Buccaneers U20s made a winning start to life in the J.P Fanagan Leinster League Division 2 when they put in a splendid second-half performance to defeat Greystones 36-13 at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Sunday (October 16 ).
These young Pirates showed terrific courage and composure to retrieve a 13-0 half-time deficit and reel in the visitors, made all the more commendable when they were down to 13 players either side of the interval.
Buccs endured a torrid season last year in the top flight, their campaign not helped by an inordinate number of absentees mainly through injury. Quite a number of the current squad were involved then and it proved a steep and often difficult learning curve for what was in the main a very young panel. Nevertheless, they battled week in and week out, and now wiser and stronger they are finding their collective feet and enjoying their rugby again.
They are not the finished article yet and they made life difficult for themselves at times, particularly in the first half, but their resilience and will is undiminished.
Greystones had the benefit of the strong breeze blowing directly towards the Buccaneers’ posts in the opening half. However, they found the hosts in battling mood and, although Buccs spent long periods in their own half, the Wicklow side were finding it hard to be a real threat. Their first scoring opportunity was a 12th-minute penalty, but Shane Marmion’s placekick was weak.
Greystones went over for a try when Matt Dalton blocked down and reacted quickest to notch a gift-wrapped opening score. Greystones doubled their advantage when they mauled over the home line with Cian Maguire grounding the ball for a 27th-minute try, also unconverted.
Buccs first significant threat did not materialise until the 32nd minute, when James Foley fed Ross Cooper, and the number eight sent Sam Hastings darting along the right flank, but the outhalf lost control of the ball in the tackle as he endeavoured to ground the ball.
Five minutes later, Darren Buckley incurred a harsh yellow card and Marmion gave the Leinster side a 13-0 advantage. Following an incident in the dying moments of the half, Brian Collins joined his hooker in the sin bin.
Buccs showed great resolve and tenacity on the change of ends to keep the visitors penned back, despite their numerical deficiency. They were helped a little when Greystones replacement Donal Smith saw yellow, and when they returned to a full complement, the Athlone side promptly made it count on the scoreboard. They made life uncomfortable for the visitors on their put in at a scrum and forced a close-in lineout. When possession was moved swiftly to Foley, he powered through the centre before off-loading to Hastings who stretched over the line for a smashing 49th-minute try converted by Cooper.
Seven minutes later, Oisin Rowe plundered possession from a Greystones lineout and darted away for an unconverted try wide on the left to reduce the arrears to the bare minimum, before Cooper nosed the Pirates in front with a 64th-minute penalty.
Shellshocked Greystones finally put some phases together in response, but Buccs’ relentless chasing and tackling disrupted the visitors, and Tom McGann snaffled possession inside his own 10 metre line to hare away for a super 68th-minute try at the posts. Cooper added the conversion to put the Midlanders 22-13 ahead.
Two minutes later, the flying winger almost repeated the feat when he got a block on Simon Smith’s attempted grubber kick, but just could not escape the clutches of a stretched defence on this occasion. However, the bonus point try for the homesters was merely delayed for one minute, Foley rampaging through for a try converted by Cooper, who then missed a tricky 75th-minute penalty.
Just before the finish, Jack Delahunt (younger brother of Shane ) stormed through for Buccaneers’ fifth try. Cooper, on kicking duty in the absence of Luke Carty who was a surprise call-up to the Connacht A squad, drilled over a mighty conversion to complete the 36-13 winning margin.
This was a magnificent comeback by Buccs who displayed tremendous character and focus in the second half to turn the tide, both in this contest and in their overall sequence of results. A stirring and sustained collective effort gained its due reward. Rowe was magnificent in a smashing back row trio where Cooper and Owen Maher were constant thorns to the visitors.
Buckley shone in a battling front-row trio. Hastings and Paddy Browne were generally neat and tidy at halfback while McGann showed his prowess, and possession should be sent in his direction faster and more often. Overall, it was a hugely encouraging all-round effort by Buccaneers that will instil belief and confidence in these young players.