Buccaneers suffered their first home defeat since February last year when they went down 26-21 to Corinthians in the opening round of the Connacht Senior League at Dubarry Park last Saturday.
Buccs were very understrength for this encounter. In addition to their sizeable Connacht contingent not being available, injury ruled out key backs Alan Gaughan, Jordan Conroy, Callum Boland and Mata Fifita. Consequently, the Pirates fielded a particularly young crew, with no fewer than eight U20s from the past two seasons named in the starting XV, as well as a number of players operating out of their normal positions.
Buccs had the first opportunity, but an early diagonal ball bounced away from Rory O’Connor. The visitors opened the scoring after just seven minutes, the homesters losing possession in midfield and Corinthians countering at pace, with David Panther’s touchdown wide on the left being allowed despite what seemed a fairly obvious knock-on in the build-up. Jack Feeney was unable to convert.
The Midlanders replied within four minutes, O’Connor intercepting on the 10-metre line to hare in for a try which Eoin O’Reilly converted for a 7-5 lead. A teasing break by Liam Marmion was halted before Buccs’ Jack Delahunt was yellow-carded after 23 minutes for what the referee deemed to be a deliberate knock-on. It looked more like the U20 player was stretching to intercept.
The Athlone side did not concede any score while temporarily depleted, but good hands, with captain Panther to the fore, yielded a 34th-minute Marmion try, following a penalty that had been punted to touch on the right. Feeney added the conversion. Ger Fallon had a chance to reduce the arrears, but his penalty from the 10-metre line three minutes later was off-target.
Buccs regained the lead in the final move of the half, with their try stemming from a penalty to the left. Good lineout ball was tapped to Frankie Hopkins, whose snipe stretched the Corinthians cover, and Shane Layden powered over for a try. Fallon converted to edge the Pirates 14-12 ahead at the interval.
Corinthians regained the lead following the change of ends, with Joe Murphy finishing off a move for an unconverted try on the right. Play was particularly scrappy in this quarter with errors aplenty on both sides, although the westerners made much better use of the breeze in this half than the Pirates had in the first. The home pack was driven back on 67 minutes and former Bucc, Feeney, edged the Galway side 20-14 ahead with the resultant penalty.
Three minutes later, Buccs incurred a second sin-binning, with substitute Harry Hughes having no complaint when his knock-on was ruled deliberate. Feeney drilled over the resultant penalty from the left to give Corinthians more breathing space, leaving them 23-14 to the good.
But the defending champions struck back, with O’Connor again intercepting, this time deep inside his own half. The winger displayed pace and awareness to touch down between the posts for a 75th-minute try, with skipper Layden’s drop-kicked conversion narrowing the arrears to 21-23. However, virtually from the restart, Buccs were guilty of hands on the ground and conceded a straightforward penalty in front of their posts. Feeney was not going to miss that gilt-edged opportunity, and his placekick sealed victory for Corinthians on a 26-21 margin.
Buccaneers get a chance to bounce back when they entertain Sligo in the Connacht Senior League under the Dubarry Park floodlights on Friday night, with the game kicking off at 8pm.