RUGBY with MICHAEL SILKE

BUCCANEERS  (15) 15 

Brian Touhy (try) Sean Stapleton (try) Adam Kennedy (pen & con)

DUNGANNON  (7) 10

Conor Gaston (try) James Shiells (pen & con)

BUCCANEERS threw themselves a Division 1B lifeline when they held on to defeat fellow relegation contenders Dungannon 15-10 in a keenly contested AIB League encounter played in perfect conditions at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. Buccs got off to a flying start and led 15-0 on the halfhour but they failed to build on their early superiority and a worrying fadeout in the second half had home supporters in the modest attendance for this ‘Ganlys of Athlone’ sponsored game biting their nails for long spells following the change of ends.

With no Connacht front-liners involved and John O’Brien also unavailable, new coach David Henshaw made four changes in personnel as well as a number of positional changes to a totally realigned home backline. J.H.Potgeiter lined out at fullback with Alex Hayman in the key standoff role. Conor Lavelle switched to right wing with Sean Stapleton coming in on the opposite flank. Brian Touhy returned in the centre where he linked up with Paul Harte while Adam Kennedy returned at scrumhalf after missing the previous game due to illness. With Padraig Burke still out through injury, Colm Rigney remained in the second row and the only change in the pack was the return of prop Martin Staunton in place of Benny Gilligan who was now on the bench. Overall, Buccs had four changes in personnel from when the sides met earlier in the league while Dungannon, who had only Justin Fitzpatrick of their Ulster frontliners, had five alterations in personnel. Crucially they were without Ulster front-rowers Neil Brady and Declan Fitzpatrick while exciting wing Chris Cochrane was out due to injury.

The 5 p.m. kickoff experiment resulted in a disappointing attendance but, what they lacked in numbers, they sure made up for in noise and encouragement. And in the opening ten minutes, they savoured a whirlwind start by Buccaneers. After just one minute and eighteen seconds, Touhy was dotting down for the opening score! The centre’s options seemed limited when in possession close to the right touchline at halfway but he pirouetted past Craig Gilroy and suddenly a huge gap opened up before him and he had the pace and composure to make the most of it to touch down for a try at the posts. This presented Kennedy with the perfect first placekick and he duly converted for a 7-0 lead inside two minutes.

Six minutes later, however, a touch judge flagged and the young home scrumhalf was penalised inside his own half but James Shiells’ penalty kick fell short. The northerners were to rue this miss as Buccs grabbed their second try within three minutes. Again Touhy was involved, offloading a delicious overhead pass to Potgeiter who committed the stretched cover before delivering a perfect pass to Stapleton and the left winger galloped in to touchdown on the left. Kennedy’s conversion drifted wide but Buccs had their tails up, 12-0 ahead, and Dungannon were really rocked. Henshaw was surely mightily pleased with this dream start by his new charges.

They should have added to their advantage on 23 minutes as home pressure forced the visitors into a handling infringement but Kennedy missed the eminently kickable penalty. The Ulster side looked likely to capitulate, particularly if Buccs notched a third try, but the midlanders just could not add to their tally as they tore in to Dungannon in a frenetic opening half hour. The Tyrone club had a rare foray into the home 22 after Kolo Kiripati was caught in possession following the restart but Buccs tidied up after Dungannon had kicked their penalty to touch close to the home right hand corner. On the halfhour mark, however, Buccaneers got the scoreboard working again following a wonderful break by Colin Watters from halfway that looked briefly as if the stocky flanker might go all the way for a try before sheer Dungannon numbers brought his progress to a halt close to their 22. Then Paul Magee instinctively slowed possession and was duly yellow-carded although a more deliberate knock on in the ensuing play when Buccs had an overlap seemed more worthy of a visit to the sin-bin. Kennedy tapped over the resultant penalty to go 15-0 ahead but, Buccaneers despite showing a wonderful appetite, failed to capitalise on their temporary numerical superiority before halftime.

Stephen Burke, the heartbeat of the homesters, made a typically thundering charge on 34 minutes but lacked quick support while, four minutes later, Shiells saw his drop goal attempt for the visitors go wide. Then, deep in added time, Buccaneers got a rude awakening when Gaston cruised by three tacklers far, far too easily for a Dungannon try which Shiells converted. This left Buccs only 15-7 to the good at halftime when indeed they should really have been much more comfortably ahead after controlling virtually all the opening period.

