Despite a much-improved performance Buccaneers came up short against a physically strong Highfield side who won this Energia All-Ireland League Division 1B encounter 36-19 at Woodleigh Park, Cork, on Saturday.
Buccs were well in this contest for an hour but the bigger home pack got on top in the closing stages to extend their winning margin.
Buccaneers made two changes for this game, one positional and a second enforced personnel change. Danny Qualter switched to lock with Cian McCann moving to No.8 while Matthew Burke made his first start of the campaign with injury ruling James Kelly out. Highfield made four changes from their previous outing with Travis Coomey and Glen Stokes starting in the pack and Sean Quaid and Mark Dorgan coming into their backline.
Conditions were a total contrast to last season’s fixture as bright sunshine and dry conditions greeted the teams who had just a light diagonal breeze to contend with. Underfoot conditions were excellent considering the deluge Cork got from Storm Babet. Buccs made a promising start epitomised by a smashing McCann break and the home side coughed up a number of early penalties. Stephen Mannion opened the scoring with a thumping 7th minute penalty while his next effort just three minutes later tailed wide from an even longer distance.
McCann made a splendid tackle on Coomey to deny the hooker sight of the Pirates line but, against the run of play, Ben Murphy’s pass following a scrum sent Jamie Shanahan in for a 17th minute try which Shane O’Riordan converted. Mannion reduced the arrears to the minimum with another fine penalty four minutes later.
Cathal Walsh made a vital turnover soon afterwards before a wild tackle by Tim Duggan saw the home winger yellow-carded on 25 minutes. A super 50/22 by Mannion then got the Midlanders deep into home territory where dissent gave Michael Hanley the opportunity to edge Buccs 9-7 ahead with the resultant penalty.
A wonderful flowing attack initiated and finished by Mannion yielded a splendid 34th minute try for the Pirates and Hanley’s conversion from wide on the left put the Athlone side 16-7 to the good. But from the restart Buccs went off their feet and, following the penalty to the right, Highfield mauled over for an unconverted 37th minute try by their captain Miah Cronin that left four points between the teams at half time.
Buccaneers suffered a major setback just a minute into the second half when the imposing Qualter was forced off by an injury with Ryan O’Meara entering the fray. Highfield regained the lead five minutes later with a Coomey try following another maul representative of their gameplan. The Corkonians then went through some good phases from side to side that got Shanahan in for his second try which also secured a bonus point for the hosts. O’Riordan converted both tries to push Highfield 26-16 to the good.
Hanley’s second penalty just before the hour mark kept Buccs in contention but then substitute Fionn McDonnell was sin-binned due to an accumulation of penalties by the visitors. Highfield made their numerical advantage pay when Richard Cassidy broke from the back of a ruck for a 69th minute try converted by O’Riordan who added a late penalty.
Buccs continued to battle and were unlucky not to notch a try with a fine raid up the right flank while, shortly afterwards on the opposite wing, a head-on-head clash flagged by a touch-judge earned a penalty for the Shannonsiders but, despite no malice in the incident, it was unusual that no yellow card was produced to the offender. Buccs were unable to capitalise on this final move set-piece.
Semi-finalists two seasons ago and losing finalists last term, Highfield have firm promotion ambitions. Man to man, their pack had an advantage over the Pirates pack and they made it pay eventually. Crucially, for the third match in succession, they overcame a half-time deficit.
Whilst disappointed to making the long haul home empty-handed, this was a significantly better display by Buccaneers with shoots of improvement in their young squad. They now have a break until the visit of Old Belvedere next month during which they must focus on discipline and especially defense of mauls. McCann and Matthew Victory were the pick of the Pirates pack with Mannion and Daniel Hawkshaw showing up well in their backs unit.
BUCCANEERS:- S.Mannion; J.O’Connor, D.Hawkshaw, M.Earle, C.O’Shaughnessy; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins (captain ); M.Burke, M.Victory, S.O’Connell; F.Galvin, D.Qualter; L.Balsiger, C.Walsh and C.McCann. Replacements:- R.O’Meara (for Qualter, inj. 41 mins ), F.McDonnell (for Balsiger, 55 mins ), O.Burgess (for Earle, 70 mins ), C.Byrne (for Burke, 70 mins ), L.MacFarlane (for Hopkins, 76 mins ) and D.Bolger.
Pre-Match to Celebrate Leo’s Cap
Buccaneers pre-match function for their upcoming Energia All-Ireland League game at home to Old Belvedere on Saturday week, November 4, will celebrate Leo Galvin finally receiving his Ireland cap. This should attract a large attendance so early booking with club administrator Geraldine at 0861732711 is recommended. The cost is €35 per person and bookings can be made for individuals or groups. Meal commences at 12.45pm.