Buccaneers start this season’s Ulster Bank League Division 1B campaign at home to nine times champions Shannon in the opening round at Dubarry Park on Saturday afternoon, with kick off 2.30pm.
With the match being part of the club’s Open Day, a bumper crowd is expected at the Athlone venue. The Pirates have looked promising under new head coach Brett Wilkinson so far, comprehensively winning the Connacht Senior League title on the back of some sparkling rugby in which they scored 177 points including 26 tries.
An all-South African coaching trio of Wilkinson, Danie Poolman, and Darin Claasen have had a good look at the players under their command, giving game time to all those available. The players responded with some very enterprising play and huge commitment as they capitalised on the hard work put in pre-season. Quite a number of young players have put their hands up for selection as did some of the more experienced campaigners.
Martin Staunton skippers Buccs this season and the versatile prop has been leading by example on the field of play to date. Kolo Kiripati is another key figure who should be involved in a mobile home pack likely to feature Stephen McVeigh, Rory Moloney, Jacob Walshe, and Michael Mannion. Scott Flanagan, the Farrell twins, Danny Qualter and Cillian Walsh are other forwards in strong contention for starting berths.
Youth is also likely to get its fling in the backline where Conor McKeon, Cameron Hertz, Brannagh Corcoran, and Conor Lowndes look exciting recruits along with the returning Ben Carty. Shane Layden, Callum Boland, Alan Gaughan, Eoghan O’Reilly, and Alex Hayman, who will surely be involved in the matchday squad as should Rory O’Connor and David Butler while Graham Lynch can step up from last year’s u20s.
Injuries rule out a number of players, but the coaching triumvirate may spring a selection surprise or two as Buccs bid to maintain the winning habit. Shannon steadied their fortunes in the second half of last season and they too have a new head coach in former Ireland international Marcus Horan.
Not much is known of their progress or form to date, but they have quality young players in Stephen Fitzgerald, Greg O’Shea, Luke O’Dea, James O’Halloran, Paddy Kearns, and Frank Bradshaw-Ryan. Tadhg Bennett, John Shine, and the evergreen David O’Donovan add a wealth of guile and experience to their panel. With the Dubarry Park pitch in top-class condition and decent weather anticipated, it should be a fast-flowing and lively encounter.
Buccs have knitted very well so far with fine camaraderie, discipline, and fitness already in the squad. Their momentum is building and, backed by a sizeable and partisan crowd, the Pirates can take a notable scalp on Saturday.