Ruairi Byrne and Tom O’Neill were the major winners at Buccaneers Rugby Football Club’s Annual Awards event which took place in Athlone’s Sheraton Hotel.
One of the best moves that the club did last season was to coax Byrne out of premature retirement and the Athlonian put in hugely consistent performances that earned him the Buccaneers ‘Senior Player of the Year’ accolade and thus become the first holder of the Ray McLoughlin Perpetual Trophy. Meanwhile, east Corkonian O’Neill’s busy endeavours at livestreaming matches for many teams in the club warranted his selection as ‘Club Person of the Year’.
Incoming President, Brendan Wilkins, welcomed the gathering that celebrated another successful playing season. Following promotion to Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League, Buccs were comfortably placed all through the campaign, just missing out on promotion play-offs by a solitary point. However, a Connacht Senior League and Cup double was achieved. The reformed Thirds also completed a Connacht double while the U20s were in the top half of the Leinster League. The Pirates underage teams captured three provincial cups and six Buccaneers players represented Ireland during the year with a seventh capped by Israel.
Mr Wilkins extended a warm welcome to Ms Muire McLoughlin, sister of the late great Ray (who played 41 times for Ireland and among many notable achievements toured twice with the British & Irish Lions ), and family members to the event. The family were delighted to present to the club the Ray McLoughlin Perpetual Trophy that would be presented to the annual winner of the ‘Senior Team Player of the Year.’ Accepting the impressive trophy from Muire on behalf of the club, Brendan gratefully acknowledged the family’s generosity that would ensure that Ray’s legacy would live on at Buccaneers.
Player of the Year Winners
RUAIRI BYRNE had an outstanding season, delivering a consistency of top-quality performance across the entire campaign. He has shown great leadership through his high standards and tenacious approach to every aspect of his game.
Ruairi’s work rate and commitment to his on and off field preparation is a template for younger players to follow.
ROSS MURPHY-SWEENEY has had his best season to date. Consistently, he stood out with his performances, showing his versatility playing across the back three and also in the centre.
His performances for Buccs Junior 1’s were rewarded with a call-up to the senior side where his performances stepped up another level and Ross was also recently selected on the Connacht Junior team.
JAMES DOWNES made his return to rugby this season with the Thirds squad after a couple of years hiatus from the game. He arrived at the first training session to an unfamiliar group of players, a mixture of veterans and novices. He integrated into the group in no time and is a very well-liked figure amongst the squad.
A front-rower with the Marist Junior Cup winning team, James starred in his new second centre position, marshalling defence and attack around a very forwards orientated squad. His skills were on a superior level to the rest of the league and James’ name was one of the first onto the teamsheet every matchday.
GAVIN DALY has excelled for the U20s not only this year but also for the past two seasons. He has stepped up into a true leader on the field where the dynamic backrower leads by example.
Gavin drives his teammates on to be up to the standard that is required to be competitive on match day. He is following a family tradition with the club and surely has a great future with Buccaneers ahead of him.
The awards to Ross, Gavin and James were presented by Michael Moore, Junior, of Audi Athlone.
Club Person of the Year
This season’s ‘Club Person of the Year’ demonstrated what a club volunteer is to the highest degree. Athlone Rugby Football Club and latterly Buccaneers RFC have been welcoming homes for Corkonians who have strayed to the centre of Ireland from the ‘real capital’, the club in turn benefiting greatly from their bedding down in the midlands.
Such is the case with this year’s winner. TOM O’NEILL became involved and served in a number of roles before, following his retirement from teaching, he found his true niche becoming the club’s video guru.
It is not an easy task to set up, record, live-stream and indeed commentate all together at the same time. Lots of technicalities involved and, often learning on the hoof, Tom has progressed from covering senior matches to doing games at many other levels in the club including underage games. Tom gives of his time freely and generously.
What this means to youths teams cannot be taken for granted. Meeting a group of underage players at training one evening, Tom’s proposer for this richly merited accolade, asked how prep for the upcoming match was going. With huge pride and smiles they answered that their game was being live-streamed, which gave them an extra incentive to perform to their best potential.
In the current online age, the streaming of games has been hugely beneficial to the club’s presence, and to team coaches. Family, friends, and people in general from the wider locality can follow the fortunes of Buccs, be they in Athlone or abroad.
TOM O’NEILL is truly deserving of the honour of Buccaneers ‘Club Person of the Year’ 2023. The presentation of the Michael Hanley Memorial Perpetual Cup was presented to Tom by Michael Hanley Junior.