Buccaneers face Corinthians in the Connacht Senior Cup final on Saturday with the game taking place at Corinthian Park after the Galway club won the toss for home advantage.
This will surely be a tough examination for the Midlanders as the Westerners will be primed to prevail on their own patch and will be greatly encouraged by their surprise and convincing 46-19 triumph over city rivals Galwegians in the semi-final.
Adding spice to the occasion will be a trio of former Buccs players in the home side’s squad. Sam McCormack is likely to operate at openside flanker, Ger O’Connor will link backs and forwards from his scrumhalf berth, and Ross Keller should line out at fullback. His brother, Simon, partners the wily and experienced O’Connor at halfback where the Monivea man’s influence must be curbed by the Midlanders.
Craig Hansberry, Sean Masterson, and Lise Soloa are key forwards in the Corinthians’ ranks, and the latter’s battle with Kolo Kiripati could be a deciding factor in the outcome of this final. Corinthians scored a couple of vital AIL home wins just before the mid-season break that saw them climb away from the danger zone.
The Pirates had a comfortable 36-3 victory when the sides met in the opening fixture of the season, but Corinthians are a much-changed squad in the interim. It being a cup final, Saturday’s decider is likely to be a lot closer, especially as the Athlone side are likely to be missing a goodly portion of their Connacht players. However, Buccs have been playing very well in recent outings, which included their heavy defeat of Sligo in the semi-final as well as an eight-match winning sequence in the Ulster Bank League, where they top Division 1B.
Kiripati, Martin Staunton, John Sutton, Evan Galvin, and Ruairi Byrne give the pack an experienced and aggressive spine, while young guns such as Eoghan Maher, Simon Meagher, Ryan O’Meara, and James Foley will be vying for places alongside Rory Grenham. If the Buccaneers’ pack edges the forwards battle, then they have strength, pace, and craft in their backline to dominate the scoreboard.
Shane Layden and Mata Fifita have formed a powerful and formidable pairing in the centre this season, while Alan Gaughan has blossomed at standoff. Graham Lynch could get a winning send-off before he departs overseas to study, while Eoghan O’Reilly, Callum Boland, and Alex Hayman should relish this encounter. Rory O’Connor could be another starter if fit after injury.
Brett Wilkinson, whose assistant Darin Claasen played many a match for Saturday’s opponents, will undoubtedly have it well drilled into his charges’ heads not to underestimate the homesters and to maintain their focus, discipline, and work rate, aspects that have served Buccs well this season. If Buccaneers play to their potential, they can complete a rare Connacht Senior League and Cup double.
The game goes ahead tomorrow at Corinthian Park with a 7.30pm kick-off. The winners have been drawn away to holders Cork Constitution in the Bateman Cup semi-final on January 21.