Buccaneers came away empty handed from Temple Hill, Cork, where they suffered a 26-0 Ulster Bank League division 1A defeat to Cork Constitution on Saturday.
The defending champions were worthy winners, but the Midlanders did not help themselves, with errors contributed to three opposition tries.
Both teams made a handful of changes for the return to AIL action in 2018. Cork Con were missing injured duo Conor Kindregan and Niall Kenneally, and such is their strength in depth that they could also cope with the absences of Tomas Quinlan and Graeme Lawlor.
Buccs made five changes in personnel. Fit again, Simon Meagher returned at lock, with Eoghan Maher back after suspension at hooker, while Conor Kenny was available for front row duties. They replaced Dan Law, Ruairi Byrne and Niall Farrelly, who was on the bench. Regular hooker John Sutton switched to blindside flanker, with prop Ryan O’Meara again manning the number eight berth. With Conor McKeon available at scrum-half, Graham Lynch joined Callum Boland on the bench. The latter’s fitness concerns meant a surprise return in the centre for 2015/16 player of the year, Ben Carty.
Cork Con had the benefit of the biting diagonal breeze in the first half, which helped them enjoy decent early territory. The Pirates’ defence was not found wanting until a Luke Carty clearance from inside his own 22 was blocked down. The home side were not about to waste such a gilt-edged opportunity, with fullback Joe White getting in for the opening score on 13 minutes. Aidan Moynihan converted this try from the left.
The opening quarter elapsed before Buccs got a meaningful foothold in home territory. This stemmed from a slick move involving McKeon, Rory O’Connor and Shane Layden up the left flank. When possession was transferred across the field, a determined Meagher made inroads before being driven over the Cork Con line in the right corner after 24 minutes. However, referee Jonny Erskine ruled that a double movement, meaning no try for the visitors.
The Athlone side maintained pressure in this promising spell, and Rob Jermyn was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on when he cut out O’Meara’s offload to Cian Romaine with the line beckoning. Cork Con could not have complained should a penalty try have been awarded in this incident.
Buccaneers continued to search for a score, but Layden knocked-on when stretching for the home line near the posts on the half-hour mark. The skipper then conceded a penalty on half way four minutes later that brought Cork Con to the red zone on Buccs left flank, where Sean Duffy showed more clinical finishing to power in for an unconverted try that gave the Rebels a 12-0 half-time lead.
The holders restarted in impressive fashion and pinned Buccs back, but the visitors defended stoutly and eventually turned over the ball close to their right corner flag. However, having done the hard work, a careless offload was accepted gratefully by Luke Cahill for a gift-wrapped 48th minute try. Moynihan added an excellent touchline conversion to stretch the home advantage to 19-0.
Cork Con then went in search of a bonus point try, but the Midlanders battled gamely and looked like taking the bare look off the scoreboard in the closing stages. However, despite getting close to the home line on a number of occasions, they just could not breach the Cork defence.
Then, in the final move of the match, the Corkonians snatched a vital fourth try when centre Ned Hodson finished an end to end sweeping counter attack. Moynihan duly converted to put further gloss on the 26-0 scoreline, which flattered the victors and did little justice for a luckless Buccs effort.
The bonus point secured by Cork Con helped them move up to second place on the league table, while Buccaneers remain anchored at the bottom. Cahill and Brian Hayes were forces to be reckoned with in the home pack, Gerry Hurley orchestrated matters at scrum-half, and Liam O’Connell was a threat on the wing.
Ben Carty’s display belied the fact that he had not played for a season and a half. Meagher was Buccs’ liveliest forward while O’Meara worked hard in unfamiliar roles. Brian Diffley made his injury-delayed debut on the hour mark, but James Foley surely warranted an introduction earlier than the final minute. Cork Con’s handling was of a higher order and they were often faster to the breaking ball, but Buccs remained spirited and committed to the bitter end, without enjoying any slice of good fortune.