Buccaneers take on holders Sligo in an intriguing Connacht Cup clash on Saturday when, due to the France v Ireland Six Nations match, the action at Dubarry Park kicks off at the earlier than usual time of 1pm.
This will be a tough test for the Pirates as Sligo have been steadily improving in recent seasons while Buccs will, on this occasion, likely be minus their Academy players. So fine margins may well decide this contest which could be played in a contrast of styles.
Sligo have some Latin flavour in their backline where South American internationals Guilherme Coghetto and Stefano Giantorna will pose a threat while Josh Reeves or Euan Brown are highly reliable place-kickers. This has helped the north-westerners to a comfortable mid-table position in Division 2B of the All-Ireland League where they will still harbour hopes of making the play-offs.
When the teams met at Hamilton Park in the very first competitive fixture after a near two-year pandemic lockdown, Sligo’s powerful pack that has a further cosmopolitan flavour in Pedro Bengalo and Kuba Wotjtkowicz dominated as the north-westerners prevailed 43-10.
But that was last August when Buccs fielded a callow squad and the midlanders have improved immeasurably in the interim as they too chase a top four berth in 2A. They will look to Evan Galvin, Danny Qualter, Tabo Maree, Ruairi Byrne, Martin Staunton and Rory Grenham to lead in the forwards battle.
Here, Darren Browne, James Kelly, Cian McCann, Sean O’Connell, Sam Kroupa, Nato Kiripati and Brian McDonnell will be vying to start in the pack. If they provide sufficient decent ball, then Ruaidhri Fallon, Stephen Mannion, Michael Hanley and the wily Shane Layden will ask questions of the visitors’ defence.
Thomas McGann, Harry Hughes, Ross Murphy-Sweeney and Thomas Shine have pace and potential to profit from possession while there will be an internal duel between Eoin O’Reilly and Graham Lynch for the key scrumhalf role.
So, despite various absences, Buccs now have some options and strength in depth and the recently returned Ryan O’Meara could feature.
Sligo have a habit of starting each half with intensity which the Athlone players must match. If they do that, and avoid getting sucked into an arm wrestle, then the Pirates can advance to a final meeting against Ballina on St. Patrick’s Day. Meanwhile supporters are again reminded that Saturday’s kick-off is at 1 p.m.
U20s Home to Blackrock
Buccaneers U20s will be striving to not only maintain their place at the top of the JP Fanagan Leinster Premier League 3 but also to keep their 100 percent winning sequence going when they host Blackrock at Dubarry Park on Sunday afternoon.
With Naas hot on their heels, the young Pirates will not want to slip up when the action gets under way at 2.30 p.m. Ruadhri Fallon, Cian McCann, Tom Shine and Nato Kiripati all have some Senior experience while Fionn McDonnell, Kieran Egan and Orrin Burgess are other able operators.
Blackrock lie in mid-table but Buccs, despite the absence through injury of Adam Flanagan, should have enough wherewithal to account for the Dublin outfit.
Buccaneers pipped in U16 League final
BUCCANEERS 10 GALWAY CORINTHIANS 12
On a windy squally afternoon, Buccaneers and Galway Corinthians served up an engrossing Connacht U-16 League final at Dubarry Park last Saturday when the home club were pipped 12-10.
Buccs, after playing against the influential elements in the opening half, looked to be in a good position when trailing by just two points at the interval. But the visitors, boosted by a try just before the break, dug deep following the change of ends and their resilience was rewarded with a narrow victory. Both teams are to be lauded for their endeavour in a contest that was worthy of a final.
Buccaneers began very brightly despite playing into a strong breeze and gradually got closer to the westerners’ line. Skipper Callum Kelly looked like opening their account after 14 minutes but a trio of Corinthians defenders tackled him into touch within touching distance of their line.
The line was breached just three minutes later when Charlie O’Carroll blocked down an attempted Corinthians clearance and Conor Dowling swooped for an unconverted try that was just reward for the Pirates pressure.
However, the Tribesmen got a key breakthrough on 22 minutes in their first concerted attack. Donagh Kilcommons finished off this spell to touchdown with Sean Walsh’s conversion giving the visitors a fortunate 7-5 lead at half-time. Had there been a TMO, the score would surely not have been allowed as the referee got in the way of a Buccaneers tackler.
That try instilled self-belief in the Corinthians ranks as Buccs now attacked relentlessly but the Athlone boys found their opponents steadfast and better disciplined in an absorbing contest. The midlanders lacked that bit of guile and patience at times and a 42nd minute Sean Noone penalty tailed wide in the tricky breeze.
With the pitch cutting up in the atrocious weather, both teams gave it their all. The decisive score arrived on 45 minutes after Buccs were forced to ground the ball behind their goalline following a long Walsh kick ahead.
From the clearance, Corinthians counter attacked and the rangy Walsh ran strongly to score an excellent try to edge his side 12-5 ahead.
Buccaneers attacked almost incessantly in the remaining quarter hour but could not unlock the Corinthians defence until the final move of the game. Then after going through a wealth of phases Dowling burst through wide on the left for his second try, but the last kick conversion from the touchline fell short and Corinthians celebrated a hard-earned tight victory.
Not only was Walsh their match-winner but the imposing centre was player of the match. Buccs had many good performers with hooker Eoin Naughton having a terrific input in the pack where Otega Awhinawhi and Tom Bourke were industrious throughout. Dual try scorer Dowling and Dylan Bruton were pick of the backline for the unlucky Pirates.