BUCCS FADEOUT ROOTS THEM AT BOTTOM

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

BUCCANEERS  13  BALLYMENA  16

OMearaOHaraDuffy_SDespite fielding their strongest squad in some time and a promising first half showing, Buccaneers were woeful in the second period as they allowed Ballymena take control and also a vital victory in their AIB League Division 1B meeting at Dubarry Park, Athlone, where the northerners won 16-13.

Buccs started with the same pack for the sixth successive match yet once again fielded a much-changed backline including Connacht duo Conor O’Loughlin at scrumhalf and Aidan Wynne in the centre although the unavailable John O’Brien and ill Brian Touhy were absent. Fit again J.H. Potgeiter resumed at outhalf with Alex Hayman reverting to centre, Conor Lavelle was posted at full-back, Sean Stapleton came in on the right wing with Paul Harte the only back to retain his starting position from the previous outing away to UCC!  Meanwhile, Ballymena had seven new faces from the previous meeting between these clubs in late October with the hugely promising Jamie Smyth playing with Ulster the previous evening and injured outhalf Rory Drysdale their key absentees. Scrumhalf David O’Hara took over the standoff and place-kicking duties to such telling effect that he was a worthy “Athlone Springs Hotel Man of the Match” winner while Ireland international Ian Whitten returned in the centre for this game played under the Dubarry Park floodlights on Saturday night. On a nippy but otherwise fine night, the pitch was in pretty decent condition despite the recent ice, snow and rain although admittedly heavy underfoot and a reasonable crowd including USA Eagles supremo Eddie O’Sullivan attended this “Glasson Golf Hotel & Country Club” sponsored fixture.

They witnessed an improving first half display that was littered with mainly handling errors most likely due to a combination of ring rustiness and the nip in the weather. As they have done virtually all this season, Buccs coughed up yet another early score with O’Hara punishing the hosts for coming in from the side in the very first minute to open the scoring with a penalty. However, the Braidmen went offside just a couple of minutes later and Potgeiter opened the home account with a penalty. He then badly miscued a penalty to touch on eight minutes when a shot at the posts looked clearly within his compass but Ballymena then were off-target with a 19th minute penalty after Buccs did not release the ball.

Buccaneers were much more effective in the second quarter as they began to pick and drive with cohesion and patience with O’Loughlin very involved at this stage. Their best spell of the game was rewarded when, after quite a considerable number of phases, prop Conor Higgins popped up wide on the right to surge over for a 26th minute try which Potgeiter converted excellently to put the midlanders 10-3 ahead. They were the dominant force at this stage but suffered a key loss on 34 minutes when Stephen Burke (who has been consistently Buccs’ best forward this season doing vast amounts of unheralded work) was injured and he was replaced by Kolo Kiripati, making his first start of the campaign after a lengthy injury. The score remained unchanged at halftime and the homesters looked set to build on this.

The temperature may have fallen a bit during the game but the tempo increased on the restart. However, it was Ballymena who were now making the impact as they set about redressing their situation.  Potgeiter put in a fine tackle on the threatening Peter Budina before Harte outpaced Kyle Moore to hold the home line intact. Ten minutes into the second half, Buccs lost possession cheaply inside their own half and suddenly hooker Ryan Fisher was driving over the home line for a try which O’Hara converted to tie the scores 10-10.

Colm Rigney was caught in possession six minutes later and the blond O’Hara coolly slotted over a tricky penalty to nose Ballymena back into the lead. Buccs were rarely getting out of their own half at this stage but then the Ulstermen contrived a series of errors that gave the midlanders some territory in the opposition half from which they profited when Potgeiter steered over a very awkward penalty against the breeze just after the hour mark to tie the scores again at 13-13. But Ballymena quickly regained the lead when Buccs infringed at a lineout on 63 minutes, O’Hara again up to the task with a fine penalty kick.

