Injuries have an impact as Buccs slump to another defeat

Thomas McGann retains possession for Buccaneers despite James Downey of Clontarf’s tackle

Thomas McGann retains possession for Buccaneers despite James Downey of Clontarf’s tackle

Clontarf 26 Buccaneers 6

Buccaneers remain pointless after Clontarf proved too strong for the Midlanders in their Ulster Bank League Division 1A encounter at Castle Avenue, Dublin, last Saturday.

Clontarf were worthy winners, while Buccs run of misfortune continues, with the Pirates cause not helped by injuries to two key players inside the opening 12 minutes. Despite a valiant and committed effort, they lacked the strength and depth of last season’s finalists in a game played in windy conditions.

Clontarf, piqued by the previous week’s thumping at Garryowen, made six changes to their starting XV. This included a return to the red and blue by former Ireland international, James Downey, at centre, while Andrew Feeney was preferred at scrumhalf. Their front row was bolstered by Leinster hooker Bryan Byrne and lively prop Vakh Abdaladze.

Buccs made four changes, all enforced. Ruairi Byrne and Ronan Farrell started in the pack in place of Peter Claffey and the injured Dan Law. With a lengthy list of injured backs, Alan Gaughan made a swift return after opting for GAA last week for the injured Corey Reid, but there was some positive news from the casualty ward when last season’s top scorer, Jordan Conroy, was fit to make his first start of the season. He played on the left wing with Thomas McGann switching flanks and Rory O’Connor moving to fullback in place of Will O’Brien.

Unfortunately, the promising news on the injury front did not last long, as Conor Kenny sustained a neck injury in the opening moments of the game. Following a lengthy delay, the prop was replaced by Conan O’Donnell. Then, just 12 minutes into the encounter, an ankle injury forced Frankie Hopkins off, with Eoin O’Reilly deputising at scrumhalf.

Despite this, Buccs gave as good as they got for the opening 25 minutes. Clontarf had the first scoring opportunity, but David Joyce’s ninth minute penalty was a poor effort. The city side conceded a raft of penalties that helped the visitors gain a foothold in the contest, but Luke Carty was off-target with a 19th minute penalty from the left.

The power of the Metropolitans’ pack began to tell as the game progressed. Following a series of close in scrums, their number eight, Michael Noone, stretched over the line near the uprights for a 27th minute try, which Joyce converted. Now it was the turn of the Athlone side to cough up penalties, as Tarf increased pressure. Byrne grounded the ball following a fine 35th minute maul for an unconverted try on the left. This gave Clontarf a 12-0 lead at half-time.

Buccaneers made a lively start to the second half, and Carty opened their account with a smashing 46th minute penalty from inside his own half. Continued hard work by Buccs delivered a second penalty just three minutes later, and Carty duly slotted this straight-forward placekick over after John Sutton’s swift and smart pressure had earned it. This halved the deficit to 12-6. However, Abdaladze robbed possession following the restart and Clontarf countered swiftly, with Cian O’Donoghue finishing off a telling attack for a 51st minute try. Joyce’s conversion from the left touchline was equally impressive.

The wind was less influential and, with Shane Layden in the sin bin, Buccs continued to battle and did not concede while depleted. A long Carty penalty dropped short on 70 minutes. Then, when Tarf’s Hugh O’Sullivan was yellow carded, the homesters capitalised on an ill-judged attempted chip by Gaughan, and Matt D’arcy scored his fourth try of the campaign in a quick and neat 74th minute counter-attack. Joyce’s conversion of this bonus point try completed the 26-6 scoreline.

Both sides had scoring chances in the closing stages, a wicked bounce deceiving Sean Dempsey, and a knock-on denying Evan Galvin for the visitors. After a mazy Rob McGrath break, a foot in touch ruled out James McKeown’s try for the winners.

With St Mary’s College and particularly Dublin University both winning, it meant it was a bad day for pointless Buccaneers, who now prop up the league table. While they should have accrued points in their three earlier fixtures, the depleted Pirates simply lack the nous and strength, both physically and in depth, at present against more experienced and bulkier squads. They have had no luck either and will welcome the fortnight’s break before their next fixture to regroup, recharge and recover.

Martin Staunton and Paul Boyle were the pick of the Pirates’ pack, while in the backline, that could have benefited by switching wingers in the second half, young substitute O’Reilly toiled ceaselessly, while the returning Conroy saw far too little ball to capitalise on his potential.

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