Buccaneers advanced to the final of the Connacht U18.5s Cup following a thrilling win over Westport on the main pitch at Dubarry Park last Sunday.
The scoreline (43-3 ) would suggest a comprehensive win for the hosts, but Westport were seriously in the game at half-time, and a sustained effort from Buccaneers was required to pull away and win comfortably in the end.
With old foes Ballina out of the competition and league finalists Creggs also gone, many thought the game against Westport would represent an easier route to the final. Westport did not read the script, and full credit to the team who travelled for an 11am kick off. They were competitive and committed and gave this talented young Buccs team the perfect preparation for the final.
Two first half tries by Cathal [Mossy] O’Grady and Sean Flynn, converted by Nathan Horan, were hard won, and with Westport registering a penalty, Buccs led at half-time by 14-3. Westport had many opportunities in that first half but Buccaneers defended resolutely.
The Buccs pack are now a seasoned outfit and the front row trio of Cian Daly, Darren Browne and Harry O’Reilly are rarely overpowered. They held the ground well at scrum time during this fixture. Liam Doyle carried well on every occasion that was presented, and surely had his best game of the year, while Kealon Connelly had another honest shift in the first half.
The Buccs back line in contrast were edgy, and it was clear that the lay off since the victorious league final win some weeks earlier had left them a bit rusty. On rare occasions they were indeed very dangerous, with wing Harry Steward often to the fore, but Westport were able to disrupt and contain.
The second half was really set up, and the large crowd were expectant. Westport began with full intent, and the opening exchanges were furious. O’Grady and Darren Browne were in the thick of all the hard exchanges at the breakdown, and Fergus Galvin was supporting Doyle and gaining hard yards. The effort was rewarded with a penalty after 10 minutes, and Buccs took the hard-earned points, with Horan nailing a difficult kick.
But it was the smaller men on the field that started to show their class. Flynn was taking control at out-half and his partnership with scrum-half Horan was starting to take a grip. At full back, Buccs have a star in Jensen Nagle and his runs from deep were causing all sorts of problems.
Fifteen minutes in and the deadlock was broken when a sublime movement involving all the backs presented Nagle with a clear line and he romped home under the posts. The score broke the Westport resolve.
Buccs introduced John Tumulty and Mark Tallon off the bench and both additions provided fresh impetus. Doyle was rewarded with a try after another abrasive push and movement from the pack, and the scoring continued with further tries from Tumulty and in the closing minutes fittingly from Galvin who had an incredible game.
Horan had a comfortable day off the tee and nailed all but one of the six conversions presented to him. Buccs got the bench on with the introductions of Kevin Moloney, Anthony Lynch, Ben Charles, Killian Fox and the impressive James Downes.
So, a second successive cup final in the Sportsground awaits as Buccs hope to repeat last year’s win in the U17 competition. Corinthians are the opposition and while Buccs beat them comfortably in the league, it will count for nothing in the backyard of Corinthians RFC where a partisan crowd are surely expected to cheer on the Galway men.
This will be the last youths game for most of this Buccaneers side who have won five league titles and one cup since they began playing in the youth division in Connacht. Victory on Sunday April 15 would surely prove to be the sweetest of the lot.