BUCCANEERS 21 SLIGO 19

10 points down with 4 minutes to play, Buccaneers executed a ‘smash and grab’ to snatch Connacht Senior League glory when defeating Sligo 21-19 at well-attended Dubarry Park on Saturday.

The visitors led from the 7th minute until Danny Qualter’s final move of the game try wrestled their dreams of adding to their solitary Senior League title from them in a thrilling climax to an absorbing duel worthy of the occasion.

Buccaneers made three changes from the side whose win at Corinthians ensured that this contest would be a winner takes all affair. Qualter’s availability, in place of Ryan O’Meara whose injury in that win ruled him out, was a big lift to the home pack. Shane Layden returned too in the centre with Eoin O’Reilly starting at scrumhalf. Playing conditions on a warm, bright afternoon were ideal for this much-anticipated joust.

The north-westerners were not phased by the occasion and, with their bigger pack imposing themselves on the proceedings, they worked their way into the home half where Darragh Feehily finished off this fine build-up play for a 7th minute try on the right with Euan Brown adding the conversion.

Ten minutes later it got even better for Sligo, who won this title for the first time just two seasons ago. Not for the first time in the contest, the Pirates had made promising headway but were turned over by aggressive Sligo defending. This forced a hurried Buccs pass which Calum Goddard intercepted and he hared along the stand side and seemed certain to score until Saul O’Carroll somehow made up considerable ground to halt his progress. However, the supporting Brown picked out Daire Byrne with a pinpoint crossfield kick and the outhalf’s conversion of Byrne’s try gave the hoops a 14-0 advantage before the end of the opening quarter.

It looked like getting even worse for the midlanders when Finn Bamber raced through to touchdown on 23 minutes but a touch-judge flagged an off the ball incident and a Buccaneers penalty was the outcome, with Michael Hanley opening the home side’s account with the resultant placekick.

End to end rugby continued to the interval with Hanley slotting over his second penalty with the final kick to reduce the Shannonsiders arrears to 14-6.

Matters became much brighter for the hosts following the change of ends. Sligo’s hooker Shane O’Hehir was sin-binned for cumulative penalties by his side and dissent then brought the resultant penalty ten metres forward with Hanley drilling over the placekick just three minutes into the second period.

Buccs were now making better inroads through their backline and Orrin Burgess made a splendid charge upfield where Bamber was guilty of slowing possession illegally and incurring a yellow card for his efforts. Buccs now with a 2-player advantage camped in the Sligo 22 for a spell but errors hampered their endeavours, letting the visitors off the hook.

It was depleted Sligo who scored next. Brown thumped a long ball downfield to ease the mounting pressure on his side but Burgess was too leisurely clearing his lines. The young back was blocked down and Brown was swiftest to react and notch an opportunist unconverted try. This gave Sligo a 19-9 advantage with the game now in the final quarter.

Both sides were ringing the changes at this stage and the Athlone outfit bench made the difference.

With the stadium clock ticking towards 80 minutes (but several minutes still to be played due to stoppages) Buccaneers won a Sligo lineout throw on the right.

The ball was moved crisply to Layden who charged forward, making big yardage before he sent O’Carroll scampering away for a splendid try on the left. Hanley matched the score with a fine penalty and now the arrears was down to 2 points.

Buccs now threw everything at the north-westerners who were wilting in the face of the sustained defensive work they had put in and the Pirates increased intensity. Composed and tidy interplay by the Athlonians eventually stretched Sligo to breaking point and a smashing pass to the left found Qualter in acres of space and the powerful No.8 romped through for the winning try.

Hanley was unable to add this conversion but it mattered not, as Buccaneers claimed their 13th Senior League title with their stirring climax.

It was tough to take for the visitors who led for so long. However, they can be proud of their contribution to a thrilling decider and if they maintain this form they can anticipate a good season in the AIL. Brown and Kuba Wojtkowicz were their standout contributors.

BUCCANEERS:- R.Fallon; O.Burgess, S.Layden, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; M.Hanley, E.O’Reilly; M.Staunton (captain), D.Browne, S.O’Connell; R.Byrne, F.Galvin; C.McCann, G.Daly and D.Qualter. Replacements:- F.McDonnell (for McCann, inj. 27 mins), J.Kelly (for O’Connell, 47 mins), C.Daly (for Browne, 60 mins), T.Shine (for Fallon, 60 mins), A.Flanagan (for O’Reilly, 60 mins) and S.O’Connell (for Staunton, 70 mins).

