Buccaneers pushed Cork Constitution all the way in Saturday’s Ulster Bank League division 1A fixture before the champions edged a well-contested encounter by 24-19.
Buccaneers produced a determined and sustained challenge, but the Cork powerhouse did enough to bag their fourth win, while the home side have yet to win a game this season.
Buccs made three changes for this encounter. Peter Claffey, so influential in recent outings, was ruled out through injury. While Cian Romaine returned from suspension to take his place in the second row. Darragh Corbett’s recent displays for the seconds earned him his first senior start on the right wing in the ongoing absence of Jordan Conroy. Meanwhile Conan O’Donnell was a late defection to be replaced by Niall Farrelly at tighthead prop. That left Luke Carty as the only Connacht player on the home squad. Cork Con made a number of changes too with Aidan Moynihan starting at flyhalf, Alex McHenry (son of golfer John ) at centre, and Dylan Murphy in the front row.
The home side did not get the start they were hoping for as Cork Con struck within two minutes with a try in the corner through winger JJ O’Neill. The Pirates had further reason for concern 10 minutes later as Graeme Lawlor went round the corner after a series of close-in drives to score to the left of the posts. Moynihan converted both tries to make it 14-0 in favour of the visitors at this early stage.
Buccaneers, whose lineout and scrum were both under pressure, were boosted by Carty’s kicking from open play leaving the Athlone side still game to counter-attack. Any notion that Cork Con would have an easy afternoon was dispelled by the definite spirit and no little ability shown by the home side.
Before the half hour mark, Buccs were rewarded for their good play. A deft punt ahead by outhalf Carty was collected by Alan Gaughan who sent Rory O’Connor away. The winger continued to embellish his record of tries scored when he showed tremendous determination to score a fine try having been tackled just short of the line. Carty added the conversion from beside the posts.
Buccaneers battled at the breakdown through Martin Staunton and Evan Galvin and, as Dan Law arrived on the scene, following another counter in midfield O’Connor raced over for another superb try. Failure to convert left just two points between the sides but Moynihan slotted a tricky penalty before halftime to put Cork Con 17-12 ahead at the interval in the wet and miserable weather.
Both teams defended ferociously either side of half-way for a lengthy stretch after the change of ends but Buccs blinked first and a move by the Corkonians before the hour mark sent Ned Hodson over in the corner. Moynihan continued with his impeccable place-kicking to send the conversion over to make it 24-12 in favour of the visitors.
However, with Law impressive in both set pieces and in the loose, the midlanders were still very much in the contest and a smashing Carty break from halfway almost yielded a try. Eventually the efforts of the Pirates pack in scrums and mauls was rewarded with a penalty try as they drove with purpose. However, despite their sustained and encouraging endeavours, Buccs could not fashion another score as Cork Con held on for a narrow 24-19 victory that moved them up one place to third in the league table.
Buccs half-backs gave a steady service and for the second week running the outside backs showed huge commitment and ability in both attack and defence. This was a big learning curve for young Corbett who was unfazed by the experience. The pack was left equally undaunted showing character of application against noticeably heavier opponents. Law and Romaine stood out somewhat but as the game progressed the commitment of the pack as a whole was unstinting. Buccs had field position once or twice to fashion a surprise victory but only place-kicking success separated the two teams on the scoreboard.
Buccaneers: C Boland, D Corbett, A Gaughan S Layden (captain ), R O’Connor; L. Carty, F Hopkins, M Staunton, J Sutton, N Farrelly, R Byrne, C Romaine, R Farrell, E Galvin and S Meagher. Replacements:- D Law (for Farrell, 35 mins ), R Farrell (for Byrne, 50 mins ), G Lynch (for Hopkins, 60 mins ), R Grenham (for Sutton, 68 mins ), C Seery and R O’Meara.
Cork Constitution : L O’Connell; JJ O’Neill, A McHenry, N Kenneally (captain ), N Hodson; A Moynihan, J Higgins; B Quinlan, M Abbott, D Murphy; B Hayes, C Kindregan; G Lawlor, R O’Neill and E Mintern. Replacements:- J McHenry, G Duffy, J McSwiney, G Hurley and B Monaghan.