BUCCANEERS avenged their recent defeat away to UL Bohemian when forging a hard-earned but thoroughly deserved 18-7 Ulster Bank League Division 1B victory at Dubarry Park, Athlone. A tough battle played in testing conditions unfolded before Buccs came out on top in this RUSSELL BRENNAN KEANE sponsored fixture, a victory that moves them up to fifth place in the league table

The midlanders fielded their strongest squad for some time but their eight changes to the starting XV meant it took them some time to jell. Young Connacht trio Shane Delahunt, Rory Moloney and Stephen McVeigh were available in the pack where Martin Staunton returned to the front row. Ben Carty and Eoghan O’Reilly were fit again for duty in the three quarters line while halfbacks Conor McKeon and Graham Lynch were also available to start. Meanwhile the visitors made six changes from their recent winning side and the Red Robins showed that they too were prepared to work hard for any spoils that came their way, an early maul signalling their intent. Rory O’Connor was unlucky to be blocked down when making a quick counter from that attack before McKeon then punted a teasing kick ahead that was smartly chased by O’Reilly to force a penalty. Advantage was played on but Delahunt was tackled into touch just short of the visitors’ line before McKeon duly opened the scoring with this 12th minute placekick.

Neither line was really threatened for long spells with much of the battle being fought in midfield although another UL Bohs maul again discomforted the hosts who nevertheless remained resolute. In the murky rain, handling and underfoot conditions ensured that lots of ten man rugby was played where those faint of heart would not prosper. Five minutes from half-time, a smashing McKeon touch put Buccs deep into the visitors’ territory and they pinned the Limerick side back with some persistent and patient play before switching direction left to right where O’Connor skated in for his seventh try of the campaign. With the last kick of the half, McKeon’s conversion was narrowly off-target but Buccs led 8-0 at the break.

An error by UL Bohs on the restart was promptly seized on by the Pirates and they piled further pressure on the left before scoring a near replica of their opening try on 42 minutes. Remaining composed and aware, they again went through the phases before changing the point of attack to the right where poacher supreme O’Connor finished in style for his second try wide on the right. McKeon added an excellent touchline conversion for a 15-0 advantage.

As in their previous encounter, UL Bohs were not prepared to cave in and soon had a foothold deep in the home half where their pressure forced Buccs to concede a number of penalties which taxed the patience of referee Oisin Quinn who sin-binned Rory Moloney on 49 minutes. The homesters withstood this spell for six minutes until the referee really drew the ire of the Pirates’ supporters when brandishing a yellow card to Delahunt, deeming him to have brought down a maul. It was a controversial decision as the hooker had clearly turned over possession and was himself driving forward as exchanges heated up. UL Bohs cared not a whit as they swiftly made their 15 to 13 temporary numerical superiority pay when driving over from the resultant penalty for a Kevin O’Byrne pushover try converted by Rick McKenna to narrow the arrears to 15-7.

The exchanges were now being contested with Cup tie fervour giving the hardy supporters much to shout about as Buccaneers rolled up their collective sleeves in the face of adversity. They regained their momentum and ten minutes later a clever McKeon punt from midfield to the right that caught out the UL cover was fastened onto by Ben Carty but, as the centre surged forward for a seeming certain try, the referee from a long distance away on the opposite flank whistled Carty back ruling that he was ahead of the kicker. Agreement on this from the stands was scant!

Nevertheless, Buccs continued to take the game to the Munster side and a mesmerising 70th minute O’Reilly run caused havoc in the visitors’ ranks and when Cian Romaine thundered forward in the next phase a home try again seemed inevitable, but when the ball was passed infield a last ditch UL Bohs tackle forced a knock on. However, the home pressure eventually told when Craig Miller could not resist coming offside in front of his posts and the scrumhalf finished the match in the sin bin.

AUDI ATHLONE Man of the Match McKeon duly despatched the resultant penalty to make victory secure before a third home try remained elusive when substitute Fionn Carr’s blistering break and chip over the cover was somehow thwarted by a scrambling Red Robins defence.

McKeon excelled at outhalf, hooker Delahunt was particularly prominent throughout, O’Connor has the ability and instinct to take scores while Carr made an exciting contribution on his debut. The pack worked solidly all through despite some difficulties in the tight and with a sharper service the backline is capable of more. On this occasion, Buccs energy and focus did not slacken and UL Bohs headed home empty handed. However, if the Red Robins maintain their commitment and desire, then they will surely climb away from the danger zone. So a good start to 2016 for the Athlone side as they returned to winning ways ahead of next week’s fixture at Trinity where, hopefully, they can further prosper if able to field a settled side.

BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; R.O’Connor, A.Hayman, B.Carty, E.O’Reilly; C.McKeon, G.Lynch; M.Staunton (captain), S.Delahunt, S.Meunargia; C.Romaine, D.Qualter; E.Galvin, R.Moloney and S.McVeigh. Replacements:- F.Carr (for Boland, h/t), J.Walshe (for Staunton, h/t), S.Flanagan (for Galvin, 61/65 mins), S.Delahunt (for Flanagan, 65 mins), K.Kiripati (for Galvin , 65 mins), C.Lowndes (for Lynch, 76 mins), S.Flanagan (for Delahunt, 76 mins) and M.Staunton (for Meunargia, 77 mins).

UL BOHEMIAN:- R.McKenna; A.Rossiter, R.White, K.McManus, C.Ryan; R.Bourke, C.Miller; P.Poillet, K.O’Byrne, M.Lynch; D.Frawley, N.Kinnane; J.Ryan, I.Condell (captain) and B.Walsh. Replacements:- J.Murray (for White, 21 mins), J.McNamara (for McManus, 50 mins), J.Codyre (for Ryan), J.Ryan (for Codyre, inj.), P.King and J.Bennett.

