Buccaneers return to Ulster Bank League action with a trip to The Mardyke in Cork on Saturday where they tackle University College Cork, in a Division 1B encounter kicking off at 2.30pm.

The midlanders are favoured for this tie against the Students who are currently contending with a torrid competition run, but focus and discipline must be paramount atop the visitors’ priority list…for this, the proverbial “banana skin” match. One need look only a far back as this fixture last winter when Buccs got off to a two-try flyer, had numerous other scoring opportunities, but failed to post points. Athlone converted three of four Spartan chances to outpoint the Pirates despite UCC failing to gain another scalp that season. It has to be all hands on deck if Buccaneers is to avoid another perennial shipwreck.

The winless UCC are well adrift abottom the league table with three losing bonus points and a 78-strong points differential in the red. Buccaneers by comparison posted a single loss in what has proven one of the recent era’s most successful regular seasons.

Saturday’s contest with College is one which midlanders’ supporters will be more-than-hopeful of winning. Discipline is essential given UCC has no shortage of decent place-kicking options in both Brian Kingston and ex-Dolphin Cormac O’Flynn, who both compete for the outhalf berth with able scrumhalf Brian Slater the link. In the three-quarters, southern rugby royalty abounds in James Kiernan and Pat Parfrey. Longford sibling combo Garrett and Oscar O’Suilleabhain may also feature in a lively backline where Munster’s Denis Hurley and Cyprian Jouve could make a difference. Number-eight Brian O’Callaghan skippers the side and may get best support in the pack from hooker Wayne Falvey, lock Brian Quill and flanker Michael Linehan while tighthead prop Paddy Ryan may have a point or two to prove to some of his Buccs mentors. Pirate powerhouse James Robinson is unavailable (injury), while Sean Stapleton too is another unlikely attendee.

With Connacht struggling for results and with a growing injury list out wesht, Denis Buckley could miss this one as well, along with Michael Kearney and Eoghan Grace. This would weaken Buccs in the forwards but Martin Staunton has rallied to the cause with smashing displays when called upon. Neither James Tormey nor Benny Gilligan will be anything less than ballistic, and Marcus Madden’s welcome return in the Exiles match avails much in the way of cover where needed. It is essential Kolo Kiripati, Garreth Halligan, Daniel Qualter and David Heffernan stamp their authority in the forward exchanges and give a potent Pirates backline a decent supply of quality pill.

Beyond the engine room, Jack Carty, Callum Boland and Shane Layden offer much youthful exuberance (all Ireland Under20 contenders) as is Conor Finn, whose season has been plagued with injury. The winger is again rearing to go and may secure his first AIL start on Saturday. John O’Brien, Mark Dolan, Adam Kennedy and Paul Harte are other livewire backs while Alex Hayman and Conor Lavelle are stalwarts with tons of experience in the likely absence of Brian Tuohy.

While recent history will furnish the students will much confidence and enthusiasm, Buccs should have enough in hand to prevail although the question mark will never be more vivid than in the first half-hour.

(contributed – Michael Silke)

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