BUCCANEERS 16 CORINTHIANS 14
Rugby with Michael Silke
BUCCANEERS captured their third Connacht Senior Cup trophy in four seasons when they pipped Corinthians 16-14 to win an absorbing and finely balanced final at Dubarry Park on Saturday. Buccs failed to build on a flying start and a gallant Corinthians grew into the contest as the game progressed to take the lead by the minimum at the three-quarters stage. But they were left shattered when Kieran Joyce’s penalty with the last kick of the match denied them victory.
On a crisp, dry afternoon, conditions were near perfect at the Athlone stadium hosting its first ever provincial Senior Cup final. Corinthians arrived two hours before kick off, a portent of their intent, but the hosts hit the ground running to score two tries in the opening ten minutes.
A lightning angled break by McGann, starting in place of Rory O’Connor who failed a pre-match fitness test, looked like securing a splendid try but the winger’s progress was halted just short of the visitors’ line. However, Buccs recycled the ball smartly from left to right where John Sutton scooted in for an unconverted fifth minute try.
Soon afterwards Lynch’s promising break lacked swift support but the scrumhalf was on Shane Layden’s shoulder on 10 minutes to notch the homesters second unconverted try for a 10-0 lead. The Pirates skipper provided the assist for both touchdowns and his constant striving forward earned him a worthy ‘Audi Athlone Man of the Match’ accolade.
Buccs failed to build on this opening salvo, lacking a clinical edge in a number of promising situations. Then Corinthians twice made intercepts, firstly through the impressive Cathal Evans when the midlanders had cover to deal with his break. Next, Craig Hansberry snaffled possession but the prop was never going to romp away from halfway.
Despite Buccaneers probings, the westerners gradually gained belief with their bigger pack troubling the Shannonsiders in the tight. Late in the half, they brought play close to the home line where Buccs forced a turnover and a scrum that should have earned a relieving kick.
However, the Tribesmen drove Buccs off their own ball and Ryan Guilfoyle provided a snappy pass to Nick Harrison who was not going to be a denied. Simon Keller’s conversion was the final act of the half leaving the Athlonians advantage narrowed to 10-7.
Buccaneers had looked very comfortable for the majority of the half and should have been comfortably ahead. Although Michael Hanley converted a 42nd minute penalty, Buccs momentum was waning due to injuries to key forwards Martin Staunton five minutes before the interval and the withdrawal of Claffey at the break.
Corinthians were the dominant force in the third quarter. Their industry and endeavour gained reward on the hour mark following snipes by Mark McDermott and Keller. Jack Noone, who had his own interesting duel with opposing hooker Sutton, applied the finishing touch for a try on the right. Keller added the conversion to put the Division 2B side 14-13 ahead and the cat was now among the pigeons!
This stung the pride of the 1A team who began to play with urgency, but they found Corinthians defence in defiant mode. Nevertheless, the growing pressure yielded a pair of kickable penalties on 65 and 75 minutes, but the occasion seemed to affect teenager Hanley. He is usually near flawless with placekicks but missed both, the latter from a fairly straight forward position.
Corinthians looked to have survived and a massive upset seemed inevitable. However, deep in added time referee Daithi Flood deemed that a Corinthians player was guilty of a deliberate knock-on when tackling. This was a highly contentious decision from the visitors’ viewpoint and fortuitous for the hosts.
Joyce was entrusted with the pressure kick, his first for Buccaneers. The centre proved up to the task, kicking straight and true to deny his former club, leaving contrasting emotions between the opposing sets of supporters.
Meanwhile Buccaneers can glean self belief from their dramatic victory although they played in fits and starts, a reflection of their AIL campaign in some respects.
The magnificent trophy was presented by Connacht Senior Vice-President Ted Carty to victorious Buccaneers captain Shane Layden.
Buccaneers now face City of Armagh at the Palace Grounds in the Bateman All-Ireland Cup semi-final on Saturday next, kick off 2.30pm.
BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; T.McGann, S.Layden (captain ), K.Joyce, D.Corbett; M.Hanley, G.Lynch; H.O’Reilly, J.Sutton, M.Staunton; P.Claffey, R.Byrne; E.Galvin, O.Treacy and S.Meagher. Replacements:- S.O’Connell (for Staunton, inj. 35 mins ), T.Rensford (for Claffey, inj. h/t ), F.Hopkins (for Lynch, 62 mins ), R.Murphy-Sweeney (for McGann ) and D.Browne.
Referee:- Daithi Flood (Connacht ).