BUCCS AWAY TO BALLYNAHINCH IN RELEGATION DUEL

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

BUCCANEERS travel to the County Down foothills where they square up to Ballynahinch in their most vital AIB League Division 1B match of the season at Ballymacarn Park on Saturday, kick off 2.30 p.m. With just three rounds of fixtures remaining, this is an “absolutely must win” game for the midlanders if they are to stave off the sceptre of relegation. Indeed, it may be do or die for both sides in respect of their Division 1B status as Ballynahinch on 17 points are just two points ahead of the Athlone club while Dungannon, who are home to leaders Old Belvedere, are sandwiched in between both as the pressure mounts on all three clubs to avoid the dreaded drop.

The northerners leap-frogged Buccs by virtue of a tight 14-9 win at Dubarry Park earlier in the season, helped by a whirlwind start that yielded 11 points against a home outfit fielding a weakened back line that was too easily exposed in the early exchanges. Ballynahinch enjoyed a wonderful season last term, winning two provincial and two national trophies (including a memorable AIB Cup success in Athlone) but they have struggled for consistency this year. Teams are granting them more respect now while they have lost a couple of key players to the Ulster squad, notably flanker Willie Falloon. Another Ulster regular is Ed Donoghue who first tried his luck as a raw teenager with Buccaneers but the Aussie returned to Ireland to establish himself for the northern province who have affiliated him to Ballynahinch. 

Nevertheless, Hinch still possess some decent players and have a good mix of youth and experience with captain Stuart Lamb an often inspiring figure at No. 8. His influence must be curbed greatly and none better to be in his face all afternoon than our own Downs man Stephen Burke. More crucially perhaps will be the input of the northerners outhalf Ryan Bambry. The New Zealander may be a talismanic player for Ballynahinch, especially if he is given space and time. But he can be frustrating —and frustrated — particularly if he is not protected in the manner that he likes. Kolo Kiripati must be on his case from the off and indeed Buccs could prosper if they target his channel when in possession. Harry McAleese and Jonny Cullen are two lively and versatile backs while prop Paddy McAllister and hooker David McGregor were in Ireland’s U-20 squad last year. Michael Graham and Chris Stevenson are two hard-working forwards who will give it their all as Ballynahinch too chase survival.

Buccaneers were not patient enough when the sides last met. They made ground best through picking and driving, and they will need to repeat the hard graft up north on Saturday. Concentration or discipline cannot be afforded to lapse and all players must shoulder responsibility in a pragmatic and more clinical manner. Buccs too have a promising mix of burgeoning talent and wily campaigners, with the latter needing to lead by example. Colm Rigney is beginning to hit the form that was anticipated earlier in the season and his leadership will be crucial in the final run in. Kiripati is coming good too following his long injury lay-off and is akin almost to signing a new player at this stage. Stephen Burke and Colin Watters, as always, can be counted on to carry, graft, tackle and generally do the unheralded but critical work all afternoon in what will surely be a torrid atmosphere. James Tormey too is another unsung hero who consistently gives nothing less than 100%. He will likely be partnered by skipper Rigney at lock. Upfront Garrett Halligan has been one of the club’s best servants for many a season and will again be a key figure for the Pirates while Conor Higgins and Martin Staunton are growing in stature as they gain more experience in the front row trenches. This Buccaneers pack can lay a match-winning foundation while Benny Gilligan, Anthony Hughes, Gavin Kelly and Padraig Burke (if recovered from injury) will be challenging for inclusion.

In the backline, new coach David Henshaw may opt for a bit more fine tuning but J.H.Potgeiter looks more comfortable at full-back while Alex Hayman can control and make crucial decisions at standoff. He must ensure that the greater percentage of the game is played in the opponents’ territory. Adam Kennedy seemed a bit nervy against Dungannon but he has tremendous ability and potential which will surely get better when he marries it to a bit more canniness. Brian Touhy is an elegant operator in the centre where Paul Harte can prove the ideal foil. John O’Brien would be a decided asset in the backs division where Conor Lavelle, Sean Stapleton and Billy Henshaw are likely to be battling if out for berths on the wing. 

All in all, there is substantial potential and talent in this Buccs squad. It will be greatly boosted by their overdue victory over Dungannon. They will need to be a bit fitter and sharper than in that display but hard work and attention will surely have been put in in the meantime. It promises to be a tough and tight contest, and Buccs will need to impose themselves early on and not allow Ballynahinch get a run and give the home supporters much to cheer. Buccs too should have decent support for this duel and, if the Athlone side play to their collective strengths and capabilities, then the most vital of victories can be fashioned.

SUPPORTERS BUS TO BALLYNAHINCH

A special bus for supporters is being organised for the game at Ballynahinch. All those interested in travelling on this bus should contact Owen Stuart-Trainor at 086-2303233 as early as possible to book seats. Let’s back the Buccs!

RONNIE WALSH

The club was rocked by the news of the sudden passing aged only 39 of Ronnie Walsh last weekend. Ronnie was a true character and a wonderfully talented footballer in many codes. Built like a tank, his quick mind, soft hands and thundering boot belied his stature at outhalf as many an opponent found to their cost. Affectionately known as ‘Keg’, Ronnie will be dearly missed and deepest condolences are extended to his wife of less than one year Mags, to his brother Eddie (referee) and extended family. Ar dheis De a anam.

BUD LIGHT TAG RUGBY COMES TO ATHLONE

BUD LIGHT TAG RUGBY, the official IRFU tag rugby, comes to Athlone this summer. Registration can already be made online and more than 1,000 teams are expected to participate nationally. Leagues are mainly tailored for the social aspect of the sport and, at Dubarry Park, the emphasis will be on Mixed Social teams made up of both men and women. It is a non-contact, fun sport and three females must be on the pitch at all times. Squads can consist of up to twelve players and, typically, each team should have matches for about ten weeks usually from mid May. Registration costs should be in the region of €400 or thereabouts, which breaks down at pretty good value of about €5 per player per week. Teams from firms, associations, other sports codes, etc., are most welcome to participate and no prior rugby experience is necessary.

Further information can at this stage be found by contacting the IRFU on [email protected]

U-20 INTERNATIONAL GAMES ON NEXT TWO FRIDAYS

DUBARRY PARK gets a double helping of international rugby either side of St. Patrick’s Day with Ireland taking on Wales in a crunch ESB U-20 Six Nations Championship match on Friday night, March 12th while Scotland are visitors on the following weekend on Friday 19th. Both games kick off at 7.30 p.m. and tickets are currently on sale at The Bounty, Musicworld, Keenan Sports and Harten’s of Moate. Supporters interested in buying Stand or Family tickets are urged to do so in advance, as there is already steady demand particularly for these two types of tickets. Cash will, of course, be taken at the turnstiles on match nights.

CONDOLENCES

Deepest sympathy is extended to Jim Fitzgibbon and family on the death of his father John.   

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