Referee:- Oisin Quinn (IRFU).

BALLINASLOE 19 BUCCANEERS SECONDS 5

 Ballinasloe were good value for their 19-5 Connacht Junior 1A League victory over Buccaneers Seconds in a well-contested derby at Graigueawoneen on Sunday. Despite a rare dry and sunny afternoon, underfoot conditions were extremely testing for this duel and were more suited to a feisty home pack who ensured the majority of this contest was played in the visitors’ half.

The Pirates were forced on the defensive for most of the opening half, a task they were up to most of this period, while Ballinasloe were not always clinical when opportunities presented themselves. A quick Andrew Mannion break on 24 minutes earned a kickable home penalty but Ross Keller’s placekick was never on target. Almost immediately after this let-off, Rob Kerslake was blocked down and forced to hold on to possession, conceding another penalty to the hosts. This time Keller’s kick rebounded off the near upright.

33 minutes had passed before Buccs had their first meaningful attack. Ruairi Byrne won good lineout ball and David Fagan swiftly fed the ball to Brannagh Corcoran who careered upfield before punting over the cover. The big centre could not fasten on to his grubber ahead but forced a penalty. However, Fagan too found an upright denying him and had Buccs scored at this stage, having survived steady pressure, then the outcome could have been different.

Unfortunately for the midlanders, the final minutes of this half and a yellow card proved highly costly for the Pirates. Conor Johnston profited from a Buccs knock on deep in his own half to race away towards the right corner but Brian Walsh made huge ground to put in a try-saving tackle. However, as Buccs remained under pressure in the tight, they conceded a number of close-in penalties, and the referee yellow carded James Tormey before awarding a 37th minute penalty try which Keller converted.

Buccs seemed to have escaped further punishment when Mannion, with overlapping support, took the wrong option but again a penalty was conceded and this time the Moher Road men drove over for a try by Conor Loughrey. Keller added the conversion for a 14-0 halftime lead that Ballinasloe almost added to on the restart. However, Buccs held firm and, when restored to full complement, they now began to ask questions of the home defence. A fine 53rd minute carry by Corcoran seemed to have yielded a Harry Hughes try but a knock-on in the build up ruled out this effort. Four minutes later, the Pirates were held up over the Ballinasloe line while the loss through injury of Paul Gallogly at the hour mark was a big blow for the visitors.

Ballinasloe sealed victory ten minutes from time when, following a penalty to touch on the right, Rob Wakefield surged over for an unconverted try. To their credit, Buccs battled to the bitter end and were rewarded for their unstinting endeavours when Sean Byrne claimed a try in the final move of the match. Ballinasloe had the greater cohesion and desire in their pack with a spirited front row trio while halfbacks Loughrey and Keller combined well. Their battle with Fagan and Nick Purcell was terrific while Gallogly and Corcoran led Buccs defiance.

BALLINASLOE:- A.Mannion; C.Johnston, R.Cullinane, C.O’Neill, S.Tierney; R.Keller, C.Loughrey; T.Doran, A.O’Hara, J.J.Carey; M.Harrigan, M.Staunton; C.Coughlan, R.Wakefield and J.Hayes. Replacements:- K.Gavin (for Mannion, inj. 46 mins), H.Reynolds (for Tierney, inj. 53 mins), D.Tierney (for Doran, 72 mins), J.Curley (for Carey, 72 mins) and G.Donnellan (for Coughlan).

BUCCANEERS:- R.Kerslake; B.Walsh, S.Flynn, B.Corcoran, H.Hughes; D.Fagan (captain), N.Purcell; D.Lennon, R.Grennan, K.Grehan; J.Tormey, S.Byrne; R.Byrne, R.Browne and P.Gallogly. Replacements:- N.Flynn (for Grennan, 51 mins), D.Costello (for Kerslake, 51 mins), T.Thompson (for Lennon, 55 mins), D.Lennon (for Gallogly, inj. 59 mins), R.Kerslake (for Purcell, inj. 65 mins), J.Lopez (for Hughes, 69 mins) and L.Didebashvili (for Walsh, 72 mins).

BUCCS AWAY TO TRINITY

Buccaneers will be encouraged not only by last week’s victory over UL Bohemian but by the commitment and endeavour shown in fashioning that long overdue win when they head to College Park, Dublin, to take on Dublin University in Saturday’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B encounter. Kick off 2.30 p.m. Having lost their opening two fixtures, Trinity have won all subsequent matches to climb to third place in the league table. They defeated the Pirates 27-6 in Athlone, the only match that Buccs were second best. The Students are a threat from all sectors with Nick McCarthy leading a mobile and industrious pack that includes Brian du Toit, Raef Tyrell and Jack Burke. Internationals Tim Maupin (USA) and Sebastian Fromm (Germany) are in an enterprising backline alongside stalwarts Conor Kearns and Paddy Lavelle.

The influence of halfbacks Angus Lloyd and Jack McDermott must be curbed and here Buccs will be hoping that Conor McKeon is available and that Graham Lynch can be more assertive and swifter in his contribution. If Buccs can field a more settled side (they have had 28 personnel changes in their last four AIL games!) they can put it up to Trinity on their newly surfaced pitch in what could be a cracker of a contest. Buccs had no major injury concerns following the UL Bohs encounter while Alan Gaughan could well be in contention to return after the injury he sustained when the teams met in late November.

Congrats to Buccaneers Womens team manager Roisin Carlin on her marriage to Damien Milton.