This was a vital and timely boost for Dungannon but, nevertheless, Buccs resumed with a flourish with Kiripati and Watters making significant inroads to link up with Burke but again the northern cover got to him and, shortly afterwards, Watters could not retain possession as he surged for the try line. But the Ulster side were now beginning to get more possession and Touhy nailed Michael Rainey on 50 minutes when the visitors had an overlap. Potgeiter made an even more telling tackle, dumping Gaston into touch just short of Buccs left corner flag after 63 minutes. Three minutes later, it was Buccaneers turn to rue a missed opportunity. Dungannon did not roll away following a tackle but fullback Potgeiter, entrusted with the 35 metre penalty, saw his kick shave the wrong side of the right upright. Hayman made a terrific touch to the left inside Dungannon’s 22 but no profit resulted and thus the game, that earlier looked well within Buccs’ compass to win, remained finely balanced.

Dungannon, although well beaten the previous week away to Ballynahinch, were now benefiting from that encounter, being more match fit than Buccaneers who had been inactive since their previous game away to Old Belvedere three weeks ago. Old failings returned as the midlanders were running out of steam and were then penalised for offside on 71 minutes but Shiells’ penalty kick rebounded off the near upright into the safe custody of Kiripati just before the first of only two substitutions made in the match, Gilligan coming in for Staunton after 74 minutes. Billy Henshaw replaced Stapleton two minutes later. Meanwhile, Dungannon forced another penalty which they quickly tapped but, with Buccs not back ten metres, the visitors got no benefit and thus Shiells drilled over the 76th minute placekick to set up a very tense finish. Dungannon almost stole an undeserved victory when Gilroy came tantalisingly close to the home try line in a nervy finish, but Buccs (for whom Burke was named Athlone Springs Hotel man of the match) held on to record a vital win while the visitors earned a crucial bonus point. Buccs remain bottom of the table but now trail both Dungannon and Ballynahinch (whom they face in their next game) by just two points with three series of matches remaining.

Burke and Watters were outstanding in the Buccs pack where Staunton and Conor Higgins also put in terrific shifts. Kiripati is growing in influence as he comes closer to full fitness while Rigney gave his best showing to date. In the backline, Touhy always looked dangerous in possession while Hayman led his young colleagues through positive example. Magee fared best throughout for Dungannon.

BUCCANEERS:- J.H.Potgeiter; C.Lavelle, P.Harte, B.Touhy, S.Stapleton; A.Hayman, A.Kennedy; M.Staunton, G.Halligan, C.Higgins; C.Rigney (captain), J.Tormey; K.Kiripati, C.Watters and S.Burke. Replacements used:- B.Gilligan (for Staunton, 74 mins) and B.Henshaw (for Stapleton, 76 mins).

DUNGANNON:- J.McGuckin; C.Gaston, G.Telford, P.Magee, C.Gilroy; J.Shiells, D.Spence; G.Sinnamon, R.Carleton, J.Fitzpatrick; N.Magee, M.Rainey; D.Hall, A.Birch and S.McKenzie (captain). Blood replacement:- M.Farquhar (for Sinnamon, 39 mins to h/t).

REFEREE:- Leo Colgan (Munster).

DAVID HENSHAW NEW SENIOR COACH

Long time club stalwart DAVID HENSHAW has been appointed Senior Coach at Buccaneers for the duration of the season. He replaces Neal Culliton who departed “on good terms” last week. We wish Neal every success in the future and thank him for his endeavours at the club.

Henshaw has had a long involvement at the club, initially as a young player at Athlone R.F.C and also played for Marist College. He gradually came up through the ranks to become a formidable representative player, reckoned by many as one of the best props ever to represent Connacht. Indeed, he was one of the first of a then new breed of front-row player, being both mobile and savvy! He played with Garryowen for one season and anchored their pack as they won their first All-Ireland League title. Henshaw has been involved at coaching in the club through various underage teams, currently in charge of the club’s U-21 squad whom he helped guide to the national play-offs last season. He was also Eddie O’Sullivan’s “right hand man” (along with Kieran Slevin) when the former Ireland coach and now American Eagles chief was in charge during Buccaneers heady rise to Division One.

Davey faces a massive challenge endeavouring to keep Buccaneers in Division 1B but got his campaign off to a winning start against fellow strugglers Dungannon on Saturday. Next up is a trip to fellow relegation contenders Ballynahinch on March 6th while Buccaneers two remaining games are both at home to U.C.C. and Young Munster.   

