Buccaneers finally found the winning formula as they forged their first victory in the Ulster Bank League this season, holding off the challenge of University College Dublin (UCD ) to emerge with a 19-13 win at Dubarry Park last Saturday.
Buccaneers welcomed back lock Peter Claffey and No 8 Paul Boyle after injury, with Simon Meagher switching to blindside flanker. Conor McKeon returned at scrum-half to the side that lost narrowly to dual champions Cork Constitution last time out.
UCD had four changes in personnel from their win at Terenure College, three of them in the back line where Gavin Mullin started at centre, Robert Keenan on the right wing and Harry Byrne at fly-half, necessitating a switch to fullback for Leinster A player, Ciaran Frawley. Leinster A captain, Peadar Timmins took over the No 8 role as Josh Murphy started for Leinster against the Dragons, while ex-Bucc Stephen McVeigh was named on the visitors’ bench.
The Athlone side opened the scoring when, after turning over possession on the visitors’ 10 metre line, they promptly stretched the Students’ defence with swift movement of the ball and a strong carry by Alan Gaughan, before the centre popped the ball to Rory O’Connor. The home winger still had much to do, but he outflanked the College cover for his seventh try of the campaign. From a fairly straightforward position, Luke Carty was unable to embellish this excellent score with a conversion, but the young out-half quickly found his range four minutes later after UCD conceded a penalty at the scrum. This was just the start that the midlanders hoped for, leaving them 8-0 to the good.
The Students replied with a Harry Byrne penalty on 18 minutes. It followed a decent build-up by the visitors that brought them close to the home line, where a defensive knock-on was deemed deliberate. Claffey, who did not hear the referee’s whistle, played on and was perhaps harshly yellow-carded for doing so. But this double setback did not phase spirited Buccs. After Gaughan was tackled in the air, they made promising territory with a penalty to touch on the right.
Although the home pack was a player short, they then shunted UCD backwards at a scrum to earn a penalty that was swiftly taken, and Niall Farrelly was held up just short of the line. However, McKeon neatly scooped the ball to Shane Layden and the Buccaneers skipper powered over for an unconverted 22nd minute try in the right corner.
Darragh Corbett dealt coolly with an angled kick ahead before the College got away with a knock-on in the build up to their second score, Byrne stroking over a 33rd minute penalty. Half-time arrived with Buccaneers 13-6 to the good.
The sun clouded over during the interval and Buccs were a little edgy on the restart. Corbett was not so convincing when dealing with a kick ahead by Keenan, opting to pass infield instead of simply clearing his lines. Callum Boland’s kick under pressure was then blocked, but the ball luckily spun over the dead ball line.
Buccs quickly got back into their stride and were unfortunate when a magnificent flowing move initiated by John Sutton and carried on by Daniel Law and Boyle saw the ball reach O’Connor, but the combined efforts of UCD duo Jamie Glynn and Keenan tackled him into touch just short of the line.
Buccaneers continued to press and Carty thumped over a splendid penalty into the freshening breeze for a 16-6 advantage after 51 minutes. As rain briefly drizzled, Meagher made a rousing surge and the Pirates earned another long-range penalty five minutes later, from which Carty was narrowly off-target.
UCD cut their arrears to just three points after 64 minutes when after a period of pressure referee Eddie Hogan-O’Connell ruled that Will Connors had grounded the ball against a goalpost pad. Byrne, younger brother of rising Leinster star Ross, had no difficulty with the easy conversion.
As both sides unloaded their benches, Buccs had the next opportunities to add to their tally, but a lineout throw just five metres out went badly awry on 73 minutes. However, within a minute they had doubled their advantage after a teasing up and under by Carty tempted The Students offside, and the home out-half was coolness personified when drilling over the resultant penalty from 25 metres.
In the dying moments, College threw everything they could at the hosts, but relentless and disciplined tackling by Buccaneers and one mighty clearance by Graham Lynch ensured that they were not going to let this game slip from their grasp as they battled all the way for their 19-13 victory.
Victory was due reward for an eager young squad who have maintained their appetite, gumption and positive endeavour despite their sequence of near misses.