the pedal, not for the first time this season.

This, allayed to some sloppy kicking, allowed Young Munster back into the game and they narrowed the arrears with a converted try. Buccs steadied their ship when Mark Fitzgibbon intercepted on his own 22 to deliver a knockout blow to the Cookies with a tremendous poacher’s try which Kennedy converted to leave Buccs 19-7 ahead. Now it was the midlanders’ turn to come under the cosh as Young Munster threw everything at them but gutsy and sustained defending restricted the Limerick side to a late converted try.

Byrne and Draper excelled in the backline with Kennedy adding glimpses of his pedigree while the returning David Fagan looked more comfortable at fullback. Despite the absence of Conor Higgins, the front row trio of David Henshaw, Trevor Thompson and David Egan demolished their direct opponents while Shane O’Neill and Paul Robinson also did well in the forwards exchanges.

BUCCANEERS:-  D.Fagan; C.Hanly, J.Byrne, C.Draper, M.Fitzgibbon; A.Kennedy, C.Molloy; D.Henshaw, D.Egan, T.Thompson; R.Byrne, S.O’Neill; P.Robinson (captain), J.Hayes and K.Headd. Replacements:- J.O’Carroll (for O’Neill), L.Doran (for Egan) and J.J.Carey (for Henshaw).

BUCCANEERS  22  LOUGHREA  17

BUCCANEERS THIRDS and Loughrea Seconds served up a lively and entertaining affair when the sides met under the Dubarry Park floodlights last Wednesday when the home side prevailed 22-17 in their Connacht J2 League meeting on a bitterly cold night.

Gary O’Loughlin opened the home scoring with an early try and Gerry Glynn, Rory Byrne and John O’Shaughnessy also dotted down as Buccs outscored their visitors. Keith O’Neill added a solitary conversion. Kent McIntyre was outstanding for the winners for whom Byrne, Marty Kilduff and O’Loughlin also did well as the Thirds made it three wins in the last four matches.

The Thirds play their Corinthians counterparts in the J2 League at Dubarry Park on Wednesday night.

BUCCANEERS:-  K.O’Neill; R.Silke, J.O’Shaughnessy, M.Kilduff, G.O’Loughlin; N.So, B.Lennon; D.Lennon, K.Grehan, R.Johnston; P.Hynes, M.Coleman; K.McIntyre, G.Glynn and R.Byrne. Replacement:- R.Curley.

CAR DRAW ON FEBRUARY  27th

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 27th has been set as the date for Buccaneers Car Raffle Draw. The Draw will take place in The Bounty after the England v Ireland RBS Six Nations Championship game in Twickenham. Club members who have not returned tickets for the Draw should do so urgently. Also, as this Draw is to raise much-needed funds to cover costs such as transport, kit, ground maintenance, ALL players at all the various age levels from Minis to Youth and particularly Adult grades should support this raffle. Consequently, the club seeks your financial support now and trust that all members will buy into it, thus ensuring the on-going financial welfare of the club.
Tickets for the wonderful Renault Megane Coupe on offer are priced very favourably at only €10 each or just €20 for a book of three tickets. So let’s get those last minute ticket sales in now, please.

GOING TO TWICKENHAM?

Members going to the England v Ireland match in Twickenham are reminded that there is another very attractive rugby match in the nearby Stoop on the preceding Friday evening between England Legends v Ireland Legends. This charity match is for the inaugural Stuart Mangan Memorial Cup and famous names such as Martin Corry, Jason Robinson, David Humphreys, Conor O’Shea, Jason Leonard, Peter Clohessy, Mike Catt and Shane Byrne will go head-to-head one more time for a most worthy cause. Sadly, Stuart Mangan, who was paralysed following a rugby injury, has passed away but his family wish that the match go ahead to raise funds for worthy charities such as the IRFU Charitable Trust, Keith Woods’ Paralysed Rugby Players Fund and the Matt Hampson Trust. Matt sustained a similar injury to Stuart while playing for England U-21’s. Tickets are priced at only £10 for adults with children admitted for just £5. So, if you are heading over early to London, this event is worthy of your support.

REFEREES’ DINNER

On Saturday next, Ballinasloe’s Tom Horkan, President of the Connacht Association of Referees, hosts his association’s Annual Dinner in the Shearwater Hotel. We wish them a most enjoyable event and trust they enjoy the hospitality beforehand in Dubarry Park when they will be guests at the Buccaneers v Dungannon AIB League duel. 

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