BALLINROBE  0  BUCCANEERS  7

BUCCANEERS RESERVES were edged out by Ballinrobe 7-0 in a tense and desperately close Connacht Junior League relegation battle at The Racecourse, Ballinrobe, on Sunday with the Mayo men winning by virtue of the game’s solitary converted try. With just one game to play, away to Westport, relegation is now inevitable for Buccs while Ballinrobe can breathe a collective sigh of relief following this dogged encounter. Meanwhile, Monivea celebrate a sixth junior league title in eight seasons.

BUCCANEERS  10  CORINTHIANS  10

BUCCANEERS THIRDS and their Corinthians counterparts played out an entertaining 10-10 Connacht J2 League draw at freezing Dubarry Park last Wednesday night when the home side will feel they did not take enough of their chances. Nevertheless, they can be relatively pleased with a gutsy performance that saw them recover from a 0-10 deficit to share the spoils and they have now climbed to a lofty third place in the league standings.

Corinthians got all their scores in the opening half which proved unproductive on the scoreboard for the Athlone standard bearers. However, tries by Rory Byrne and Darragh Lennon retrieved the situation for Buccs, for whom Byrne and David Dunning excelled in the pack while Ger Fallon and Nigel So were stood out in the backline in an open match.

BUCCANEERS:-  O.McIntyre; G.O’Loughlin, J.O’Shaughnessy, N.So, K.O’Neill; G.Fallon, G.Walsh; T.Thompson, K.Grehan, R.Johnstone; M.Coleman, G.Duffy; D.Lennon, R.Byrne and D.Dunning. Replacements used:- R.Curley (for Johnstone), A.Daly (for Grehan), P.Hynes (for Duffy), G.Glynn (for McIntyre) and R.Silke (for O’Neill).

CAR DRAW

The club raffle for a beautiful RENAULT MEGANE COUPE takes place on this Saturday night, February 27th in The Bounty after the England v Ireland televised match. Complimentary finger food will be served at half-time so come along early and savour the atmosphere — and, remember, YOU could be driving home in a very stylish vehicle!

All tickets should be returned as early as possible this week to the club’s Administrator Geraldine and indeed tickets can still be purchased right up to Draw time on Saturday evening. The Car Raffle is Buccaneers chief fund-raiser this season to cover the substantial costs incurred in fielding no less than 17 teams in the club, so the support of all players and their parents/families would be greatly and gratefully appreciated.

Tickets cost just €10 each or three can be bought for only €20. The club thanks all who have supported this raffle to date and looks forward to a decent final week of sales too.

U-20 INTERNATIONAL MATCHES

IRELAND play their final two ESB U-20 Six Nations Championship games in Dubarry Park early next month. They take on Wales on Friday, March 12th followed by the visit of Scotland on March 19th. These floodlit games are both being covered live on RTE2 TV with Welsh TV also transmitting the first game live to the Principality.
Tickets are now on sale at various outlets, primarily The Bounty, Musicworld and Keenan Sports in Athlone, while Hartens in Moate also have tickets for sale. Much of the seats in the Stand are already sold and early purchase is recommended if you wish to have the comfort of a seat on match nights. Family tickets that cover 2 adults and 2 children into the Terraces are particularly good value at €30. These can only be purchased at the club’s office in The Bounty. Half-price discount vouchers are being distributed to local schools but, to benefit from these, children must be accompanied by an adult when attending a match. Cash will, of course, be taken at the turnstiles on match nights but come early for these 7.30 p.m. kick offs.

Supporters are also asked to utilise car parking arrangements in the vicinity of the ground and to respect local residents’ areas. 

FIXTURES

BUCCANEERS U-21’s complete their South-West Conference National League fixtures with a long trip to Highfield in Cork on Saturday. With Ireland’s big game against England at Twickenham kicking off at 4 p.m., this U-21 match may have a slightly earlier than usual start. These young Buccs have done well in their final series of pool fixtures and will look to finish the league on a high note.

Buccaneers Seniors next crunch AIB League game is away to Ballynahinch on Saturday week, March 6th. The team is looking for your support as they chase another vital victory. If enough supporters indicate that they are willing to travel on a special bus to this match, a supporters bus will be organised through the club. Fares would be priced simply to cover the cost of hiring the bus. Any supporters keen to travel should text details to Geraldine at 086-1732711 as early as possible this week.

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