Home supporters did their utmost to spur on the Pirates, who used their full quota of replacement albeit the final three introduced perhaps too late, but surprisingly there were no further scores in a contest between two relatively even outfits. However, Buccs could not make any real inroads in the second half despite the honest endeavours of their forwards and they lack a real cutting edge in the backline, with confidence understandably low at present. Burke was a crucial loss to their ambitions and while O’Loughlin and Potgeiter did well on occasion, their influence faded in the second half. Ballymena fielded a fairly young mobile squad in which O’Hara (whose tactical kicking was spot on following the changeover) caught the eye in a backline where Tommy Seymour looked useful and skipper Sam McKinney led their pack by example. This win keeps the Antrim side in the top four but Buccaneers, despite a bonus point, are now in dire relegation bother following their second half collapse and they simply cannot come away empty-handed from Galwegians next Saturday.

BUCCANEERS:-  C.Lavelle; S.Stapleton, A.Hayman, A.Wynne, P.Harte; J.H.Potgeiter, C.O’Loughlin; M.Staunton, G.Halligan, C.Higgins; P.Burke, J.Tormey; S.Burke, C.Watters and C.Rigney (captain). Replacements:- K.Kiripati (for S.Burke, inj. 34 mins), B.Gilligan (for Staunton, 61 mins), A.Kennedy (for Lavelle, 71 mins), G.Kelly (for Watters, 71 mins) and B.Henshaw (for Stapleton, 71 mins).

BALLYMENA:-  S.Cassells; P.Budina, K.Moore, I.Whitten, T.Seymour; D.O’Hara, G.Fisher; J.Carson, R.Fisher, A.Warwick; D.O’Kane, B.Young; A.Kerr, P.Smith and S.McKinney (captain). Replacements:- J.Taggart (for R.Fisher, 61 mins), J.Andrew (for O’Kane, 66 mins), C.Brigl (for Budina, 71 mins), A.Ferguson (for Carson, 80 mins) and D.Best (for G.Fisher, inj. 80 mins).

REFEREE:-  Trevor Collins (Munster).

U.C.G. 11    BUCCANEERS  15

BUCCANEERS RESERVES made the most of the Heineken Connacht Junior Cup reprieve afforded them when they limped through against a doughty UCG challenge in their replayed preliminary round game at Dangan, Galway, on Sunday by 15-11 in  a well-contested affair.

Cormac O’Keeffe set Buccs off on the way to victory when he finished off a fine move for an early try in the corner. This score was not converted as the ball fell over before Michael Donohoe kicked and the referee did not allow him to replace it. In a tight enough match, this could have been crucial. However, he soon added a penalty as Buccs made a whirlwind start and were unlucky when the final pass to O’Keeffe was deemed forward and thus denied the scrumhalf a second try. Buccs spurned a couple of other gilt-edged try opportunities and had to settle for a 8-0 halftime lead that did not fully represent their dominance in this half.

On the restart, the Students who had put in a spirited finish to the opening period pinned Buccs back and the midlanders missed the kicking skills of the now injured Darren Costello to get them out of their danger zone. However, their tackling and ground work was excellent with the pack putting In a huge and sustained effort while the Buccs substitutes also contributed notably when introduced. Decie Byrne made a great chase and tackle to deny the home second row a breakaway try immediately after the restart. Having withstood this onslaught, Buccaneers sealed their passage to the next round in a sharp move instigated by Jimmy O’Connell who made good ground before linking with Adrian Hughes. The No. 8  carried the ball on before Gavin Kelly was central in a fast exchange of passes that was finished off by fullback Byrne who had work to do before touching down at the posts for the decisive try which was converted by Donohoe.