SLIGO:- E.Gavin; C.Goddard, F.Bamber, D.Byrne, D.Feehily; E.Brown, B.Cunningham; M.Earley, S.O’Hehir, T.Gormley; E.Ryan, C.Trimble; K.Wojtkowicz, J.O’Hehir and J.East (captain). Replacements:- B.West (for T.Gormley, inj. 29 mins), J.Gormley (for Trimble, h/t), M.Rooney (for Goddard, 44 mins), C.Trimble (for J.Gormley, 58 mins), B.Hynes (for S.O’Hehir, 70 mins) and A.Ward (for Cunningham, 70 mins).

The Bank of Ireland Connacht Senior League continued on Saturday afternoon with two local derbies. 

Ballina welcomed Sligo, while Corinthians travelled into Galway City to face Galwegians.

In a high scoring affair, Sligo proved to have too much for the young Ballina side, running out 45-26 victors. However, it wasn’t until the second half that Sligo’s strength in depth proved to be too much for the team from Mayo.

The sides went into the break with just three between them, with Sligo leading by 21-24. However, Ballina weren’t able to add to their tally until the closing stages as their counterparts raced into an unassailable 21-45 lead.

The weekend’s other Connacht Senior League game was a low scoring affair between two Galway sides, where it was Galwegians who made it two wins from two, running out 12-7 victors.

The home side built up a 12-0 lead, with Corinthians getting a late consolation try.

Those results left both Galwegians and Sligo with two wins on the board.

Buccaneers has earned one point in their sole outing so far, while both Ballina and Corinthians have one point on the board, with the latter having played a game more.

There are no Connacht Senior League fixtures next week, with Ballina welcoming Buccaneers and Sligo hosting Galwegians, the week after.

Full fixtures and the group table is available here.

The second round of fixtures in the Bank of Ireland Connacht Senior League take place this weekend, with two local derbies making for an interesting day of rugby. 

After an impressive comeback victory over Buccaneers last week, Galwegians look to make it two wins from two, as they host Corinthians in Crowley Park at 2.30pm on Saturday.

At the same time, Sligo will look to get more points on the board, after they were awarded a 20-0 win over Corinthians in last week’s round of fixtures. They travel to Heffernan Park, where hosts, Ballina, will be playing their first game of the season.

It’s a rest week for Buccaneers, who also travel to Ballina next week in the last of the group fixtures.

A full list of fixtures and results for this year’s tournament are available here. 

BUCCANEERS 26 GALWEGIANS 28

The Connacht Senior League kicked off this past weekend, with Galwegians running out victors in a closely run tie against Buccaneers in Athlone.

The hosts outscored the Galway side by four tries to three, but succumbed to a late rally from ‘Wegians that saw them head back West with the narrowest of victories.

Great kicking from Darragh Kennedy, along with an opportunist try from Michael McColgan, a clinical finish from Eoin Tarmey and an excellent try from Conor O’Shaughnessy, was the difference for the Westerners.

Buccaneers will be disappointed not to have come out on top, after tries from Sean O’Connell, former Connacht player Danny Qualter and hooker Darren Browne, as well as a late penalty try, saw them come up short.

Next up for Galwegians is a home game against Corinthians this Saturday at 14.30, while Buccaneers have a weekend off, before travelling to Ballina RFC for their next Connacht Senior League fixture.

BUCCANEERS:- S.Layden; R.O’Connor, H.Balsiger, S.Mannion, S.O’Carroll; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins; M.Staunton (captain), D.Browne, S.O’Connell; R.Byrne, F.Galvin; L.Balsiger, C.McCann and D.Qualter. Replacements:- Cian Daly (for McCann), C.Fokam (for O’Connell), D.Touhey (for Staunton), Colin Daly (for Hopkins), R.Murphy-Sweeney (for O’Connor), and S.O’Connell (for Browne).

GALWEGIANS:- D.Kennedy; R.Aghabueze, C.O’Shaughnessy, R.Deacy, M.Duffy; P.Nash, A.Lampkin; C.Joyce, C.Reilly, M.McColgan; E.Tarmey, M.Loughlin; N.Murphy, J.Winters and K.Downey (captain). Replacements used:- D.Keane, I.Garahbois, G.Duffy, B.McGuinness, Z.Rather, K.Waterman and M.Dever.

Referee:- Michael Honan (Connacht).

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