An impressive Buccaneers squad proved too strong and savvy for Creggs, as the Athlone side captured the Connacht U17 Plate with a 29-7 win last Sunday.
Buccs may have been slight favourites for this one, but Creggs won the toss for home advantage. The hosts would have been hoping that this might give them an edge, but the young Pirates made a perfect start.
A swashbuckling break by Ben Costello saw the lock make huge yardage. He offloaded to the supporting Harry Balsiger on the left, from where the ball was moved smartly across the field and Darragh Murray romped in for a second minute try. Although Mikey Byrne was unable to convert, this early score settled nerves in the visitors’ ranks.
Buccs continued to pose problems for the westerners, but knock-ons spoiled a couple of good opportunities. Creggs were forced to put in a massive defensive shift and rarely got out of their own half.
A mazy run by full-back Balsiger caused panic in the home ranks and led to a 27th minute penalty in front of the posts, which out-half Byrne slotted over. Buccaneers piled on intensive pressure coming towards half-time. Sterling Creggs defending held Buccs up on the line no less than three times before the break. Buccs should really have been comfortably ahead at the interval, but instead their lead was a slender 8-0 after the opening 35 minutes.
The Midlanders were playing up the slight slope after the change of ends, and Creggs restarted the brighter. For a while it seemed that Buccaneers might pay for their profligacy, but a yellow card cost Creggs dearly. The impressive Balsinger and John Why combined smartly on 43 minutes to split the home defence, and it took a wild but high tackle by the home full-back to deny scrum-half Why a certain try. With the Creggs full-back in the sin bin, Buccs finally translated their territorial dominance on to the scoreboard.
Under pressure, Mark Purcell’s clearance did not find touch, and Balsinger, Cameron Digan and Cillian O’Sullivan dove-tailed nicely to send Jack Scouler scampering in from 25 metres for an 46th minute try.
Buccs then upped their tempo further, and the highly impressive Murray weaved his way in for a try three minutes later. From the restart, skipper Murray completed his hat-trick of tries, sloping through the cover for a stunning score. Byrne converted all three tries in this six minutes scoring blitz. With Buccs 29-0 ahead, there would be no miraculous comeback by Creggs.
But the homesters continued to battle. In one of the final moves of the match, a try by fly-half Purcell, which he also converted, was the very least the gallant losers warranted.
Buccaneers took the honours on a 29-7 margin. The Athlone side were stronger and slicker all around the pitch and had more options against a younger Creggs outfit. Murray led by example, his turn of pace being deceptive and his lineout work imperious.
Flanker Scouler and lock Costello also stood out in what was an excellent effort by the Pirates’ pack. Balsiger was hugely exciting at full-back, his runs being a constant thorn in the Creggs cause. Half-backs Byrne and Why were neat and efficient and the O’Sullivan’s (not related ) were solid and busy in the centre. Overall, it was a splendid squad display by Buccaneers which, allayed to the recent double by the club’s U18.5 team, augurs well for the future.
Creggs can also take considerable pride from their contribution, on and off the pitch, to the final on a hot afternoon. They too have lots of promising talent in their ranks.
After the match, Adrian Leddy presented the trophy on behalf of Connacht Rugby to victorious captain, Darragh Murray.