Gallant UCG battled to the bitter end and secured a late consolation try to fray visitors’ nerves for some moments before Buccs advanced to meet Loughrea at home. Costello was influential through his kicking and skills in general until injured. Centres Kelly and Connell were steady with Byrne stepping up to the mark when asked. Donohoe also played well as did O’Keeffe although up against UCG’s best operator. The pack was tested in the tight but Anthony Cloonan, Paul Galvin and Greg McGill rose to the occasion while replacement Mark Coleman made an impact. Kevin Creaven was the stand-out Buccs performer with some immense work at the breakdown with subs Emmet Egan and Darragh Lennon also doing well in a hard-earned win that keeps the Seconds season alive.

BUCCANEERS:- D.Byrne; M.Donohoe, G.Kelly, J.O’Connell, C.Sheehy; D.Costello, C.O’Keeffe; L.Doran, D.Egan, G.McGill; D.Dunning, P.Galvin; A.Cloonan, K.Creaven and A.Hughes (captain). Replacements used:- E.Egan (for Costello, inj. 22 mins), M.Coleman (for Dunning), R.Johnston (for Doran), D.Lennon and K.McIntyre.

BUCCS AWAY TO GALWEGIANS

BUCCANEERS are away to arch Connacht rivals Galwegians in Saturday’s crunch AIB League Division 1B encounter at Crowley Park, Glenina, kick off 2.30 p.m. Wegians, although winning just one more game than the midlanders to date, are comfortably placed in the top four, their accumulation of four bonus points to date being key to their well-being.

Meanwhile, Buccs are rock bottom and absolutely must get the maximum from this encounter. Their only home win to date was over the westerners and, undoubtedly, the Pirates will be as fired up as ever for the quick hop west. However, a lack of scoring power has blighted their campaign to date and they really need to pull out all the stops if they are to again prevail over Wegians. Buccs pack has been very settled of late so they will be hoping that the so consistent and strident Stephen Burke makes a quick recovery from last Saturday’s injury, although Kolo Kiripati should be better equipped after some game time as substitute if called upon this weekend. The midlanders’ forwards will need to be tight and cohesive against a beefier home pack. Buccs backs too simply must be sharper in both attack and defence. The silky running skills of John O’Brien and Brian Touhy would be a decided asset on Saturday to complement the burgeoning talents of Paul Harte, Adam Kennedy and Billy Henshaw. Colm Rigney and Alex Hayman must show the requisite leadership and be clinical under pressure for the visitors while Galwegians will look to Ati Olive, Ivan Muldoon, Kieran Campbell and Robert O’Beirne to give them the edge. The light blues will be favourites but, on derby day, anything is possible!

Buccaneers may also be facing Galwegians in the U-21 South-West Confernence of the National League this weekend. Due to unplayable conditions their scheduled pre-Christmas meeting at Dubarry Park was postponed and may be refixed for the Athlone stadium this weekend. Also, at time of writing, the Seconds or Thirds fixtures can not be confirmed. However, it is likely that the Reserves will play their first round Heineken Connacht Junior Cup game at home to Loughrea on Sunday or possibly could be heading to the north-west for their refixed Connacht Junior League tilt with Westport, while the Thirds may be away to UCG in the Connacht J2 League. Check the club’s website at www.buccaneersrfc.com for updates.

CONGRATULATIONS

Congrats to Liam Kidney on winning the SWPP Travel Photographer of the year award in London. Good luck to Eddie Walsh who is the citing official at some forthcoming Internationals including Wales v Italy (which could be a busy one for him!).

AIB CUP FINALS

The finalists for this season’s AIB Cup deciders in Dubarry Park on Saturday week, January 30th are now all known. Holders Tullamore were comfortably disposed of by Armagh at the Palace Grounds while Monivea came a cropper away to City of Derry at Judges Road. Both northern clubs were a mite fortunate in that, because both semi-finals were twice postponed due to unplayable pitches, the competition rules state that the games are then played at the ‘away’ venue. Thus both Tullamore and Monivea had to concede ground advantage, which proved costly to both.
Meanwhile, Senior finalists Cork Constitution and Garryowen are, allegedly, not happy having to journey to Athlone for their decider! Cork Con, who are unlikely to bring much support at the best of times, don’t have happy memories of the ground following last season’s upset by Ballynahinch live on RTE TV, who are again covering the Senior final this year.

