League defeat avenged as Buccaneers exit Bateman Cup at semi-final stage

CITY OF ARMAGH 29 BUCCANEERS 13

RUGBY with Michael Silke

CITY OF ARMAGH avenged their All-Ireland League defeat last month by Buccaneers when they proved too strong for the Pirates in their Bateman Cup All-Ireland semi-final played in front of a big crowd at the Palace Grounds, Armagh, on Saturday. For a variety of reasons, Buccs were missing nine players, but their depleted squad gave a good account of themselves despite going down 29-13 to the physically stronger hosts.

Conditions were near perfect on an unseasonably mild afternoon at this scenic amphitheatre, a light diagonal breeze the only dilemma for the teams. Buccaneers looked like securing an early try but Rory O’Connor was whistled back as possession had been secured illegally. Cormac Fox opened the scoring for the Ulster side with a 13th minute penalty that just shaved inside the upright. Six minutes later, City of Armagh broke through for their first try, strong winger Andrew Willis angling in past a handful of tacklers to touchdown although it looked like he took possession from a teammate behind him! Fox’s conversion gave the northerners a 10-0 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

Callum Boland put in a try-saving tackle on Roger Whitten after 25 minutes but, for the remainder of the half, the midlanders dominated and their endeavours yielded penalties after 29 and 33 minutes. Michael Hanley comfortably converted both to reduce the arrears to 10-6. Kieran Joyce became the second Buccaneer to be whistled back as he seemed sure to score, this time for crossing, so the inexperienced Athlone side trailed 10-6 at half-time.

Thomas McGann and O’Connor knocked on on separate occasions early in the second half either side of a missed penalty by Fox. City of Armagh put some good phases together leading to teenager Evin Crummie’s 54th minute try and four minutes later strong carries by substitutes Oisin Kiernan and Jonathan Morton earned the latter a try. Fox converted both tries to stretch the homesters’ lead to 24-6.

But the young Pirates crew continued to battle, none more than the diminutive Hanley who was involved a number of times in some fine interlinked play by Buccaneers that was rounded off by Shane Layden’s well taken 64th minute try. Hanley duly converted before a despairing hand trip denied McGann in a swift Buccs counterattack shortly afterwards.

But the Orchard County men had the final say when the impressive Niall Faloon powered over for an unconverted 76th minute try to complete the 29-13 scoreline in favour of City of Armagh who had Peter Starrett yellow carded for a cynical infringement in the dying embers of an otherwise sporting game. The victors, joint league leaders, now advance to their first ever Bateman Cup final in which they will face Garryowen.

But Buccs, who had six enforced changes in personnel from last week’s Connacht Senior Cup success, can take considerable heart from the sustained performance of a very inexperienced side missing key players including Peter Claffey, Martin Staunton, Rory Moloney, Luke Carty, Simon Meagher, Colm Reilly and Darragh Corbett. Boland was splendid at fullback and Hanley coped well in testing circumstances with Kieran Joyce also doing well in the backline. Conan O’Donnell and Torin Rensford gave it their all in the tough forwards battle where rookies Liam Winnett and Fergus Galvin also had good moments that augur well for the future.

BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; T.McGann, S.Layden (captain ), K.Joyce, R.O’Connor; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins; C.O’Donnell, J.Sutton, L.Winnett; R.Byrne, T.Rensford; F.Galvin, O.Treacy and E.Galvin. Replacements:- H.O’Reilly (for Winnett, 56 mins ), D.McMahon (for O’Connor, 67 mins ), R.Grenham (for F.Galvin, 68 mins ), R.Murphy-Sweeney (for McGann, 76 mins ), S.O’Connell, E.O’Reilly and A.Wynne.

Referee:- Robert O’Sullivan (IRFU ).

Crucial league fixture for Buccaneers

Buccaneers face a crunch league fixture this weekend with an enticing match against Ballymena in prospect. When Buccaneers hosted Ballymena in their final AIL fixture of 2018 they were in generous mood, gifting a couple of tries to the Ulster side who won narrowly 27-22. That win, however, meant that the Braidmen moved off the bottom of Division 1B, a position now held by the midlanders who must really galvanise themselves for the second half of the campaign.

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