Following two splendid away victories, Buccaneers were brought back to earth as Dolphin completed a double over the Midlanders when winning their Ulster Bank League Division 1B game 32-22 at Dubarry Park, Athlone.
Buccs were flat and out of sorts for a huge chunk of this encounter, while the visitors, in serious need of securing points, were more energetic and forceful for long spells. Buccs made four changes, three enforced, from the away win at Ballymena. Callum Boland and Conor McKeon were flu victims while Connacht Academy’s Rory Moloney was rested. Alan Gaughan made his first start after injury at fly-half with Darin Claasen manning the full-back berth.
Paul Gallogly came in at blindside flanker while fit again Jacob Walshe returned at loosehead prop instead of Rory Grenham, who was on the bench. The Pirates had an early setback when Shane Delahunt was forced off with an ankle injury after only six minutes, being replaced by Garreth Halligan. Nevertheless, the Pirates got off to a bright start with substitute hooker Halligan finishing off a swift drive for an unconverted try in the right corner just one minute after his introduction.
Dolphin grew into the game, and Barry Keeshan took full advantage of the influential breeze to keep the homesters pinned back. He landed two penalties to edge the Corkonians 6-5 ahead midway through the half. A productive spell followed for Dolphin as they made their temporary numerical advantage pay when Evan Gavin was sin-binned.
A strong Dolphin pack got to work and powered over the home line for a 33rd-minute try by John Fitzgerald with Keeshan adding the conversion. A near replica of this score ensued in the dying moments of the half, this time Brian Scott surging over with the help of his pack. Keeshan stretched Dolphin’s advantage to 20-5 with the final kick of the half. Rory O’Connor raced for a 47th-minute try which Keeshan duly converted.
Buccs’ task was by this time even greater and the contest was all but over 11 minutes later when hooker O’Connor got his second touchdown against a disjointed Pirates crew trailing 32-5. Buccs quickly retorted and a fine angled break by Claasen was finished off on the left by their Rory O’Connor for a 58th-minute try which Gaughan converted. They now came alive in their efforts to somehow save the situation and their pressure saw Dolphin substitute John Leahy sin-binned just three minutes after his introduction.
From the resultant penalty to touch on the left, Mick Mannion won lineout possession and Buccs displayed that they too could maul, with prop Walshe going over for an unconverted 72nd-minute try. Suddenly the southerners were nervy and, after replacements Grenham and Halligan thundered forward, a sublime crossfield kick to the right by Gaughan enabled poacher supreme O’Connor claim his 11th try of the AIL season to narrow the arrears to 32-22. However, it was too little too late for Buccaneers, who had to settle for a four-try bonus point.