By Michael Silke
Buccaneers are Ulster Bank League Division 1B champions following their 30-23 victory over Naas in a thrilling top of the table clash in front of a big crowd at Dubarry Park on Saturday.
Jordan Conroy darts between Peter Howard and Rob O'Connor of Naas on his way to completing his hat-trick of tries for Buccaneers.
On a sun-drenched afternoon, playing conditions were ideal and both teams contributed to serving up a fast-moving, hard-hitting contest from start to finish.
The game was won and lost in the opening quarter when Buccs went on a scoring salvo to steam 20-0 ahead. Naas refused to give up and battled their way in to an absorbing duel, reducing their arrears to 23-20 on the hour mark. However, the Pirates were that bit stronger and smarter to come out on top and clinch promotion with two rounds of fixtures yet to go. The visitors, however, earned a losing bonus point that could yet prove priceless in their quest to reach the promotion play-offs.
Penalties by Alan Gaughan on 6 and 10 minutes settled the Athlone side into their stride and that became a rush when Jordan Conroy notched a brace of tries after just 14 and 19 minutes, the winger’s blistering pace and eye for a score being too much for the Naas backline. Gaughan converted both tries from wide on the left for that healthy early lead.
Peter Osborne opened Naas’ account with a 26th minute penalty and then the fullback darted down the blindside for a 38th minute unconverted try that hauled the Co. Kildare side back into the match with Buccs 20-8 ahead at half-time.
Five minutes into the second half, David Benn stretched over the home line for another unconverted Naas try before Gaughan steadied the Pirates ship with a 58th minute penalty. However, following the restart, Conor McKeon’s clearance was blocked down and Paulie Tolofua pounced for a try in the right corner. Osborne’s conversion left just three points between the teams, 23-20 to the midlanders as the cracking contest entered the final quarter.
But Buccaneers held their nerve in the pacey exchanges and Conroy completed his hat-trick of tries with a mesmerising run to touchdown at the posts after 70 minutes for his 17th try of the campaign. Gaughan’s conversion gave the Pirates a ten points cushion which was enough to steer them to the title and promotion. Osborne completed the scoring with a late penalty that earned Naas a losing bonus point that could yet prove crucial as they chase the play-off berth.
But Buccs, for whom Conroy was named AUDI Athlone Man of the Match, were worthy winners. They have extended their lead at the top of the table to 16 points and celebrations did not take long to get into full swing at The Bounty in Dubarry Park!
BUCCANEERS: S.Layden; E.O’Reilly, E.Griffin, M.Fifita, J.Conroy; A.Gaughan, C.McKeon; J.Dever, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; D.Qualter, S.Meagher; S.McVeigh, R.Moloney, K.Kiripati (captain). Replacements: S.O’Leary (for O’Reilly, 55 mins), R.O’Meara (for Dever, 74 mins), E.O’Reilly (for Conroy, inj. 75 mins), F.Hopkins (for McKeon, 75 mins), R.Byrne and R.Grenham.