Buccaneers are home to Dolphin in the Energia All-Ireland League in a vital Division 2A encounter that kicks off in Dubarry Park on Saturday afternoon at 2.30pm.
Buccaneers will be favoured on their home turf to overcome the Cork side who are currently second from bottom of the division, but the visitors will be fighting for survival so the Pirates must strive to be on guard and focused.
The Athlone side really impressed when building up a 24-7 lead down south last November but then allowed the Munster outfit back into the contest. Buccaneers came out on top 27-24 but, in reality, it could well have been a bonus point win. Whether the midlanders dropped their concentration or felt they had the job done when comfortably ahead, they cannot allow that to repeat on Saturday.
Dolphin have some dangerous operators particularly in their backline that includes Finland captain Jussi Viljanen and Alex Corduff from Mayo in the centre. This sector is very cosmopolitan with New Zealander Cameron Powell and Albert Fronek from the Czech Republic also likely to feature. Daryl Foley keeps the team ticking over at fly-half while the vastly experienced David O’Mahony captains the side from the second row. Hooker, Callum MacKintosh, and flanker, Kevin Allen, will pose a threat in the forwards battle.
Buccaneers were on a decent run when the sides met earlier in the season but three successive defeats have dented any play-off aspirations. The lack of sheer bulk and grunt proved costly at Cashel but the Pirates should have pocketed home and away wins over Old Crescent. They need to be more ruthless when opportunities present themselves and would benefit from stronger leadership and guile at times.
Dolphin have just a single victory to date and are just one point ahead off table proppers, Nenagh Ormonde. They trail the Athlone club by twelve points so victory for the Shannonsiders would create a really healthy buffer zone at that end of the table.
Luke Carty and Colm Reilly can set the tempo and dictate the pattern at the weekend when weather and underfoot conditions could be challenging. They were among a handful of our young Connacht players available in Cork and it would give Head Coach Peter O’Donnell stronger options if Niall Murray, Sean Masterson and Declan Adamson could again be included in his selection permutations.
Christian Maulaulau missed out at Irish Independent Park due to his illness and he will bring another dimension to this joust but Shane Layden’s injury rules him out. As ever, Martin Staunton, Evan Galvin and Darragh Corbett can be counted on to lead by example.
If Buccaneers play with discipline and commitment to their potential, both collectively and individually, they can regain their winning ways. But they must not underestimate the visitors in a match that will see referee Shane Kierans make his second visit to Dubarry Park this season.
Crunch test for Buccaneers J1s
Buccaneers U20s, J1s and J2s fixtures away to NUIG, Connemara and NUIG respectively last week all fell victim to the dreadful weather. The J1s are back on the road this Sunday when they travel to Tuam for a crunch Connacht Junior 1A League tie, kick off 2.30pm.
This Buccaneers outfit really need to win this encounter as they strive to avoid relegation. Tuam gave them a whipping early in the season at a time when Buccs were very stretched for numbers and not as organised as they should be. The Pirates have had mixed results throughout the campaign, their inconsistency leading to their current precarious position. They have some quality players who can drive the side on but these have not always been available.
However, with so much at stake coach Michael Harding must be granted as strong a hand as possible for this ‘must win’ duel. Tuam are enjoying a good season, currently riding high in third place, so they will be difficult opposition. However, Buccaneers needs are greater at this stage of the season and, hopefully, their desire can get them over the line.