U-20 INTERNATIONALS KICK OFF IN TWO WEEKS’ TIME

IRELAND kick off their U-20 Six Nations Championship campaign at home to Italy in Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Friday week, February 5th. Tickets are now on sale at The Bounty, Musicworld Golden Island, Keenan’s Sports Store Athlone and from various club members. Stand tickets are limited so early purchase is recommended for them while Family tickets are particularly good value, covering 2 adults and 2 accompanying children. Pre-match tables can be booked by contacting Geraldine at 086-1732711.      

BUCCS under 17’s LEAGUE SEM- FINAL VICTORY
MONIVEA  3  BUCCANEERS  8
In their first match of the new year Buccaneers set up stall with a solid victory overcoming all the odds to take the spoils 8-3 away to Monivea at the Castle Grounds. Buccaneers, who agreed under protest to play the match in the absence of the appointed match referee in favour of a local official, were trailing by 3-0 after a poor start and the atmosphere as was the penalty count against Buccs was indeed ominous.
This was a physical encounter into which Monivea entered whole heartedly and chalked up a penalty 15 minutes into the game by which time Buccs pack hadn’t come to life yet. It took Buccs twenty minutes play to reply with a penalty graciously converted by Robert Henshaw.
It was just after half time the Buccs pack began to take over matters with Aidan Connaughton, James Donoghue and Glen Carey exacting their pressure that paid off. Also Lee McLaughlin started to make holes in the defence and this made a formidable difference. Scrum-half Barry Digby’s patience, as well as that of the whole back line, was constantly harassed by opposition players who seemed to move liberally without sanction. This could have ended in disaster for Buccs but Digby’s experience showed in patiently waiting for and taking the chance that eventually came his way and passed clean ball out the line. There waiting were the capable presence of Henshaw, Conor FitzGibbon and Mel Corbett who collaborated in style and force to put winger Conor Seery away in the corner for the decisive try.
Ability to adapt and change position was a feature of the team’s success which, in the circumstances, also was a telling difference between the sides. When unfortunately FitzGibbon’s foot playing a loose ball was met by an opponent’s kick required him to retire and injuries to Jack Donoghue and Damien Hyland saw them retire also, the changes proved decisive. The switch around saw remarkably athletic utility prop forward Bryan Teape slot in on the wing, out-half Henshaw adapted to play in the centre field, Cian Bradley move from full-back to out-half and winger Jack Linnane take over at full-back. In the pack changes came in the way of Tadhg Hennessy who made a bursting impact for the last 30 minutes as did Declan Lynch when he came in for Damien Hyland. Off the field, a vital ingredient for the panel is team physio Dermot Sloane who provided effective assistance that as usual saw every player receive swift and best attention that makes sure the player’s recovery is fast, effective and relatively painless.
Relieved management team of Pat Hynes, Jude Lennon, Ronan Bushell, Mick Donohoe and Tony Henshaw were more than happy to leave against the odds with a win. Congratulations to all concerned! The final against Galwegians will probably be in two weeks time at a venue to be decided in the meantime.
BUCCANEERS:- Bryan Teape, Damien Hyland, Lee McLoughlin,Simon Garvey, Ryan Sheridan, Robbie Henshaw, Conor Seery, Tadhg Hennessy, Cian Bradley, Robert Corcoran,  James Garnell, Tiernan Morrissey, Aidan Connaughton, Barry Digby, Mel Corbett, Glynn Carey,  John Dooley, James Donoghue, Jack Linnane, Michael Duddy, Colm Conroy, Cian O’Reilly,   Daniel McNeill, Conor FitzGibbon, Jack Donoghue, Eoin Maher, Eoghan Kelly, John Dooley and Dylan Lynch.

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