Local bragging rights at stake as Buccs face Galwegians

Saba Meunargia is presented with the Audi Athlone Man of the Match award by Buccaneers senior vice-president Mark O’Reilly following the draw with Ballymena

Saba Meunargia is presented with the Audi Athlone Man of the Match award by Buccaneers senior vice-president Mark O’Reilly following the draw with Ballymena

Buccaneers travel west to Crowley Park on Friday night for an Ulster Bank League showdown with Connacht rivals Galwegians. This Division 1B game kicks off at 7.30pm.

Victory is crucial for both sides, with Buccs chasing the win that will keep them on top of the league table. Meanwhile, Wegians will be strenuously seeking vital points to keep them above the relegation dogfight. With so much to play for, both sets of players can be counted on to roll up their collective sleeves in what could be a real battle. Galwegians are fourth from bottom, five points above the basement club Dolphin.

Having lost six matches in a row, including a 24-12 defeat at Dubarry Park, the light blues then demolished Shannon 53-12 at the start of December. However, they lost 17-14 last weekend in the return game at Thomond Park despite Ronan Loughney, Eoghan Masterson, and Marc Kelly featuring in their pack. Victory there would have given them considerable breathing space, so they will now be desperate for points and consequently dangerous and committed foes.

Anthony Ryan, John Moloney, and Peter Claffey will work their socks off in the forwards exchanges, while Wegians have decent backs including Ciaran Gaffney, Brian Murphy, Conor Lowndes, and Adam Leavy. Aidan Moynihan is a very reliable placekicker.

Buccs have a number of injury concerns, all in their backline where Mata Fifita has joined Conor McKeon and Shane Layden on the treatment bench. Alan Gaughan, Jordan Conroy, Luke Carty, and Eoghan O’Reilly will trouble the Tribesmen if the Pirates pack provides the right possession. Martin Staunton, John Sutton, and Saba Meunargia were the dominant front row against Ballymena, and the Midlanders may have profited had Staunton been restored to the action.

Danny Qualter and Cian Romaine are well capable of ascendancy in the battle of the packs, where Rory Moloney, Kolo Kiripati, and either Stephen McVeigh or Evan Galvin provide a competitive backrow unit. Much may depend on whatever Connacht players are available to either side, but Buccs, who also overcame Galwegians in the Connacht Senior League, have the ability and potential to make it a hat-trick of wins over their keenest rivals this season provided they are focussed, disciplined, and prepared to dig deep.

Buccs and Ballymena shared the spoils 13-13 after a competitive Ulster Bank League Division 1B encounter at Dubarry Park. Both teams were much changed from their feisty early December clash. Buccs fielded five changes, with Saba Meunargia, Stephen McVeigh, Jordan Conroy, Shane O’Leary, and Graham Lynch coming in for Rory Grenham, Evan Galvin, Callum Boland, and injured duo Conor McKeon and Shane Layden.

The visitors went one better, including an Ulster-experienced quartet Richard Lutton, Alan O’Connor, Matthew Rea, and sub Chris Cundell to bolster their pack where skipper David Whann returned. Martin Irwin and Glen Bailie started in the Ulster side’s backline for this Russell Brennan Keane sponsored match played in excellent conditions.

Following a penalty to the left, the ball was moved across the field where Eoghan O’Reilly created space for O’Leary to mark his home debut with a fifth-minute try which was converted by Alan Gaughan. The outhalf was prominent from the start and, after he was narrowly off-target with a long-range placekick, he duly slotted over a 14th-minute penalty after Buccs pressure had forced a spilled ball and subsequent infringement.

The Pirates continued to force the pace and Mata Fifita and McVeigh both had snipes before the lively O’Reilly did well to gather a clearance and present Gaughan with the opportunity to drill over a splendid 30th minute drop goal. Ballymena did not get into the home 22 with any real intent until the closing stages of this half, and then an impressive maul came threateningly close to getting over the Buccs line. But the Midlanders held out despite O’Reilly incurring a sin-binning and they led 13-0 at half time.

Ballymena then got a grip on the setpiece to get into the contest and open their account with a 52nd-minute Richie McMaster penalty. Two minutes later, Lynch’s clearance was blocked down by Martin Irwin and the visitors forced another penalty, deftly despatched over the bar by McMaster.

Buccs were making errors and, three minutes later, a Gaughan kick was charged down by Callum Patterson. Mark Best, and Lynch tangled for the loose ball and referee Gary Conway awarded a penalty try. McMaster did not worry about this award as he thumped the conversion over to level the scores.

A Gaughan kick ahead and chase forced Rodger McBurney into defensive action while shortly afterwards the home outhalf saw his drop goal attempt, as advantage was played, dip under the crossbar before his penalty from the left tailed just wide.

With the legacy of the recent clash between the teams now simmering, the contest threatened to boil over but did not get out of hand in a rousing finale when both McMaster and McBurney missed drop goal efforts for the northerners.

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