Buccs make winning start to league

RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

BUCCANEERS  17              BRUFF 11
P.Harte try, C.Lavelle try, J.Carty 2 con + pen.    A.Cashman try, T.Cahill 2 pen.

BUCCANEERS edged out Bruff 17-11 in the opening round of this season’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B after a lively and absorbing tussle played in perfect conditions at Dubarry Park, Athlone on Saturday. Buccs had to make a late change with Adam Kennedy an illness victim and he was replaced by Mark Dolan at scrumhalf in a young, new look Pirates outfit that had seven U-21s in their starting lineup. Seven was also the number of starters who played in Buccs final competitive game last season (the play-off away to Garryowen) as the Athlone club rebuilds for the future. And the Pirates also fielded seven AIL debutants for the club when substitute Conor Finn was introduced in this Tubbercurry Engineering sponsored match!

Bruff had changes in their backline from the last meeting between these sides but their pack was more or less unaltered. They looked the more organised side early on, confidence high on the back of recent good results including a notable scalp at Shannon. The younger home outfit looked nervous in the initial exchanges and lacked some cohesion as quite a number had not played together yet. But in their first real attack of note, they demonstrated their potential when Paul Harte finished off an enterprising home move that involved Alex Hayman and Conor Lavelle for a 13th minute try converted by Jack Carty.

Bruff’s response was swift, Andrew Cashman finishing off a fine move for a try wide on the right within three minutes. Carty extended Buccs advantage with a 21st minute penalty when Bruff were penalised in a scrum after Kolo Kiripati had blocked down Tom O’Callaghan’s attempted clearance, while Tony Cahill missed his conversion kick and a penalty for the Limerick club. In a very lively opening half, Lavelle and Callum Boland were both stopped in quick succession close to the visitors’ line as half-time approached.

But Buccs suffered a double blow just before the break when prop Denis Buckley was yellow carded for bringing down a maul and Cahill duly tapped over the ensuing penalty. This added salt to Buccs’ wounds for they were a mite aggrieved that a Bruff player escaped the sin bin for intemperate use of a boot in the lead up to this score. Nevertheless, Buccaneers led 10-8 at the interval.

Bruff, eager to maximise their temporary numerical superiority, piled forward on the resumption and Cahill’s 41st minute penalty, after the homesters were pinged for not releasing, nosed them 11-10 ahead. They put the midlanders under fierce pressure for a sustained spell, helped in unusual fashion when Harte was flagged for crossing, the resultant penalty giving them good territory inside the home 22. But somehow Buccs held their line intact, with ‘AUDI ATHLONE Man of the Match’ Eoghan Grace putting in vital work. Michael Kearney, Hayman and one shuddering David Heffernan tackle ensured Bruff were not going to cross the whitewash a second time despite the visitors earning some five metre scrums during this period. 

Having raised the siege when Kiripati plundered possession and then thundered out of the danger zone, the Pirates enjoyed the better chances thereafter against the Munster men who were so hard to break down. Boland knocked on in one promising raid and Harte, Hayman and Kiripati all came tantalisingly close to the visitors’ line. With the minimum separating the sides on the scoreboard, the game continued to be very finely balanced. Then Daniel Qualter did particularly well to claim a lineout on 62 minutes and Buccs followed this up with some enterprising play which was finished off in style by the ever eager Lavelle for a try which Carty converted to put the midlanders ahead again.

The final quarter was a bit frantic with Buccs ever searching to add to their tally while Bruff continued to search for an opening in the home defence. A kick and chase by Carty almost caught the Limerick rearguard napping just two minutes from the end but Buccs had done enough to secure a hard-earned but merited victory while Bruff got some comfort, securing a losing bonus point for their endeavours. Such was the tightness of the contest that the new ‘rolling substitutions’ was not chanced by either coach!

This young, new-look Buccaneers squad will benefit greatly from this win. They are very much a work in progress at this early stage and for quite a number of them it was their first taste of action at this level. Bruff were a canny, well structured outfit who have added pace in their backline to complement their powerful and experienced pack. But the Pirates stuck to the task on hand, held their own in a valiant forwards’ effort, kept their composure, and had that bit extra in their backline where they looked the more likely to score with ball in hand. 

One minute’s silence was observed before the match in memory of the late Paddy Grogan. Tom and Lil Webster, parents of Martin Webster, and Kerry Sloane, father of Diarmuid Sloane, were also remembered. 

BUCCANEERS:-  C.Lavelle; S.Layden, P.Harte, A.Hayman, C.Boland; J.Carty, M.Dolan; D.Buckley, G.Halligan, J.Robinson; M.Kearney, D.Qualter; D.Heffernan, E.Grace & K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements:- C.Finn (for Boland, 56 mins), S.Stapleton (for Halligan, 61 mins) and M.Staunton (for Heffernan, temporary 44 mins).

BRUFF:- T.O’Callaghan; P.O’Brien, B.Cahill, J.Carroll, A.Cashman; T.Cahill (captain), E.Maher; D.Horan, C.O’Regan, G.Collins; B.Morrissey, M.O’Connell; A.Bourke, J.Shine & M.Carroll. Replacements:- G.O’Hanlon (for O’Brien, inj. 10 mins), S.Foster (for Collins, 23 mins), G.Leonard (for O’Regan, 56 mins), Collins (for Horan, 56 mins)  & Horan (for Foster, 76 mins).

