BUCCANEERS 31 BALLYMENA 26
Buccaneers scored a bonus point 31-26 victory over Ballymena in a lively and entertaining Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A match at Dubarry Park, Athlone, on Saturday. This was a most encouraging and committed display by the Pirates and victory, their first in this season’s AIL, was all the more welcome bearing in mind missing key personnel as well as somehow incurring four yellow cards.
Buccaneers, playing towards the clubhouse, had first advantage of the breeze and promptly made good use of it. They kicked a long penalty to the Bounty corner and were patient in possession after winning line-out ball, moving it infield phase by phase until O’Carroll marked his first start with a fifth minute try converted by Michael Hanley. The outhalf, another youngster in the Pirates crew, then found a superb touch from another long penalty six minutes later. This time the line-out was on the left side from where Buccs drove solidly over the visitors’ line for a Martin Staunton try converted by Hanley for a 14-0 lead.
The Braidmen recovered from this early onslaught and following a number of pick and goes J.J.McKee got over between the uprights for an 18th minute try converted by Sam Millar. The exchanges were relatively even as the half progressed until Christian Maulaulau was sin-binned for not being horizontal in the tackle on 33 minutes. Crucially Buccs did not concede any points during his absence with Kroupa making one splendid rob and Hanley a prodigous clearance that put Ballymena on the rear foot when the northerners endeavoured to make their numerical advantage pay. Thus the midlanders deservedly led 14-7 at half-time.
Murphy-Sweeney put in a good early chase following the change of ends and Callum Boland was prominent in the lead up to the award of a 50th minute penalty in front of the visitors’ posts which Hanley slotted over. Three minutes later Kroupa was yellow carded for a late tackle and, on this occasion, Ballymena made their extra man pay when they drove over the home line for an unconverted try by James Taggart moments after his introduction to the proceedings.
Buccs responded impressively to this double setback and ‘Audi Athlone Man of the Match’ Maulaulau was involved in the vanguard as the hosts steadily got closer to the Ulster side’s line enabling Thomas McGann to show his pace as he raced over for a 59th minute try. Hanley’s conversion put Buccs ahead by double scores 24-12 as the game entered the final quarter.
Ballymena now piled on some pressure with Buccs defending valiantly. However, referee Shane Kierans saw fit to issue a third yellow card, this time to captain on the day Evan Galvin. With Buccs now down to 13 players it was no surprise that the Braidmen got in for a try, McKee notching his second after 68 minutes and Millar adding the conversion to narrow their arrears to five points. Shortly after this, Eoghan O’Reilly set up a highly promising Buccs attack with a typically weaving run before linking with Staunton whose progress was halted by a high tackle. Incredibly no card was issued in this incident!
Buccaneers then put a terrific sequence of pick and goes in which it was fitting that Maulaulau finished off the move for a 73rd minute bonus point try as the No.8 had been involved a handful of times in this sustained move. Hanley duly added the conversion but Ballymena salvaged a brace of bonus points in the final move of the game while Byrne was the fourth Pirate to visit the sin bin, Millar converting.
This was a really uplifting performance by a youthful Buccaneers outfit that included no less than eight players from last season’s U20 squad and a performance of this ilk augurs well for future league outings.
BUCCANEERS:- C.Boland; Eoghan O’Reilly, C.Reid, S.O’Carroll, R.Murphy-Sweeney; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins; M.Murphy, D.Browne, M.Staunton; R.Byrne, T.Rensford; S.Kroupa, E.Galvin (captain ) and C.Maulaulau. Replacements:- M.Kennedy (for Rensford, inj. 25 mins ), T.McGann (for Reid, inj. 30 mins ), R.Grenham (for Browne, 58 mins ), Eoin O’Reilly (for McGann, inj. 66 mins ) and H.O’Reilly (for Murphy, 68 mins ).