Buccaneers fall to first home defeat of season against St Mary’s

Michael Mannion is presented with the Audi Athlone Man of the Match award by Buccaneers president Joe Browne

Michael Mannion is presented with the Audi Athlone Man of the Match award by Buccaneers president Joe Browne

Buccaneers suffered their first home defeat of the season when going down 24-20 to St Mary’s College in a competitive Ulster Bank League Division 1B encounter at Dubarry Park.

The Athlone side went down battling in the face of adversity. Starting without influential leading scorer Conor McKeon and injured flanker Rory Moloney, the Pirates then lost Alex Hayman, Kolo Kiripati, and Conor Finn through injury in the opening half. On top of that, Buccs were down to 14 players following David Heffernan’s sending-off after a mere 13 minutes.

St Mary’s fielded a strong selection, with a Leinster/Munster pairing of Darragh Fanning and Ivan Dineen in the centre and former skipper Kevin Sheahan at number eight. Favoured by the light breeze in the first half, Buccs made a blistering start as Rory O’Connor continued his try-scoring exploits after just four minutes when he finished up some excellent build-up play for a try wide on the right.

Alan Gaughan, taking over place-kicking duties in the absence of McKeon, slotted over a fine conversion. Matters soon went awry for the hosts when Graham Lynch was sin-binned for a shirt tug seven minutes later. Worse was to swiftly follow when referee Stuart Gaffikin deemed a spear-like tackle by Heffernan to be worthy of a red card. Sean Kearns duly slotted the resultant penalty, but Buccs held their line intact thereafter while numerically depleted.

St Mary’s were applying the greater pressure and forced a close-in penalty which Robbie Glynn swiftly tapped to catch the home defence napping, and the scrum-half got in for a soft try close to the posts. Kearns’ conversion tied the scores at 10-10. Finn replaced the injured Hayman on the half-hour, but sadly his comeback following a lengthy injury lay-off did not even extend until the interval.

This resulted in a reshuffle in the home backline with Eoghan O’Reilly at full-back, Callum Boland switched to fly-half and substitute scrum-half Conor Lowndes playing out of position on the left wing. Buccs should have been awarded a try when O’Connor seemed to have won the race to a teasing grubber kick.

Buccs suffered a further setback when Kolo Kiripati was injured, with Farrell returning to the fray.

St Mary’s enjoyed another slice of good fortune just before half time, as Sheahan went over for 38th minute try between the uprights. Kearns added the conversion to leave the teams level 17-17 at half-time. The Pirates regained the lead on the hour mark, Gaughan drilling over a fine penalty after the visitors did not release in the tackle. O’Reilly was then very alert, but a solid drive by St Mary’s was rewarded when Brian McGovern touched down for a 65th-minute pushover try, giving his team the lead for the first time. Crucially, Kearns thumped over an excellent conversion from wide on the left for a 24-20 advantage.

This meant that depleted Buccs now had to gamble for a try to win, and they duly piled on growing pressure in the closing stages, edging ever closer to the visitors’ line. 

Buccs just could not fashion the necessary match-winning score, with O’Connor knocking on in a crunch tackle when it looked that he might notch a second try, and so Mary’s held on for a hard-earned victory.

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