Referee:- David Keane (IRFU).

BUCCS AWAY TO BALLYMENA

BUCCANEERS face their longest trip of the season when they head north to Eaton Park in Ballymena for the second series of Ulster Bank League Division 1B fixtures next Saturday, kick off 2.30 p.m.

Ballymena made an even longer journey last weekend when they made a successful raid to U.C.C. where they prevailed 8-6 in a very low scoring affair. Conditions were testing at The Mardyke but Ballymena’s more experienced squad had that bit extra power and guile to overcome a gritty College side. Recent Ulster debutant Blane McIlroy put in a sterling shift at scrumhalf for the Braidman for whom South African Richard Aingworth looks a decent recruit in the centre. Mike McComish, with Connacht last season, was a busy back-rower for the northerners.  

Ballymena have bounced straight back up to Division 1B following relegation on the final day the previous season. They have enjoyed mixed results in the Ulster League, including a draw with Ballynahinch but sustaining a heavy home defeat from Dungannon. They have a lot of new names in their panel but still number another exciting scrumhalf Luke Marshall in their ranks as well as durable prop Simon Shawe.

This will be a big test for Buccaneers but the young midlanders will be hugely encouraged by their overall performance in the circumstances against a streetwise Bruff. Teamwork should be noticeably better and, with more time to work on setpieces and defence, Buccs can give a good account of themselves at a ground where they have a decent record including a win on their last visit.  They have a very competitive back row trio in Eoghan Grace, David Heffernan and Kolo Kiripati who can be particularly influential in this encounter. Adam Kennedy and John O’Brien should be fit to give coach Hendre Marnitz added options in the backs unit. There is a promising mix in the midlanders squad and, especially if the younger players are not fazed by the occasion and maintain discipline, workrate and composure all the way through, then Buccs can build on last week’s opening day win.

Other Fixtures

BUCCANEERS DEVELOPMENT XV were left without a fixture last weekend when Gort declared at short notice that they were unable to muster a team for the Connacht Junior League Division 1B game scheduled for Dubarry Park on Sunday. This was disappointing, not just to Gort, for Buccs could really have done with the match too as they have just a brace under their belts so far and, at time of writing, have no scheduled game next weekend. Meanwhile, the Thirds fixtures list is not yet to hand.

However, the U-21’s begin their National League campaign when they host Thomond in the opening round of this season’s South West Conference League, Section A. This game takes place at Dubarry Park on Saturday with the action getting under way at 2.30 p.m. So, if you are not making the lengthy trip to Ballymena, then pop out to see how the next crop of players is shaping up.

Ireland v Wales

It’s an early rise for rugby fans next Saturday when Ireland and Wales square up in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup. Hard to call but it should be a cracker. Ireland have improved steadily and could be hitting the right kind of form just as the RWC gets to the business end. Here’s wishing all the best for Ireland and hope they edge what is likely to be a tight enough encounter. (PS. If you’re up for this 6 a.m. start, then you have plenty of time afterwards to head to Ballymena!).

Condolences
Deepest sympathy is extended to the daughter Sharon and extended family of Noel Cunniffe, who passed away after a lengthy illness. Noel was a life member of the club and had a very active involvement with Athlone RFC when the former Keane Park facility was being improved over the years. Ar dheis De a anam.

Congratulations
Two significant birthday boys in the past week:- Tony Duignan claims life begins at 40 while David Henshaw knows that 50 is the new 40! Hope ye didn’t overdo the celebrations, guys!  Congratulations too to Edel Nicholson and Niall Moran on their engagement; guess that means the end of the Karaoke machine?

Lotto
Tickets for Buccaneers Lotto are now beginning to come in steadily and we thank those early supporters. However, quite a number of tickets are still outstanding, so please leave in any sold Lotto tickets to the club’s offices (open daily from 9 am to 3 pm) or give to any Executive Committee member. The Lotto is due to commence this month with a starting Jackpot of €2,000 which will rise by €200 every week that the Jackpot is not won. Match 4 numbers to win or share (or Match 3 to win or share if Jackpot not won). There is a guaranteed weekly prize of €200. Cost is just €2 per week which can be paid by annual or quarterly Bankers Order or, if preferable, by cheque or cash payment of €100 to cover the full year.  Hopefully, the Lotto will prove sufficiently successful to eliminate many of the other necessary fund-raising events throughout the year. Buccaneers will field 19 teams this season so a successful Lotto is essential to supporting all these teams.
  
Pitch management
All requests for pitches for matches and/or training should be given in to the club’s Administrator no later than noon on Tuesdays. Allocation of pitches can then be decided on at the regular club meetings which are held on Tuesday nights. All team managers at all levels are asked to comply with this request, which is to facilitate the smooth running of the club’s stretched resources. No late applications should be submitted. With 19 teams on the go, there has never been a greater need to manage our heavily utilised pitches and dressing-rooms resources.
       
Car Parking
One other request relates to car parking when players/teams are travelling to away matches at weekends. Please park cars away from The Bounty, towards the “container” or main pitch sides of the car park. This is to facilitate patrons and diners who use The Bounty, particularly at lunchtimes. Your co-operation in this regard will be hugely appreciated. 

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