Buccaneers kick off this season’s Energia All-Ireland League on Saturday afternoon when Queen’s University visit Dubarry Park, Athlone, with the action getting under way at 2.30pm. Much has changed since Buccs enjoyed the heady heights of Division 1A following promotion just a few seasons ago to now facing up to the formidable challenges of life in Division 2A.
Successive relegations mean that the Pirates will be sailing in somewhat uncharted waters this season. New clubs to play and visit, considerable changes in playing personnel and a new sponsor of the AIL. The midlanders have three Ulster clubs in their division and they provide the opposition for Buccs in their opening three games beginning with a swift return of Queen’s University who, ironically, were the last team that Buccaneers played in the AIL play-offs. The Students prevailed on that occasion thereby confirming the Pirates sinking to 2A.
At this early stage, the northerners’ squad is somewhat of an unknown quantity but Buccaneers will field a greatly changed squad for this encounter. John Sutton, Peter Claffey, Conan O’Donnell and Kieran Joyce have all departed while Luke Carty, Colm Reilly, Conor Kenny and Sean Masterson may be unavailable due to Connacht commitments. Rory Moloney is ruled out through suspension (seems his four weeks ban turns out to be four weeks plus two days! ) while Brian McDonnell is injured.
Shane Layden skippers the Pirates for a third successive season and he will have solid and able support in the backline from Callum Boland, Darragh Corbett, Rory O’Connor, Frankie Hopkins and Graham Lynch. Corey Reid and Eoghan O’Reilly, if fit, will also surely start while Thomas McGann and Michael Hanley are two young players who would not be found wanting. Robert Enraght-Moony and Ross Murphy-Sweeney are others who could feature.
Options in the pack are not as plentiful but Martin Staunton, Ruairi Byrne, Evan Galvin and Torin Rensford can be counted on to be competitive and give of their best from start to finish. Newcomer Matthew Murphy is likely to line up in the front row alongside Rory Grenham while Sean O’Connell, Harry O’Reilly, Darren Browne, James Kelly and Liam Winnett are really promising young forwards who could be involved.
It is new territory for Buccaneers in this campaign and a developing youthful squad will hopefully hit the ground running on what is a really busy afternoon at Dubarry Park. The club’s J2 side are home to Oughterard in the Connacht Junior 2 League with a 5pm start for this encounter while the J1A side follow on at 7pm with a floodlit Connacht Junior 1A League duel against Tuam.
It is very positive to have a Thirds squad again after a sojourn of about five seasons and they provided much entertainment in their opening fixture when overcoming NUIG. They may have some further recruits for this joust against Oughterard, for whom it is their first league outing this term.
The J1’s shipped a heavy defeat at Sligo last weekend and their resources are likely to be stretched again. Tuam will be doughty opponents who gave Westport a good run for their money in Mayo in the opening round and then got on winning ways at home to Monivea, who defeated Buccs in Athlone. Another hard night at the office looks in prospect here.
With a feast of rugby on offer, a big turnout of home spectators is expected at Dubarry Park particularly for the opening All-Ireland League game against Queen’s University.