The stop-start Ulster Bank League Division 1A resumes on Saturday, when Buccaneers head to the capital to tackle University College Dublin at Belfield.
Buccs first AIL win this season came at home to The Students on a 19-13 margin, when a passionate and sustained effort gained due reward for The Pirates. They will have to be equally committed and disciplined if they are to stretch their winning sequence against UCD to four victories in a row, the Athlone side having completed a double over College in 1B five seasons ago when the clubs were last in the same division.
Although the midlanders had precious little good fortune in the first half of the season, the players remained resilient and continued to play with commendable effort and willingness. They could not be faulted for endeavour, although a lack of cunning and nous at times cost them dearly in a number of matches.
Despite the sequence of early defeats, Buccs played poorly in only one match to date. That was their last home outing when they underperformed against St Mary’s College, even though they were forced to select a weakened squad on that occasion.
Hopefully Paul Boyle, Conor Kenny and the particularly consistent Peter Claffey will be available at Belfield. Conan O’Donnell could be an absentee, but Daniel Law should be raring to go following his Christmas trip home to New Zealand. Conor McKeon and Graham Lynch are likely to vie for the scrumhalf role, while Luke Carty, Shane Layden, Alan Gaughan and Rory O’Connor will be key figures in the Athlone side’s backline, where injury is likely to rule out Callum Boland and Jordan Conroy.
Conroy has played just once this term and his try-scoring exploits (he notched 18 in 14 appearances last season ) have been sorely missed. Martin Staunton, Cian Romaine, John Sutton and Evan Galvin can be counted on to put it up to The Students pack, and U20s Simon Meagher and Eoghan Maher will be eager to have an influence on the proceedings.
UCD have been frustratingly inconsistent for their mentors this season, winning just three matches, leaving them fourth from bottom in the league. They have a sizeable quota of players involved with both the Ireland U20 and Sevens squads. When these players are available to them, they look a different proposition.
Billy Dardis, Hugo Keenan, Will Connors and Jimmy O’Brien are regulars on the Sevens circuit, while flanker Josh Murphy has made a number of appearances for Leinster. Harry Byrne and Jack Ringrose, younger brothers of Leinster duo Ross and Gary respectively, are promising backs, while forwards Jeremy Loughman and Glasson’s Stephen McVeigh could add a bit of oomph to a College outfit skippered by Jamie Glynn.
The Belfield Bowl, provided the weather dries up, is conducive to fast flowing rugby, so a lively tussle with scores aplenty is anticipated. Buccs are capable of coming out on top provided they are sharp, focussed, organised and relentless in their endeavours. With victory so vital for the visitors, expect Buccaneers to give it their all.