BUCCANEERS 13 NAAS 11

BUCCANEERS and Naas served up a compelling Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B battle in testing conditions at Dubarry Park on Saturday with the home side taking the honours 13-11.

This hard-earned victory keeps Buccs top of the division above City of Armagh on scoring difference.

Buccs made three changes from that frosty encounter with Ryan O’Meara coming in at No.8 instead of the unavailable Ciaran Booth, Frank Hopkins returned after injury at scrumhalf and Shane Jennings started at fullback. Michael Hanley and Will Reilly were on the bench. The Cobras made seven changes with Stephen Lackey, Peter King, David Benn, Cillian Dempsey and Ryan Casey coming into their pack. Former Connacht player, Craig Ronaldson, lined out in the centre with Mark McDermott fielding at fullback.

On a sunny but very cold afternoon, Buccaneers had first use of the elements and took the game to the visitors from the start. A Bryan Croke gave away an early penalty for a badly timed tackle on Shane Layden but Harry West was off-target with placekick.

Ten minutes later, Buccs put a terrific flowing move together with Josh O’Connor and Layden linking well to send Saul O’Carroll haring forward. A try looked certain but Donal Conroy somehow got across to loosen O’Carroll’s grip from the ball as he attempted to score at the left corner flag. At the end of the opening quarter, O’Connor was tackled into touch on the opposite flank as he headed towards the Naas line.

The midlanders had lots of territory but found the Naas defence impenetrable for long periods. They forced a scrum penalty on 27 minutes but West was again off target.

But the Pirates finally found a way through on the half-hour mark after Cian McCann and Danny Qualter had thundered forward and when Jennings received the ball in centrefield he spun a superb long skipped pass to O’Connor who continues to deliver touchdowns with an improved service this season. The flying winger raced in for his ninth try of the campaign and West got his radar working accurately with an excellent conversion from wide on the right.

Almost immediately, the Shannonsiders coughed up a central penalty which Ronaldson tipped over with the help of the crossbar to leave only four points between the teams at half-time with a scoreline of 7-3.

When Buccs were guilty of not rolling away in the opening minute of the second half, Ronaldson’s penalty narrowed the margin to a single point. The Pirates’ now minimal advantage did not look sufficient particularly with the influential breeze now assisting the Kildare outfit. Matters were made worse when injuries forced both Sean O’Connell and Hopkins off in the opening minutes of the second period. Oisin Dolan and Reilly were their respective replacements.

Missed opportunities seemed like being costly but in a much more clinical second half performance the home forwards knuckled down, retaining possession well and going through numerous phases. The Buccs pack was now dominating with Steveni Lombard carrying a huge amount of ball in an uplifting contribution. The hooker looked like he might finish off a move inside the Naas 22 ten minutes into the second half but knocked on in the face of a stout tackle.

However, the industry and commitment of the pack yielded another scrum penalty after 57 minutes and this time West found the range against the wind. Eight minutes later the home outhalf landed a beauty after Naas were penalised for a foot offence at a ruck. This pushed Buccaneers 13-6 ahead.

Charlie Sheridan weaved his way past some tepid tackling late in the game to notch a Naas try wide on the right while Ronaldson’s conversion attempt didn’t make it. Buccs finished on the offensive but a knock-on by Reilly in a promising position two minutes from time denied the hosts from adding to their tally.

Nevertheless, this was a rousing display by Buccaneers.  The pack were outstanding with hooker Lombard worthy of his Man of the Match award.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Jennings; J.O’Connor, S.Layden, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; H.West, F.Hopkins; J.Kelly, S.Lombard, M.Staunton (captain); R.Byrne, D.Qualter; S.O’Connell, C.McCann and R.O’Meara. Replacements:- O.Dolan (for O’Connell, 41 mins), W.Reilly (for Hopkins, 45 mins), C.Fokam, F.McDonnell, M.Hanley and O.Burgess.

NAAS:- M.McDermott; C.Sheridan, H.Smyth, C.Ronaldson, D.Conroy; B.Croke, O.Cawley; S.Lackey, T.Dooley, P.King; P.Monahan (captain), D.Benn; C.Dempsey, R.Casey and E.Walsh. Replacements:- C.Doyle (for Lackey, 48 mins), P.O’Flaherty (for Benn, 52 mins), C.Halpenny (for McDermott, 60 mins), M.Dennis (for Dempsey, 60 mins), M.Stapleton (for Cawley,70 mins) and G.McNeilis.

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