Buccaneers recorded their first victory of this season’s Energia All-Ireland League when they came from behind to defeat Queen’s University 21-16 at The Dub, Belfast, on Saturday.
Shane Layden had been pencilled in to make his first start of the campaign but a recurrent niggle ruled him out at late notice which resulted in Stephen Mannion switching to centre and Michael Hanley returning at fly-half. Liam McNamara made his debut at fullback with Conor O’Shaughnessy switching to wing. Meanwhile the Pirates fielded an unchanged pack. Queen’s made four personnel changes, two each among backs and forwards. Scott Wilson, who impressed for Ulster the previous evening, was missing in their front row while injury ruled out No. 8 Lorcan McLoughlin. Jonny Hunter and James Wright got the not to start in the Students’ backline.
On a perfect sod the home side made a bright start. James Humphreys, ruled fit after being forced off last week, landed a brace of penalties on the 8th and 12th minutes for an early 6-0 lead. A good chase by Buccs from the latter restart forced a penalty which Hanley slotted over. The outhalf then failed to make touch with a penalty but Daniel Hawkshaw put in a thumping tackle on Kian Mulholland that led to a long-range penalty but Mannion’s placekick fell short.
But Buccs soon grabbed the lead they were not to relinquish. They turned over possession as Queen’s attempted to run the ball and Mannion’s deft grubber kick was fastened on to by Cian McCann. The lively No.8 somehow conjured to stay inside the touchline (markings are confusing at the venue as there are Gaelic lines out wide! ) and his offload sent O’Shaughnessy scurrying in for a 17th minute try on the left. Hanley’s conversion put Buccs 10-6 to the good.
The Pirates had now settled into the lively contest as the floodlights came on even though it was a bright afternoon and James Kelly blocked down a clearance by Humphreys as the midlanders hunted and harried to good effect. They put some fine phases together that were rewarded with a 20th minute penalty which Hanley converted.
Following a penalty to the right corner Queen’s maul was held up over the line and shortly afterwards a penalty to the opposite flank was also repelled by Buccs, their committed and disciplined defending earning a relieving penalty which again did not find touch. On the half-hour Humphreys landed his third penalty from a central position but Buccaneers responded with Hanley drilling over a 34th minute penalty from the left that gave the Athlone side a 16-9 lead at half-time.
After the change of ends, Humphreys 44th minute long-range penalty was off-target. Following a Buccs penalty to the left on the home ten-metre line, Danny Qualter won clean lineout ball and Cathal Walsh fed Frank Hopkins who got slick ball away. McNamara made big yardage down the opposite flank and Orrin Burgess was on his shoulder to dive over for an unconverted try at the right corner and a 21-9 advantage for the midlanders after 48 minutes.
Five minutes later a high tackle on O’Shaughnessy earned a penalty on the right but Hanley’s kick unluckily rebounded off an upright. Almost immediately Gavin Daly was guilty of a similar style tackle and, while no card was produced for the previous misdemeanour, the Pirates flanker was despatched to the sin bin. This inconsistency was puzzling. But Buccs continued their high energy workrate and comfortably rode out their ten minutes a player short.
The Ulster side threw everything at the visitors in the closing stages and Wright made an instant impact when he returned to the fray, sniping in for a late try which Humphreys converted to narrow their arrears to five points. However, Buccaneers retained composed possession to the finish to see off the Students’ challenge and earn a priceless victory, their first league win home or away over Queen’s.
This was forged on the back of a committed, organised and disciplined squad effort in which Matthew Victory (in a hard-grafting front row trio ), McCann and Walsh put in trojan efforts in the forwards contest. O’Shaughnessy and McNamara were always looking for work in the backline where Daniel Hawkshaw and skipper Hopkins were to the fore. Not yet perfect but a step in the right direction with a noticeable improvement in sustaining their endeavour but errors such as not finding touch with placekicks will be punished by better opponents.
BUCCANEERS:- L.McNamara; O.Burgess, D.Hawkshaw, S.Mannion, C.O’Shaughnessy; M.Hanley, F.Hopkins (captain ); J.Kelly, M.Victory, S.O’Connell; F.Galvin, D.Qualter; C.Walsh, G.Daly and C.McCann. Replacements:- O.Dolan (for Daly, 67 mins ), R.O’Meara (for Galvin, 67 mins ), F.McDonnell, D.Bolger, R.Murphy-Sweeny and L.MacFarlane
Buccs Home To Old Wesley
It’s a clash of the bottom two clubs in Division 1B of the Energia All-Ireland League when Buccaneers host Old Wesley at Dubarry Park on Saturday. Old Wesley defeated Queen’s University and Naas but lost their other three fixtures and were also deducted three points for “a breach of the international player clearance process”. But for that they would lie in fifth place.
Meanwhile, Buccs got their first win of the season away to Queen’s last Saturday. They had promising sections in previous matches but finally delivered a more sustained performance at The Dub where they were worthy winners. This will have given confidence a much-needed lift in the Pirates crew. If they continue to improve and also eliminate unnecessary errors, then they are capable of winning on home soil. Kick-off is at 2.30pm.